The 32-year-old opened a blank script before launching into an elaborate dance number throughout the United Palace, eventually ending up on the stage. DeBose explained that her script had no words because the Writers Guild of America is on strike.
“Our siblings over at the WGA are currently on strike in pursuit of a fair deal,” she said. “Award shows are traditionally written by members of the WGA. In order for this show to go on, a whole host of people had to come together in order to find a compromise. And we are all here, so to every single person who had a hand in finding that compromise, I say a full-throated thank you!”
The Tony nominee knew that audiences would wonder why this is relevant. “So now you’re asking, what’s the compromise? Well, we don’t have a script, you guys. Yeah, I’m live and unscripted — you’re welcome,” she quipped. “So to anyone who may have thought last year was a bit unhinged, to them I say, ‘Darlings, buckle up.’”
DeBose continued, “But in all seriousness, yes, I am unscripted as is every presenter who comes on this stage tonight. We’re just making it up as we go along. And that’s cool. Again, it’s a blessing to be here.”
She added that that the monitors on the sides of the stage will only show a countdown for acceptance speeches that go long. “But honeys, take your moment. Tonight is about you,” DeBose added.
The Oscar winner — who got her start performing in Broadway productions of Hamilton, A Bronx Tale and Summer: A Donna Summer Musical — previously hosted the 2022 ceremony, which was held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City last June. During the show, DeBose wowed with a show-stopping medley of Great White Way hits, including “Somewhere” from West Side Story. (The So You Think You Can Dance alum won her first Oscar for her role of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of the movie musical.)
It was announced in April that DeBose would host the Tonys — which was moving from Radio City to the United Palace in Washington Heights — for a second year. “I was honored to serve as host last year and even more so to be asked back!” she said in a statement at the time. “So looking forward to celebrating this incredible season and the people who make the work happen. Here’s to adding some uptown flavor to the magic of the Tony Awards.”
DeBose’s emcee gig marks her first live performance since her rap at the 2023 BAFTAs went viral. During the February awards show, the Wish voice actress hosted the ceremony and shouted out all of the female nominees in song, including Michelle Yeoh, Viola Davis and Angela Bassett for doing “the thing.” While social media users quickly criticized DeBose’s musical tone and lyrics, both the actress and the BAFTAs producers defended the show bit. However, getting up on stage on Sunday was still nerve-wracking for the North Carolina native.
“Have I developed a little bit of stage fright? I would be lying if I said, ‘no,’” the Prom actress confessed to Marie Claire earlier this month. “But I also challenge myself and I do scary things every day. And if I’m afraid of something, I should probably do it.”
She continued: “I have found that trying to act as if I don’t feel something is not helpful. Pretending it’s not happening [is] not helpful. Yes, I performed at the BAFTAs. Yes, the Internet had a moment about it. Yes, some things were said that I didn’t appreciate and that I found very hurtful. And yes, eventually the tide turned on the Internet and people found what I saw in it: the fun, the joy. But that doesn’t mean that along that little journey, I didn’t feel my feelings about having the Internet make fun of me for being me and doing what I love to do. I don’t understand that part of society.”