Yes, Denée Benton Did Call Ron DeSantis 'Grand Wizard' of Florida at the 2023 Tony Awards | Playbill

Tony Awards Yes, Denée Benton Did Call Ron DeSantis 'Grand Wizard' of Florida at the 2023 Tony Awards

The remark got cheers in the United Palace.

Denée Benton Heather Gershonowitz

Earlier in the 2023 Tony Awards broadcast, host Ariana DeBose told audiences to "buckle up" because the evening was entirely unscripted. And so viewers in the theatre and at home were waiting with baited breath to see what presenters and awardees would say when encouraged to speak off the cuff. And actor, and presenter, Denée Benton did not disappoint when she called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis the "Grand Wizard."

Benton stepped on stage to talk about the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, which was presented during the Act One portion of the evening to Jason Zembuch Young, theatre teacher at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida.

Said Benton, “Earlier tonight, CMU and the Tony Awards presented the 2023 Excellence in Theatre Education Award. And while I am certain the current Grand Wizard." She then stopped as the audience audibly reacted and cheered. Benton then smiled, saying, "Sorry, excuse me, Governor, of my home state of Florida. I’m sure that he will be changing the name of this following town immediately. We were honored to present the award to the truly incredible and life-changing Jason Zembuch Young." 

Earlier in the evening during the Tony Awards pre-show, in his acceptance speech, Zembuch Young entreated the theatre industry to be inclusive of people with disabilities. "Give the dance solo to the girl who cannot hear the music. Because when we focus on what people can do rather than what they can’t, the possibilities are endless.” His speech earned sustained applause and left Kimberly Akimbo star (and 2023 Tony nominee) Victoria Clark in tears.

Check Playbill throughout the evening for the latest in Tony Awards coverage, including photos from the red carpet, a continually updated list of winners, analysis from Playbill's theatre experts, and more.

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