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‘The Baltimore way’: It took a half-century for Andre De Shields to earn a Tony. He’s back to celebrate

The slight gentleman in a burgundy suit teetered onto the marble floor one pointy-toed boot at a time. Politicians, friends and photographers jockeyed for a view as if staring at the Hope Diamond.

From a small black box Andre De Shields unpacked the silver statuette that he won after a long career acting, singing and dancing on Broadway.

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“This is what they call a Tony," De Shields told the crowd gathered in the rotunda of City Hall Monday morning. "This is what you get when you blow them out of the water. I did it the only way I could: the Baltimore way.”

At age 73, Andre De Shields “is one of the greatest stars to ever hit the Broadway stage,” said friend and musical director David Alan Bunn. “He is the embodiment of entertainment from Baltimore.”

Known for his roles in shows like “The Wiz,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “The Full Monty," De Shields finally won a Tony award this year for his role as the god Hermes in Anais Mitchell’s “Hadestown.”

De Shields got some new metal for his collection this week. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young presented him Monday with a mayoral salute and keys to the city, thanking him for his recognition of his Charm City roots at a time when the city desperately needed a lift.

Being back in his hometown was an emotional experience for De Shields, who took the train in from New York early Monday morning. One of 11 children, he graduated from Baltimore City College and received a Central Scholarship to attend college.

“If one could reverse life and go back to the womb and that warm safe place, that’s what it means coming back to Baltimore," he said.

The self-described “little fat-fellowed boy from Division Street" attributed Baltimore’s cultural values of courtesy, pride and determination with helping him advance in the world.

“And when I did achieve, I brought it home,” he said.

Actor Michael Medeiros, currently rehearsing for Baltimore Center Stage’s production of “Miss You Like Hell,” which opens in September, said that many actors were “overjoyed” to see De Shields win the Tony.

“Andre is so well-loved in the community…," Medeiros said. "He’s just so present he doesn’t need to be anything other than who he is.”

Medeiros described De Shield’s acting style as “absolutely truthful and absolutely kinetic. He brings his heart and soul to the performance… He brings you the truth, but in a package that’s irresistible.”

De Shields’ power as a performer was on view during his speech Monday.

“Now, you know we’re in a rotunda, right?” he said, referring to the many-storied dome of Baltimore’ city hall above him. “I’m going to show you what a rotunda is for,” he said, lifting up his hands and shouting “Hallelujah!” at the top of his lungs.

He also recited the acceptance speech from this year’s Tony’s.

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“Baltimore, Maryland, are you in the house?” he said. “I hope you’re watching at home because I am making good on my promise that I would come to New York and become someone you’d be proud to call your native son.”

Despite his rousing “Hallelujah,” De Shields never thought of becoming a preacher, but he did think of becoming a politician, he told a reporter later. “As an actor, I have to wear the skin of any number of people. I have to be able to receive in my heart whatever emotion, whatever a human being feels. That’s how an actor crafts his talent.”

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