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The year the Tonys went unscripted

Tony Awards Productions compromised with the Writers Guild of America so the show could go on — so what did that show look like?

Host Ariana DeBose performs the opening number during the 2023 Tony Awards (Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

It started with a blank page. But for the 2023 Tony Awards, the page never got filled. As host Ariana DeBose demonstrated by flipping through blank pages in a binder labeled “Tony Awards Script,” the 76th annual Tony Awards broadcasted live on June 11 from the United Palace without a script.

The move was part of a compromise, DeBose explained in her ad-libbed opening monologue.

“Our siblings over at the WGA are currently on strike in pursuit of a fair deal,” she said. “So I’m sure for some of you at home, you’re thinking, ‘But what does that have to do with the Tony Awards? Well I’m gonna tell you; thanks for asking. Awards shows are traditionally written by members of the WGA.”

Due to the ongoing strike, but in accordance with the agreement reached between the Tony Awards and the writers union, DeBose said: “We don’t have a script, you guys. I’m live and unscripted. You’re welcome.”

“To everyone who might have thought that last year was a bit unhinged,” she continued, “to them I say, ‘Darlings, buckle up.’”

Her address to the live audience and viewers at home came after a wildly innovative opening number, courtesy of DeBose, orchestrator Macy Schmidt, arranger Benjamin Rauhala and choreographer Karla Garcia. A corps of Broadway dancers leapt and spun through the lobby and halls of the United Palace in Washington Heights to music only. (The ceremony marked the first time the awards had ever taken place in the uptown venue.)

Unlike opening numbers in recent years, which have been notoriously wordy in pursuit of capturing all of the shows in the most recent Broadway season in a single song, this year’s opening number was lyric-less — but no less compelling for it. As DeBose said, “That was very special to me to open dance-forward and music forward in that number.”

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