Despite writers’ strike, Tony Awards dazzle with energetic Broadway performances

During the broadcast of Broadway’s most prestigious awards ceremony, the Tony Awards, host Ariana DeBose made a grand entrance by opening a blank script backstage and then proceeding to dance and leap her way onto the stage. This bold move was a notable demonstration of showmanship and resilience in the face of adversity caused by the Hollywood writers’ strike, which left the ceremony without a scripted program. Despite the lack of words, the night was filled with dazzling performances that captivated the audience.

The Tony Awards’ opening number, which involved a flurry of excitement as performers danced down the aisle, injected an unexpected burst of energy into what is typically an uplifting and congenial event. However, due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, the ceremony was forced to rely on spontaneity rather than a pre-scripted program. This year’s ceremony took place in a new venue located far from the traditional theater district, further adding to the overall sense of unpredictability and excitement surrounding the event. Despite these challenges, the show managed to offer a memorable celebration of the best in musical theater and plays.

During the pre-show, Ariana DeBose shared with the audience the only words that would appear on the teleprompter throughout the night, which were “Please wrap up.” Later in the ceremony, following her stunning, wordless performance, DeBose made an appreciative remark thanking the labor organizers for allowing a compromise during the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. Despite these challenges, performers and organizers alike worked together to create a memorable and exciting celebration of excellence in musical theater and plays.

“I am broadcasting live and without a script. You are all welcome,” she announced. “To those who may have believed last year was slightly chaotic, I would like to say: ‘My dears, fasten your seatbelts’.”

The Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday will recognize 26 winners from a pool of 40 new productions, including 15 musicals, 24 plays, and one special engagement. This season marks the first full post-pandemic season since Covid-19 affected Broadway.

Bonnie Milligan, who won the award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in “Kimberly Akimbo,” shared a powerful message during her acceptance speech. She urged everyone who may not fit society’s conventional beauty standards or whose identity and love may not conform to societal norms not to let that define them because it doesn’t matter.

During her speech, Bonnie Milligan emphasized that everyone belongs and they should always remember that. She held up her award as a symbol of her achievement and a reminder that everyone has their unique qualities and talents that make them special and worthy of recognition and belonging.

The technical awards categories were presented efficiently on a pre-show hosted by Skylar Astin and Julianne Hough. This allowed the winners to have enough time to give their acceptance speeches while keeping the overall pace of the show brisk. Although there was less room for humor during these segments, it ensured that the main show would flow smoothly and keep viewers engaged throughout the night.

Certain shots in the pre-show were awkwardly composed, and a few presenters stumbled over their words. The pace was so swift that the Pluto telecast finished over 10 minutes earlier than expected before the scheduled CBS broadcast.

John Kander, the composer who created legendary shows like “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” and “The Scottsboro Boys,” was recognized with a special lifetime achievement award during the event.

He remarked that “This is a very significant honor. When your own community recognizes and acknowledges you, it is truly humbling and somewhat intimidating.”

John Kander expressed his gratitude to his parents, his husband Albert Stephenson, and music for being a constant companion throughout his life. Meanwhile, Joel Grey, star of “Cabaret,” also received a lifetime achievement Tony, presented by his daughter Jennifer Grey.

The actor who received the lifetime achievement Tony expressed that being recognized by the theater community was a great gift, as theater has always been one of his greatest and most enduring passions besides his children. Additionally, director Jerry Mitchell won the Isabelle Stevenson Award for his dedication and contributions to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

This Broadway season featured some serious works, including new plays such as “Cost of Living” and “The Kite Runner,” as well as revivals of “Topdog/Underdog” and “Death of a Salesman,” led by Wendell Pierce. There was also a revival of “Parade,” which tells the story of the lynching of a Jewish businessman and starred Ben Platt, and it was well received.

In addition to the serious works, the Broadway season also had a mix of fantastical elements. For instance, there was a puppet-heavy adaptation of the book “Life of Pi,” satirical plays such as “The Thanksgiving Play,” and silly productions like “Shucked” and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong.”

The musical adaptation of the classic movie comedy “Some Like It Hot” received 13 Tony Award nominations, including for Best Musical. It’s competing against other impressive nominees such as “& Juliet,” a reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet” that incorporates pop hits from decades past, “New York, New York,” which united two generations of Broadway greats in John Kander and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the lighthearted musical comedy “Shucked,” filled with humorous corn puns.

The critically acclaimed and emotionally touching musical “Kimberly Akimbo,” featuring Victoria Clark in the role of a teenager who ages at four times the average human rate, completes the list of Best Musical nominees.

The Best New Play category features a competition between Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” which delves into intergenerational Jewish identity, and “Fat Ham,” James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” set at a modern-day Black family barbecue in the South.

“Leopoldstadt” took the lead among its play competitors, winning director Patrick Marber, Best Featured Actor for Brandon Uranowitz, and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costume design.

Michael Arden won the award for Best Director of a Musical for a revival of “Parade,” a musical about a tragic love story set against the backdrop of a murder and lynching in Georgia before World War I.

The story of “Parade” depicts how someone’s life was tragically ended because of the belief that one group of people is more valuable than another, which lies at the root of antisemitism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia and any form of intolerance. The director, Michael Arden expressed that we must unite to fight against this kind of hatred and discrimination.

The other nominees in the category were “Ain’t No Mo’,” a play by Jordan E. Cooper that received critical acclaim but had a short run, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Between Riverside and Crazy,” and “Cost of Living,” a play featuring parallel stories of two caretakers and their respective patients.

There are some interesting questions that remain unanswered, such as whether or not Audra McDonald will continue to hold her record as the actor with the most Tony Awards in history for her work on “Ohio State Murders.” Additionally, it is yet to be seen if J. Harrison Ghee (“Some Like It Hot”) or Alex Newell (“Shucked”) will become the first nonbinary actor to win a Tony Award. However, it should be noted that Toby Marlow, composer and writer of “Six,” was the first out nonbinary winner at last year’s Tony Awards.

There are scheduled performances from a variety of musicals, including “Camelot,” “Into the Woods,” “& Juliet,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” “New York, New York,” “Parade,” “Shucked,” “Some Like It Hot,” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

There will be plenty of star power at the event, including performances by last year’s Tony winner for Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Joaquina Kalukango, as well as the casts of “A Beautiful Noise” and “Funny Girl.” Big names such as Josh Groban and Lea Michele are also slated to perform.

The Tony Awards ceremony will take place at the United Palace Theatre, which is located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. This is a new venue for the ceremony and is several miles away from Times Square and the traditional theater district.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of the musical “In the Heights,” which is set in Washington Heights, joked onstage and thanked everyone for coming uptown, saying it was beyond his wildest dreams.