Tony Awards 2023: All the snubs, surprises and standouts from Broadway’s biggest night — Gordon Cox

Ariana DeBose’s opening number at the 2023 Tony Awards. PHOTO: THEO WARGO/GETTY IMAGES FOR TONY AWARDS PRODUCTIONS)

In a Broadway awards ceremony without a script, there were bound to be unexpected twists, turns and upsets. Here are the biggest snubs, surprises and standouts from the 2023 Tony Awards.

SNUB: The WGA’s request to nominated members

After producers of the Tonys vowed not to include material written specifically for the awards show, the Writers Guild of America agreed not to picket the ceremony. But the union made a follow-up request: They asked Tony-nominated guild members not to attend the Tonys in solidarity, and to pre-tape acceptance speeches or have a non-member accept on their behalf. However, many of those union members, after conferring with the Dramatists Guild, made the decision to attend the Tonys anyway – and to use the nationally televised opportunity to get vocal about their support for writers and the WGA. Sure enough, writers spotlit the WGA’s cause starting with the evening’s very first award, when “Kimberly Akimbo” lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire opened his speech with a shout-out to writers. Later, host Ariana DeBose opened the CBS portion of the telecast by voicing her own support of the union.

SURPRISE: An opening number that took “no script” to the extreme

We knew going in that, due to the agreement between the Tony producers and the WGA, the ceremony wouldn’t have one of those bespoke opening numbers that so often open awards shows. We had expected Oscar-winning host Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”) to lead with a medley of pre-existing songs — but we didn’t expect her not to sing. Instead she danced, in a number that highlighted both dancers and musicians and underscored the fact that the evening would go forward without pre-written words.

SURPRISE: Patrick Marber beats tough competition

Okay, maybe “surprise” is too strong a word here, but the award for direction of play was a competitive one. A lot of voters liked Jamie Lloyd for his daringly minimalist “A Doll’s House,” and Saheem Ali was a favourite for his work on “Fat Ham.” But instead the award went the way of many of the night’s play prizes — it went to “Leopoldstadt,” with Marber taking home the trophy for his precise staging of a decades-spanning tale.

SNUB: “A Doll’s House” and Jessica Chastain

That starry revival of “A Doll’s House,” headlined by Jessica Chastain, is one of the buzziest productions of the spring, and it seemed a strong Tony contender for more than just direction. It also looked potentially poised to take trophies for play revival and for Chastain as lead actress. But in the end, it didn’t get the votes to triumph in any of the categories for which it was nominated.

SURPRISE: Miriam Silverman

I got this one wrong in Variety’s Tony predictions: I was thinking Nikki Crawford (“Fat Ham”) or Katy Sullivan (“Cost of Living”) would take this prize. But instead, the trophy went to the equally deserving Miriam Silverman, who manages to stand out in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” alongside formidable performances from famous co-stars Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan.

SURPRISE: “Topdog/Underdog”

A lot of people — including me — thought “A Doll’s House” had the award for play revival pretty much locked in, but director Kenny Leon’s much-admired production of “Topdog/Underdog” was the production that looked most likely to pull off an upset. It did: Written by industry favourite Suzan-Lori Parks and boasting stellar lead performances from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins, “Topdog/Underdog” walked away with the win.

STANDOUT: The politics weren’t limited to the WGA strike

This year’s Tonys were always going to be heavy on talk about the Hollywood writers strike, but winners also took the opportunity to weigh in on a host of other pressing social issues around gender, equality and trans rights. Beowulf Boritt, accepting the award for set design of a musical for his work “New York, New York,” made a plea for abortion rights and for gender parity in the theatre industry; winning director Michael Arden (“Parade”) spoke up for queer and trans rights (saying, in a speech that was bleeped by CBS, “Now I’m a f—- with a Tony!); and Denée Benton got in perhaps the deepest dig when she “accidentally” referred for Ron DeSantis, governor of her home state Florida, as a “grand wizard.”

SURPRISE: Even without a script, the Tonys really did take four-plus hours

When we heard the agreement between the WGA and the Tony producers meant that the ceremony would go on without material written specifically for the night, many observers thought maybe the awards could be done and dusted in a couple of hours, tops. But no, with all the live musical performances, video tributes and heartfelt speeches, the 2023 Tony ceremony easily filled its three hours on CBS, plus an hour-and-change on PlutoTV. It was all more entertaining and less awkward than it might have been — but we’ll all look forward to having the writers back on board next year. Sometimes it’s better to be on book.

-Source: Variety


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