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How 2023 Tony Awards Were Affected by Writers Strike, What Happened – The Hollywood Reporter


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The 2023 Tony Awards are underway Sunday night, with this year’s ceremony going unscripted amid the ongoing writers strike.

Ariana DeBose acknowledged the unusual task at hand in her opening number, which began by zooming in on a binder that read “script” but was filled with blank pages. She then danced her way through the hallways of the United Palace theater in Washington Heights, where the awards show is taking place, in a fast-paced, acrobatic number that saw her jumping down flights of stairs.

DeBose then informed the audience about the WGA strike and thanked all parties for coming to a compromise that allowed the show to move forward. She also poked fun at the issue, saying “I’m live and unscripted, you’re welcome.”

“To anyone who thought last year was a bit unhinged, to them I say, “Darlings, buckle up,” DeBose said.

The hosts of the Tonys’ preshow, Act One, Skylar Astin and Julianne Hough, began that portion of the ceremony by acknowledging the atypical circumstances of the 76th annual Tony Awards.

“Tonight we’re going to do things a little bit differently in solidarity with WGA,” Astin said. “We’re going to focus on this incredible community and spirited works from the past season.”

They then presented the first award, best score, to Kimberly Akimbo, where lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire, who is a member of the WGA, urged support for the writers.

“Our favorite town in New Jersey is Union,” he said of the New Jersey-set production. “If you believe in great storytelling, please support the WGA and everything they’re fighting for.”

With the win, Kimberly Akimbo‘s Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the music for the musical, becomes the first female composer to win the Tony for best score twice.

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Annaleigh Ashford, another WGA member, attended and presented the Isabelle Stevenson Award to Jerry Mitchell, honored for his contributions to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and additional volunteer work, particularly through his annual “Broadway Bares” show, which he said onstage Sunday has raised more than $25 million over 30 years.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking your clothes off, especially when you’re doing it in service of your friends and your community,” Mitchell said in his speech. “I am proud to be a gay man and proud to be in this community.”

While the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since May 2, agreed not to picket the ceremony it asked members who are Tony Awards nominees not to attend the ceremony and to instead send in pre-recorded acceptance speeches or have a non-WGA member accept on their behalf.

After the WGA sent out the memo, the Dramatists Guild, which represents playwrights, composers, and lyricists, met with the impacted nominees and counseled them to still attend the show and to voice support for the writers. Many of the WGA members who received the memo are expected to attend the ceremony, with Jordan E. Cooper, Amber Ruffin, Martyna Majok, James Ijames, Robert Horn and Tom Stoppard already spotted on the red carpet

The Tony Awards is one of the first major awards shows to be affected by the strike. The MTV Movie & TV Awards pivoted from a live ceremony to a pre-taped show on May 7 after the WGA had threatened to picket the live show.

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The Tony Awards Management Committee had asked the WGA for a waiver on May 12 to proceed with the televised ceremony, with the argument that the industry is still recovering from the 18-month closure of all Broadway theaters and that the Tony Awards is its biggest commercial. But the WGA denied the request for the waiver. 

The committee appealed to the WGA again and did not receive a waiver, but received a promise on May 15 that the guild would not picket the event. In return, the Tony Awards agreed to proceed without a script for the televised ceremony (a script had previously been prepared). 

The ceremony was also impacted in other ways. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was meant to write the opening number, stopped writing out of solidarity with the WGA strike. Ariana DeBose, who had long been tapped to host, is now expected to only perform the opening number. And the presenters are proceeding without a teleprompter, and instead reading from cue cards. 

Miranda presented the lifetime achievement award to John Kander, the legendary composer of Cabaret and Chicago and composer of the new musical New York, New York, for which Miranda wrote additional lyrics.

“Thank you all for coming uptown. Never in my wildest dreams,” Miranda joked, remarking on the fact that the ceremony is taking place in Washington Heights for the first time. He went on to call Kander not only “one of greatest composers,” but also the “kindest man in show business.”

In his acceptance speech, Kander said in part, “When your own community honors you it’s very humbling and a little scary.” He went on to thank his parents, longtime partner Albert Stephenson and music.

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Jennifer Grey presented a lifetime achievement award to her father, Joel Grey, greeting the audience with one of many seemingly off-the-cuff remarks, saying “Hi, friends of my dad!” Grey began his speech by singing his famous line, “Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!” from his role as the Emcee in Cabaret.

“I love the work. I love the applause. Oh my God, I love the applause,” Grey said, while getting emotional. “But it’s ultimately people who have made this whole ride even more magnificent than i could have imagined.”

Overall, the Act One show moved briskly, with the presenters only make brief remarks before launching into the nominee names.

This is not the first time the Tony Awards has gone unscripted. The 1988 ceremony, the year of The Phantom of the Opera, also took place during a WGA strike with Angela Lansbury as the host.

This year’s ceremony is taking place at the United Palace theater in Washington Heights, a first for the show, which typically takes place at Radio City Music Hall in Midtown. Like in years past, the ceremony is split into two segments, with the first round of Tony Awards airing on Pluto TV from 6:30-8 p.m. ET and 3:30-5 p.m. PT and the main telecast airing coast-to-coast on CBS and Paramount+ from 8-11 p.m. ET and 5-8 p.m. PT.

Hilary Lewis contributed to this report.

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