Additional reporting by Danny Brown. This article has been edited for length and clarity.
In a daring departure from convention, the 2023 Tony Awards made a bold move by navigating the ongoing WGA strike without the use of writers. Remarkably, their absence went virtually unnoticed as the show unfolded flawlessly, leaving the creative community thoroughly satisfied.
This year’s grand ceremony, honoring the zenith of Broadway brilliance, unfolded within the walls of the iconic United Palace. Established in 1930, this historic venue located in Washington Heights provided a magnificent backdrop for the prestigious event.
The event itself teetered on the brink of cancellation until a group of esteemed playwrights, who primarily thrive in the realms of film and television, intervened. Leveraging their influence, they successfully persuaded the Writers Guild of America to reassess the dire circumstances faced by the struggling theater industry. They posed a poignant question: Why should they bear the burden of collateral damage resulting from a dispute primarily centered in Hollywood? The outcome? A captivating, spontaneous, and politically charged Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday, featuring a delightful absence of predictability.
Ariana DeBose, the brilliant Oscar-winning star of “West Side Story,” showcased her extraordinary talents as the emcee for the second consecutive year. She kicked off the evening with a bold gesture, unveiling an empty script before launching into a soulful fusion of songs, such as “New York State of Mind,” accompanied by a mesmerizingly choreographed performance.
Her infectious energy captivated the audience, and she playfully warned, “I’m live and unscripted… You’re welcome. For those who deemed last year a bit unhinged, I say, ‘darlings, buckle up.’”
Embracing the coveted title of Best Musical was the delightfully eccentric comedy “Kimberly Akimbo.” This heartwarming tale revolves around a teenage girl burdened by a rare condition that accelerates her aging process, captivating audiences with its unique charm.
In a triumph of storytelling, “Leopoldstadt” took home four prestigious awards, including the highly esteemed Best Play recognition. Tom Stoppard’s sweeping multi-generational saga offers an immersive glimpse into a close-knit Jewish community navigating through a turbulent chapter in European history. This extraordinary achievement marks Stoppard’s fifth time receiving this revered honor, setting a remarkable record for playwrights.
Suzan-Lori Parks’ thought-provoking drama “Topdog/Underdog” delves deep into the struggles faced by two African-American brothers as they strive for success in an unforgiving world. Its powerful portrayal earned the well-deserved distinction of Best Play Revival, igniting important conversations and touching the hearts of audiences.
Alex Newell, renowned for their memorable role in “Glee,” electrifies audiences every night with an explosive performance in the musical “Shucked.” Their remarkable talent earned them the prestigious Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical on Sunday night, making history as the first openly nonbinary actor to receive such recognition for their performance. Newell, who identifies as both nonbinary and gender fluid, portrays a fiercely independent whiskey distiller in “Shucked.” This country-scored, pun-filled musical comedy revolves around a small farming community grappling with the mysterious demise of their corn crop.
Amidst poignant storytelling, “Parade” emerged as the recipient of the Best Musical Revival award. This compelling narrative sheds light on the imprisonment and tragic lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish American. Its poignant exploration of justice and prejudice left a lasting impact on viewers, making it a standout in the revival category.
Notable figures, including the esteemed Tom Stoppard, shared insightful perspectives on the indispensable role of writers. Stoppard eloquently expressed, “Writers are the sharp end of the pyramid; without a script, we’re all left bewildered.”
Tony Award-winning actress LaChanze adds Tony-winning producer to her accolades with the success of this year’s Best Musical, “Kimberly Akimbo!” During her visit to the press room, LaChanze shared her excitement for upcoming projects, including “Here Lies Love,” and hinted at a yet-unannounced producing endeavor.
Reflecting on her first Tony win as a producer, LaChanze expressed, “What’s truly exhilarating about being a producer and winning Tonys in this role is that it inspires countless young women and women of color to realize they belong in this space. It’s incredibly thrilling for me because I aspire to be an example to those who wonder if they can do this. The answer is yes, you can.”
The 2023 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement was presented to Joel Grey.
HERE’S WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY INSIDE THE WINNERS’ ROOM
Bryan Carter, who won his first Tony Award along with Charlie Rosen for Best Orchestrations, with an 18-piece orchestra, for the musical “Some Like It Hot.”
ON WORKING WITH CHARLIE ROSEN
I never thought there was room for me. I want to thank him [Charlie Rosen, Tony Award winner] for making me feel so safe, so seen, and loved.
ON THE 18-PIECE ORCHESTRA
I hope our show (“Some Like It Hot”) will inspire more companies to add more orchestras [to their show] because they are really the heartbeat of the musical.
Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” (2023 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play). Park, who turned 60 this year, made it a point that she creates work that explores and encourages “asking the questions.”
ON INSPIRING OTHERS
Inspiring people, young Black performers, old Black performers, young White performers, Green performers, Martians, Plutonians, because Pluto is a planet. That’s my job. That’s my thing. I’m here to remind us that the spirits are real and we are all agents of the sacred. We are all scared agents… This is reminding people that the spirit exists… that we are all a family, we are all in one group, and we should love each other as much as possible.
ON THE JOURNEY
In writing this, I had hopes that it would take me out of a very sad place, where I was before I wrote this. I was feeling a lot of despair. I wasn’t seeing plays that didn’t resonate with me and not just my experience as a Black person in the world. My experiences as a human being. I wasn’t seeing enough plays that made me go ‘yeah, I’m alive—I’m alive’… When I wrote this play, I said, okay, this is an opportunity to remind people that we are alive. That we are here, that we need to love each other.
COMPLETE LIST OF TONY AWARD WINNERS 2023
Best New Play
Best New Musical
Best Play Revival
Best Musical Revival
Best Leading Actor in a Play
Sean Hayes, “Good Night, Oscar”
Best Leading Actress in a Play
Jodie Comer, “Prima Facie”
Best Leading Actress in a Musical
Victoria Clark, “Kimberly Akimbo”
Best Leading Actor in a Musical
J. Harrison Ghee, “Some Like It Hot”
Best Featured Actor in a Play
Brandon Uranowitz, “Leopoldstadt”
Best Featured Actress in a Play
Miriam Silverman, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window”
Best Featured Actor in a Musical
Alex Newell, “Shucked”
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Bonnie Milligan, “Kimberly Akimbo”
Best Direction of a Play
Patrick Marber, “Leopoldstadt”
Best Direction of a Musical
Michael Arden, “Parade”
Best Book of a Musical
David Lindsay-Abaire, “Kimberly Akimbo”
Best Original Score
“Kimberly Akimbo,” music by Jeanine Tesori; lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Casey Nicholaw, “Some Like It Hot”
Charlie Rosen and Bryan Carter, “Some Like It Hot”
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Tim Hatley and Andrzej Goulding, “Life of Pi”
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Beowulf Boritt, “New York, New York”
Best Costume Design of a Play
Brigitte Reiffenstuel, “Leopoldstadt”
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, “Some Like It Hot”
Best Sound Design of a Play
Carolyn Downing, “Life of Pi”
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Nevin Steinberg, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Tim Lutkin, “Life of Pi”
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Natasha Katz, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement
Joel Grey and John Kander
Isabelle Stevenson Award
Regional Theater Tony Award
Tony Award for Excellence in Theater Education
Jason Zembuch Young
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater
Lisa Dawn Cave, Victoria Bailey and Robert Fried
Related: Live updates: 76th Tony Awards https://njurbannews.com/2023/06/11/live-updates-76th-tony-awards/