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The 76th Annual Tony Awards - Show

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Broadway actress Denée Benton added more surprise to the Tony Awards as she blasted Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis onstage.

The veteran actress from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Hamilton, and Into the Woods, was presenting the Excellence in Theatre Education Award from Carnegie Mellon University during the live broadcast of the awards on CBS and Paramount+ Sunday night. “Hi, I’m Denée Benton, actor, and proud CMU alum,” she began after taking the state at the United Palace Theatre in New York City. The awards were held without writers due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, leaving presenters to sculpt their remarks.

“Earlier tonight, CMU and the Tony Awards presented the 2023 Excellence in Theatre Education Award,” The Gilded Age actress continued. “And while I am certain that the current Grand Wizard… I’m sorry, excuse me – governor of my home state of Florida will be changing…. I am sure that he will change the name of this following town immediately. We were honored to present this award to the truly incredible and life-changing Jason Zembuch Young, enhancing the lives at students at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida.”

Benton’s words left some shocked with their mouths open while the audience cheered mightily. Those at home watching also took note, including veteran reporter and entertainment correspondent Bobby Rivers, who tweeted: “I bet DeSantis will try to get the Tony Awards telecast canceled. He’s probably watching and stomping the ground like Mr. Applegate at the end of DAMN YANKEES.”

The “Grand Wizard” reference comes from the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan organization, which bestows that title upon its top leader. Since being elected as governor in 2019, DeSantis has actively made policy decisions that have angered civil rights advocates such as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill targeting educators trying to aid LGBTQ teens and their parents in addition to openly fighting the Walt Disney Company as it voiced opposition to his policies. He has also targeted Black students through the state’s educational board and their refusal to implement an advanced AP course on African-American studies in high schools. There was no immediate response from DeSantis or his representatives, as he is currently out at the beginning of his campaign for president on the Republican ticket.