In what appears to be a major reversal of fate and fortune, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which last week denied a request from the organizers of the Tony Awards for a waiver in order to allow the awards broadcast to go forward in spite of the WGA’s ongoing strike, has announced that it will not picket the awards ceremony, which is slated to be held on June 11 at the United Palace and broadcast on CBS and Paramount Plus.
“Tony Awards Productions (a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing) has communicated with us that they are altering this year’s show to conform with specific requests from the WGA, and therefore the WGA will not be picketing the show,” the union said in a statement. “As they have stood by us, we stand with our fellow workers on Broadway who are impacted by our strike.”
It is currently unclear how the agreement reached between the Tony Awards and the WGA will affect the awards ceremony, but it is generally believed that this year’s awards will be generally “unscripted” in format, as in lacking specially-written material such as original songs (such as a splashy opening number for the host) or comic banter for presenters. It is also unclear whether Ariana DeBose will stay onboard as the host.
The 1988 Tony Awards, which went forward in spite of a WGA strike, was hosted by Angela Lansbury and featured performances from musicals of the time such as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Into the Woods,” and “Anything Goes” and scenes from plays such as “M. Butterfly,” “Speed-the-Plow,” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
Even if it lacks some the typical razzle dazzle and glitz, the agreement allows the Tony Awards to serve its essential functions of awarding and recognizing excellence in the theater and marketing the newest Broadway musicals and plays to a mass television audience, which is more important than ever at a time when Broadway is still recovering financially from the pandemic.
Had the Tony Awards been postponed until the end of the WGA strike or replaced with a press conference announcement or an untelevised ceremony, multiple shows that are struggling at the box office (including “Some Like It Hot,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” and “Shucked”) may have been forced to close immediately. The telecast now offers them an opportunity to market themselves on the telecast by performing a production number and/or winning major awards.
Beyond this year’s slate of new shows, having the Tony Awards on television reinforces Broadway as a brand (which extends to national touring productions) and a destination. Most years, producers and artists hope and pray to win at the Tony Awards. This year, just having the Tony Awards go forward at all is the big win.