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The show must go on: Putting on a Tony Awards telecast during a writers’ strike

Unpredictability has been inserted into what is usually an upbeat, safe and chummy night. The strike has left Broadway’s biggest night without a script, in a new venue far from the theater district

Some Like It Hot broadway
This image released by Polk & Co. shows the cast during a performance of "Some Like It Hot."Matthew Murphy (AP)

New location? No script? No rehearsal? No sweat.

Welcome to the 2023 Tony Awards, a show with an extra jolt of electricity this time due to the Hollywood writers’ strike.

Unpredictability has been inserted into what is usually an upbeat, safe and chummy night. The strike has left Broadway’s biggest night without a script, in a new venue far from the theater district.

A 1 1/2-hour pre-show on Pluto TV from 6:30-8 p.m. Eastern, hosted by Julianne Hough and Skylar Astin, will then throw to the three-hour main event led by Ariana DeBose on CBS and Paramount+ starting at 8 p.m. Eastern.

A total of 26 Tony Awards will be handed out Sunday for a season that had 40 new productions — 15 musicals, 24 plays and one special engagement during the first post-pandemic full season.

Broadway had some very serious works this season, like the new plays Cost of Living and The Kite Runner and revivals of Topdog/Underdog and Death of a Salesman, led by Wendell Pierce. A revival of Parade, about the lynching of a Jewish businessman starring Ben Platt, was also well received.

The season also had an element of the fantastical in a puppet-heavy adaptation of the lifeboat book Life of Pi, satire in The Thanksgiving Play and pure silliness in Shucked and Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

Just like the the country and the world is resetting, I think our storytelling and how we get our stories out there is resetting as well, said Kenny Leon, who directed Topdog/ Underdog and Ohio State Murders this season. The positive I take away is the variety of the material, from a Black-led Death of a Salesman to new plays like KPOP and Ain’t No Mo’ and Leopoldstadt and Prima Facie. I felt the diversity in almost every way — racially, generationally.

Some Like It Hot, a musical adaptation of the classic cross-dressing movie comedy that starred Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, goes into the night with a leading 13 Tony Award nominations. For the top crown, it is pitted against & Juliet, which reimagines Romeo and Juliet and adds some of the biggest pop hits of the past few decades, New York, New York, which combined two generations of Broadway royalty in John Kander and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Shucked, a lightweight musical comedy studded with corn puns.

The critical musical darling and intimate, funny-sad Kimberly Akimbo, with Victoria Clark playing a teen who ages four times faster than the average human, rounds out the best musical category.

The best new play category is a competition among Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, which explores Jewish identity with an intergenerational story, and Fat Ham, James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set at a Black family’s barbecue in the modern South.

The rest of the category is made up of Ain’t No Mo,’ the short-lived but critical applauded work by playwright and actor Jordan E. Cooper, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Between Riverside and Crazy and Cost of Living, parallel stories of two caretakers and their respective patients.

The answers to some intriguing questions pend: Can Audra McDonald ( Ohio State Murders ) extend her record as the most awarded actor in Tony Awards history? Will either J. Harrison Ghee (Some Like It Hot) or Alex Newell (Shucked) become the first nonbinary person to win a Tony for acting? (Last year, Six composer and writer Toby Marlow became the first out nonbinary winner.)

Performances are slated from the casts of 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.

In addition, Joaquina Kalukango — the winner of last year’s Tony for best lead actress in a musical — will sing, as will the casts from A Beautiful Noise and Funny Girl. That means there’ll be plenty of star power, from Josh Groban to Lea Michele.

It will all take place at the United Palace Theatre, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan — a new venue for the ceremony, many miles from Times Square and the theater district.

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