The 2023 Tony Awards Are About More Than Broadway

76th Tony Awards poster

(Courtesy of CBS)

By Josi Hinds, Arts Writer


An opening shot of a blank script book began this year’s opening number for the Tony Awards, reflecting the challenging but colorful show itself. This year’s show ran unscripted due to the ongoing WGA writer’s strike, as second-time host Ariana DeBose acknowledged in her opening speech. 

“I’m live and unscripted, you’re welcome,” DeBose said. 

Regardless of the unusual circumstances, the show continued to celebrate Broadway excellence through its awards and performances. The ceremony was also laced with powerful speeches and social commentary, touching on a multitude of conversations taking place around the nation today. 

WGA Strike

Several award winners expressed their support for the writer’s strike in their acceptance speeches. 

“We are a staunchly pro-union household,” said Miriam Silverman, winner of the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress for her role in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” “My parents raised me to believe in the power of labor and workers being compensated and treated fairly. We stand in solidarity with the WGA.”

David Stone, a producer for “Kimberly Akimbo,” which won Best Musical, expressed how he feels grateful to work in an industry in which writers own their own work and are given recognition for it. David Lindsay-Abaire, who won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical for “Kimberly Akimbo,” also expressed his support for the writer’s strike by asking the audience to support their cause.

Conformity and Non-Conformity

This year’s Tony Awards was historic in that two non-binary actors won Tonys: Alex Newell and J. Harrison GheeNewell won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role for their role in “Shucked” (which was notably premiered by the Pioneer Theatre Company on the U’s campus and received nine Tony nominations this year).

“Thank you for seeing me, Broadway,” Newell said in their acceptance speech. “I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts.”

Ghee won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor for their role in “Some Like It Hot.” 

For every trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming human who ever was told you couldn’t be, you couldn’t be seen, this is for you,” Ghee said in their speech. 

These actors weren’t the only ones to address the stress of non-conformity. 

“I want to tell everybody that doesn’t maybe look like what the world is telling you you should look like … that doesn’t matter because guess what, it’s right, and you belong,” said Bonni Milligan, who won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role for her role in “Kimberly Akimbo.”

Social and Political Commentary 

A handful of presenters and award winners also made statements presumably alluding to the current political climate and recent legislation. Actor Denée Benton presented the Excellence in Theater Education Award.

“I’m certain that the current grand wizard — I’m sorry, excuse me, governor of my home state of Florida will be changing — I’m sure that he will be changing the name of this following town immediately,” Benton said in her speech. “We were honored to present this award to the truly incredible and life-changing Jason Zembuch Young, enhancing the lives of students at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become a controversial figure in his attempts to pass legislation that limits curriculums in schools and other policies that affect civil rights in the state. 

Michael Arden, the winner of Best Direction of a Musical for “Parade,” discussed how the musical is a story about how a life ended early due to “the belief that one group of people is more valuable than another.”

“This is a belief that is the core of antisemitism, white supremacy, homophobia and transphobia and intolerance of any kind. We must come together. We must battle this,” Arden continued. He called on the audience to vote and continue to uplift one another.


[email protected]