Denée Benton Calls Ron DeSantis the 'Grand Wizard' of Florida at 2023 Tony Awards

The actress used the unscripted nature of Sunday's big show to deliver a scathing burn.

Hamilton actress Denée Benton used her time at the 2023 Tony Awards to get in a particularly well-received dig on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Benton took the stage to present a special award at this year's star-studded show and used the unscripted nature of the night -- due to the WGA strike -- to slam the controversial politician.

"Hi. I'm Denée Benton, actor and proud [Carnegie Mellon University] alum. Earlier tonight, CMU and the Tony Awards presented the 2023 Excellence in Theater Education Award, and while I am certain that the current Grand Wizard -- I'm sorry, excuse me, Governor of my home state of Florida..." 

Benton's well-timed faux-misspeak, comparing equating DeSantis with the Ku Klux Klan, received a resounding cheer and round of applause from the audience, and Benton couldn't keep from laughing at the response.

Pushing on through the surprised by supportive cheers, Benton continued, "I am sure that he will be changing the name of this following town immediately, but we were honored to present this award to the truly incredible and life-changing Jason Zembuch Young, [for] enhancing the lives of students at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida."

The 76th annual Tony Awards were particularly politically charged this year, as the shadow of the WGA strike hung over the proceedings.

Returning host Ariana DeBose addressed the ongoing strike during what normally would have been a traditional song-and-dance-filled opening monologue. Instead, a planned performance written by Lin-Manuel Miranda was scrapped while the ceremony was allowed to go forward with live performances of nominated musicals and the handing out of awards, but with no scripted material.

DeBose opened the show by opening up a blank script, which appeared to be no problem for the seasoned performer who danced her way on-stage to a jazzy medley of pre-existing Broadway hits, reimagined and newly orchestrated, thus not crossing the picket line of script writing, or rather, lyric writing.

DeBose explained "We don't have a script, you guys... so, to anyone who may have thought last year was a bit unhinged, to them I say, 'Darlings, buckle up!'"

"But in all seriousness, yes. I'm unscripted, as will every presenter who comes on the stage tonight," she added, unknowingly setting the stage for Benton's show-stealing moment later in the night. "We're just making it up as we go along."

The 2023 Tony Awards unfolded over a four-hour event that first kicked off with The Tony Awards: Act One, a pre-show of exclusive content leading up to the main celebration. That event started at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT on Pluto TV before DeBose took over as host with awards handed out live starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS and Paramount+. 

Check out the complete winner's list here.



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