Ali Stroker in Ozark
Ali Stroker has been paralyzed from the chest down since age two, the result of a car accident, but that doesn't stop her from describing herself on Twitter as a dancer, in addition to singer, actress and "wild child." Consider her lusty take as Ado Annie in a 2019 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!: she used her hands, head and shoulders for her choreography and made history as the first performer in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award, named best featured actress in a musical.
Having appeared on Glee and other shows as she was forging her musical theater career, Stroker has now returned to television, with roles in the final season of Ozark and the limited series Echoes, both on Netflix. Last year she appeared on Blue Bloods, And Just Like That... and Only Murders in the Building.
"Television has such a powerful reach. I was always excited about telling stories to people who maybe couldn't get to the theater," says the Ridgewood, New Jersey, native. She grew up listening to musical theater recordings and discovered as a youngster that when she performed, people looked at her because of her talent, not her disability. "That turned into more and more interest in performing in front of the camera. It's become a new passion."
In Ozark, Stroker plays Charles-Anne, aka Chuck, an old friend of Ruth's (Julia Garner) mother. "Chuck tries to offer Ruth some stability and support," Stroker says of her character, who conveys a hippie vibe in her bucolic trailer and garden. "Their relationship is really tender. That's not common for a lot of the characters in Ozark."
And In Echoes — a mystery about identical twins who lead double lives (Michelle Monaghan in a dual role) — Stroker plays older sister Claudia, who cares for the family home and is excluded from the twins' secret lives.
Stroker would like to produce and perform in her own television programs, furthering representation of people with disabilities. She has written two books about girls in wheelchairs involved in musical theater.
Performing "brings me so much joy," she reflects. "There are parts of my life where I feel stuck. When I'm performing, I feel free. And that's something that I need. I pursue the joy, but it's also a need to express myself in this way."
A version of this article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #7, 2022, under the title, "On the Count of Free."