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It’s All Over: 2017 Claims a Former Broadway Dreamgirl

Tristan Halstead

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We’re only two weeks into the new year, and 2017 has taken another victim. Only five days after ending her long-awaited Broadway comeback in the revival of The Color Purple, “Ally McBeal” guest star Jennifer Holliday confirmed that she’d perform at Herr Woolly Bear Caterpillar’s Presidential Inauguration on Jan 19th in Washington, D.C. There was some slight confusion earlier today about whether or not the alleged performer had actually accepted. But according to the New York Times, Jennifer Holliday is performing at the Inauguration.

Jennifer Holliday is performing at the Inauguration.

Jennifer Holliday is performing at the Inauguration.

Jennifer Holliday is performing at the Inauguration.

And this is why we can’t ever have nice things. Now we know why Deena & the Dreams threw her out faster than Farrah got her luggage. We’re just as perplexed as her former co-star, Sheryl Lee Ralph, currently employed in the smash Broadway hit, Wicked.


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“I’m singing on the mall for the people,” Ms. Holliday claimed in defense of her decision, “I don’t have a dog in this fight — I’m just a singer, and it’s a welcome concert for the people on the mall.”

But Ms. Holliday DOES have a dog in this fight. She lives with Multiple Sclerosis and will most assuredly be affected if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, as is planned by the Trump Administration.

Listen, we get it. Times are hard, and those Color Purple paychecks won’t last forever. But what Ms. Holiday doesn’t seem to understand is that by taking this role, she turns her back on her Black brothers and sisters who’ve shared her plight of struggling in this industry, in this country. She turns her back on those LGBT youth who grew up listening to the Dreamgirls cast recording, which gave them empowerment. She turns her back on every woman who’s had her voice taken away by a narcissistic, controlling chauvinist who feels threatened by her strength.

She should relate to the latter, as it earned her a Tony Award in 1982. We can take those back, right?

“If that’s what America has come to,” she continued, “where we all hate and bully people, there’s no more freedom of speech.” But this is exactly what lead us to Emperor Cheetoh in the first place. Hate, bullying, and the abuse of freedom of speech and the exemption of consequence.

As of now, Benedict Effie, Toby Keith, and 3 Doors Down have joined the roster that already includes that one runner-up from “America’s Got Talent,” The Rockettes, a Bruce Springsteen coverband (really?), and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Below you’ll find how it all went down from the initial announcement to the retracted confirmation to the final offical confirmation of her performance. It’s been a whirlwind kind of day.

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Concert Night

Bay Street Cancels Prince of Egypt Concert Following Diversity Concerns

Tristan Halstead

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ICYM this week’s episode of “White People Need to Stop,” the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor raised eyebrows when they announced their casting for its staged reading of Dreamworks Theatrical’s The Prince of Egypt, based on the animated musical film.

The cast would feature Casey Cott (CW’s “Riverdale”) as ‘Moses,’ Stark Sands (Kinky Boots, American Idiot) as ‘Ramses,’ Solea Pfeiffer (Hollywood Bowl’s West Side Story) as ‘Tzipporah,’ Marin Mazzie (The King and I, Ragtime) as ‘Queen Tuya,’ Shuler Hensley (Young Frankenstein) as ‘Pharaoh Seti,’ J.C. Montgomery (Shuffle Along, The Scottsboro Boys) as ‘Jethro,’ John Cariani (Something Rotten) as ‘Aaron,’ with Ryan Knowles as ‘High Priest Hotep,’ Julia Motyka as ‘Miriam,’ Joanna Howard as ‘Nefertari,’ Desi Oakley as ‘Yocheved,’ and Dakota Quackenbush as ‘Young Miriam.’ Ensemble members included Alysha Deslorieux, Brian Flores, and Destan Owens.

Which once again begs the question: were there no more Black or Middle-Eastern actors available? Even for a one-night only concert reading? Clearly, Stewart/Whitley has been taking Hollywood’s ‘Whitewashing the Middle East 101’ course; isn’t that right, “Exodus?” “Gods of Egypt?” “Noah?” “Prince of Persia?” “The Passion of the Christ?” Or perhaps they’re just following the source material:

 

Prince of Egypt

 

Naturally, most sane people on social media weren’t having it, and responded accordingly:

It saddens me that after such a wonderful multicultural season on Broadway a piece set in AFRICA has not one POC. #PrinceOfEgypt 😔

— Cynthia Erivo (@CynthiaEriVo) July 23, 2016

#princeofegypt yet ANOTHER missed opportunity to represent our colorful world #representationmattershttps://t.co/OVnA9SCR7i

— Denée Benton (@DeneeBenton) July 24, 2016

After a year of Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Eclipsed, Waitress, Spring Awakening, The Color Purple, Allegiance — a season so rich in diversity, it’s disheartening that we’re back at it again with the whitewash. Hell, another theater in Chicago landed themselves in hot water after casting a white actor in the Dominican role of Usnavi in their production of In the Heights.

Earlier this week, director Scott Schwartz (son of composer Stephen Schwartz) released a statement on Bay Street’s website:

I know a conversation has been happening about the casting of the upcoming concert of the new stage adaptation of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT. It is a conversation that is both timely and of great importance. I want to take a moment to join this dialogue, and to respond to the issues that have been raised.

Let me first say that I hear you, and I take the concerns raised about racial authenticity and diversity in casting very seriously. I always have, and am known for directing and producing shows with highly diverse casts. The other creators of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, from composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer Philip LaZebnik to the producers and team at DreamWorks Theatricals, all have a long history of diversity in casting. We all care deeply about making theater and art that is reflective of the multicultural society in which we live. Bay Street Theater as well is committed to hiring artists of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The upcoming presentation of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT is a one night, free concert reading. It will have an extremely limited rehearsal period and it is NOT a full production. There will be no costuming, makeup, or design of any sort, and the music will be performed on just one piano. This show is early in its development, and the focus of the team has been on the script and score, working to make this new musical the best it can be in its writing. We have done a couple of non-public readings of the show, and the cast has been different at each. I am proud to say that we have had diverse casts in all of our developmental steps so far.

Some have written that the cast for this upcoming concert is “all white,” but that is simply not the case. In fact, we have an Equity cast of fifteen actors and five of them are people of color. So while some may not agree with specific choices we may have made for specific roles, I want to assure everyone that having a diverse cast was and is a priority for us.

All of that being said, please rest assured that your concern about the need for diversity and authenticity in this project is something we hear and take seriously. All of us on the creative and producing team hope to continue this conversation, not just about THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, but about diversity and authenticity in casting in all the art we create.

Sincerely,
Scott Schwartz

Wow.

But if having a diverse cast is such a “priority,” then why are only four of the 15 cast members Black, with two of them as part of the ensemble? Add in Flores, who’s Latino, and only 1/3 of the cast includes performers of color. In a story that takes place in Egypt.

That’s not diversity, it’s lazy, whether or not it’s a workshop, or a concert, or a full-fledged stage production.

And I still haven’t forgiven him for Hunchback.

In the age of Hamilton, #BlackLivesMatter, and presidential nominee Donald Trump, race and representation in the media for nonwhite actors is obviously still a major, complex subject.

After a long, dark history of white actors taking and playing cultures and characters that aren’t their own, excluding nonwhite actors from roles they should be playing, and being cast in a role where the character’s race is unspecified 99% of the time, it feels like another slap in the face for performers of color still struggling to find work.

God forbid award-winning actress Norma Dumezweni gets cast as Hermione Granger. God forbid Hamilton casting directors only seek actors of color to portray the roles created for them. And rarely, especially for a show featuring non-Black people of color, is there any authenticity in casting. Just look at Aladdin. It all reeks of hypocrisy.

The entire debacle didn’t go unscathed, however, as Bay Street decided to cancel the August 13th performance all-together, issuing a non-apology on Facebook.

As if this couldn’t get any more bizarre, Schwartz penned another lengthy novel on Bay Street’s Facebook page, detailing how and why they made the decision to cancel the performance. He essentially boiled it down to online harassment of the performers.

Online bullying, especially toward actors much more accessible through social media, is unacceptable, and I commend Schwartz and Bay Street for wanting to protect them. But for him to once again deflect responsibility instead of apologizing for the casting in the first place and acknowledge why people had a problem with it, it seems to contradict any earlier statements he made regarding diversity and reveals his disinterest in racial authenticity.

Finally, the creative team and producers at DreamWorks Theatricals all believe that the story of Moses is one that is embraced and owned by millions and millions of people from every country, race and culture – and we hope that the project we are developing will honor the passion of those who love it. It has always been our aim to create the piece in a way that people of all races and cultures can one day tell the story.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that only white people have been given the opportunity to tell this, or any Biblical story, taking place in the Middle East, which is what people have a problem with. The mainstream can still relate to this or any story with a predominately Middle-Eastern or Black cast.

So, miss me with the excuses. Admit you screwed up, actually listen to what people are saying, take what you learned and apply it into the show’s development.

In the same letter, he announced that Bay Street will now offer a free concert of its production of My Fair Lady, August 13th.

 

 

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Tea Alert: Audra McDonald Drags Bill O’Reilly For Filth

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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How do you like your tea? I like mine hot and served early in the morning, so this morning was a treat!

Audra McDonald woke up with her receipts, ready to drag the life out of Bill O’Reilly.

Monday night the always regal and practically perfect FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, gave the speech of a lifetime at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. In this speech she spoke highly of the party’s first ever female Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, explaining why we need her in office.

During part of her speech, Michelle mentioned the fact that she “wakes up in a house everyday that was built by slaves” and it took no time for everyone to come together to “YAAAAAS, MICHELLE, YASSSSS.” Unfortunately, not long after, conservatives and media outlets were fact checking FLOTUS only to come up with, “Gee Michelle Obama is right. Slaves DID build the White House!”

Yes, and water is wet.

But, Bill O’Reilly couldn’t leave it alone. He went on to fix his mouth to say, “well, they were well-fed and had decent lodgings and there were others working as well.”

UMM. SIR.

SIR.

Audra wrote a simple “Umm…” in her tweet last night, but y’all know when Audra goes in, she GOES ALL THE WAY IN. So there is no way she was letting that one go. This morning, Audra The Great had TIME.

This isn’t shocking to us, as Audra has always been extremely vocal about the social issues that matter most to her, especially when it comes to civil rights. Let us never forget the ULTIMATE DRAGGING of Donald Trump’s current poor choice of a running mate, Mike Pence, last year.

She didn’t hold back today either. Providing the “history teacher” with a much needed history lesson. She even had time to read someone that just had to slide into her mentions when she wasn’t even talking to or about them.

See the tweets below and for goodness sakes,  PLEASE stop trying Audra on Twitter, ya’ll know she’s one of the OG clapback queens!

Bonus Read:

 

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How Do We Feel

The Broadway Black Purge of 2016 And All That Followed

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Julieta Cervantes

I remember writing a piece last year sharing my excitement for the upcoming 2015-2016 Broadway season. I was so optimistic, hopeful and amped because there were going to be so many shows starring some of my favorite Broadway Black actors. So many shows where there wasn’t going to just be one black actor in a cast of 30.

We had The Color Purple, Eclipsed, Hughie, Shuffle Along, Hamilton, The Gin Game, Amazing Grace, Motown (technically a 2016-2017 production) to join The Lion King and Kinky Boots.

I would walk down 45th street with the hugest grin on my face. Despite living deep in Bed-Stuy, I made the trek to 45th street as often as I could, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Literally, I remember tearing up seeing all those marquees down 45th street. What a time to be alive, I thought.

45th-street-2016

Everything was great! Tony Awards came around most of my favorites were nominated, nothing could go wrong! Fast forward to now, and well it’s no secret that 45th or Broadway, in particular, isn’t looking as colorful as it was in, let’s say, March. Of the new Broadway shows to open the 2015-2016 season only, The Color Purple and Hamilton remain. As for the others, we’ve had to say tearful goodbyes to them. Some that are gratefully moving on to productions in other cities, some that had to have limited runs, some that closed for financial reasons and some that didn’t deserve to close at all.

Now, I will say this, I am fully aware that Broadway is a for-profit business I really, and truly am aware of this harsh, often sad reality and I get it  – s*** happens. That does not, however, stop me from feeling a type of way about particular shows closing especially shows that involve actors of color because HELLO WE ARE BROADWAY BLACK. This is literally our platform, to highlight shows in ways they may not otherwise get the attention. We are here to help avoid getting actors of colors names wrong, or mixing up names with pictures, or finding the worst possible picture to put up of an actor, or highlight the upcoming playwrights, directors, actors, designers that otherwise may not get the platform. That’s literally why we exist. So one can’t help but to feel a type of way when it seems the rug has been pulled from under this magical carpet ride we’ve been experiencing.

Each show has a different circumstance for leaving and I know you are probably tired of talking about it and I said I wouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. Shuffle Along shouldn’t have closed. It should still be around.  Shuffle Along should have played longer. Could it have sustained financially? Maybe. So its numbers were no Hamilton,  but have you seen the grosses for some of the other shows around (sips teas)? Check those out, then get back to me. I can’t begin to express the importance of a show like Shuffle.

I don’t know if George C. Wolfe could have predicted that America would be in the state it is in right now, but Shuffle Along came at such a convenient time. However as convenient as it was, the problem was Shuffle wasn’t popular enough. That and the producer that shall not be named, but we know who I’m talking about, is terrible.

Shuffle Along

Sure it had big names attached but I didn’t think that mattered for this show (no matter how much people want to blame it on certain people),  it’s what it stood for that mattered most. I will be frank here, Broadway audiences weren’t ready for Shuffle Along. Just like they weren’t ready 6 years ago with Scottsboro Boys. Sure people were outraged when news of the show closing went viral on social media. So many people were outraged and upset because they felt the story was important and needed to be told. However, I don’t think there were as many of those people we’d like to think. When you have tons of people returning tickets because one person isn’t in the show, it’s kinda safe to say they weren’t there for the story, which is a complete and utter shame.

It’s also expected. I’m generalizing a bit here, but for the majority of Broadway audiences, I still think Broadway is an escape. Audiences like their Broadway light hearted with a touch of sadness to make us cry at the theater and then go home and feel good. To go and have a drink and talk about what a lovely show we saw. Shuffle wasn’t one of those shows. Shuffle made you think, it was a legitimate history lesson.

Something I’ve noticed Broadway doesn’t do well is have these difficult discussions about these plaguing issues like racial politics for example. It gets people talking for sure, but people are really uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. And that goes beyond Broadway, look at what’s happening in America now? If  we’re afraid to have these tough conversations in real time, what happens when we put it into our art?

Audiences came to Shuffle with the expectation to see some of the biggest stars on Broadway singing beautifully and to see the best tap dancing around, what they didn’t expect was for it to be laced with themes of appropriation, colorism, defiance  and a “joyous rage.” They don’t want to hear about Gershwin stealing a riff from black composer William Grant Still, they don’t want to watch black actors don blackface, they don’t want to talk about how even after what seemed to be success the history of Shuffle Along would fall into obscurity because it’s uncomfortable. It hits a nerve we don’t want to yet talk about.

Shuffle Along was extremely ambitious and everyone involved knew this which is why night after night they poured their hearts and souls into it. Sadly, that just wasn’t enough.  After all I’m still convinced black shows do well when exploiting our pain or plight, ironically which Shuffle Along points out “they love to see our love of dixie and watermelon but not our love of each other.”  Shuffle Along dared to challenge the status quo and I saw it as the most liberating show I’ve ever seen on Broadway. As I watched Shuffle play its final show on Sunday,  I couldn’t help but connect what these characters were saying to the context of today (Let’s talk about that Baton Rouge/gun line huh?) and how pretty much it’s happening all over again.

Call me upset or bitter, all which I very much am, but I would be foolish to not acknowledge that I’m grateful this show was able to come to life at all. I think I’ve said it a million times this story was needed, it was important. I thank God that he brought Shuffle Along into my life when he did because this was the show I didn’t know I needed. It forced me to research more to become a better researcher, artist, teacher, future theater owner and producer. This show filled me with so much hope that I needed and I couldn’t be more grateful. It just sucks that those who weren’t fortunate enough to make it to NYC these last five months, aren’t able to see all that it was. However, unlike the song “They Won’t’ Remember You” this time with Shuffle, there are hundreds of thousands that will never forget this work, and I can’t wait to see it resurface again in the future. (This time maybe with more producers of color and maybe a black theater owner !!)

Even in the midst of our tearful goodbyes, we still have hope in what we do have such as Hamilton which is still crushing it night after night and we can’t wait till Brandon takes over as Burr! The Color Purple is still solid which I’m grateful for because that show is a revelation. We have a few shows opening next season such as Jitney (FINALLY!) , Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 starring Denee Benton, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory ( looking to cast an African-American as Violet), and who knows what else (Fingers crossed they can go ahead and bring the LA production of Ma Rainey this way). I just hope 2015-2016 wasn’t a fluke, but looking at this next season it sure is looking like one.

I say this because I grew up loving Broadway and everything about it. Therefore like James Baldwin says about America ” I love Broadway more than anything and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

This is my critique, do better Broadway. I know you can, you’ve proven you can, just do better.

Sound off below! What were your favorites from the season? What were you sad to see go?

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Must Be Two Egypts…This Prince Of Egypt Cast Is A Little Pale

Alicia Samuel

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I don’t remember there being two Egypts in my World Geography class, but I obviously missed something.

Bay Street Theater and DreamWorks Theatricals tried it with their casting choices for the lead roles in the upcoming reading of The Prince of Egypt. And when I say “tried it,” I mean every single lead character would pass the paper bag test with flying colors. I mean the melanin deficiency is off the charts. It’s almost like none of them are of African descent. Wait.

Ok, there is Solea Pfeiffer. *blank stare*

There is no need to go into listing every single actor or talking about how they shouldn’t have taken the roles. I don’t know these people. Maybe they have rent to pay. Maybe they haven’t eaten in weeks. Maybe they haven’t worked in months. Maybe there aren’t an immense number of three-dimensional characters for people who lack color.

I. DON’T. KNOW.

What I DO know is that the real problem started at the top.

How ignorant and downright disrespectful does one have to be to go out of their way to miscast? There could not have been a greater opportunity to cast non-white actors, yet here we are with a Moses the color of mayonnaise! WHY.

What really gets me is the fact that we just had an incredible season of beautiful stories centered around varying degrees of color. The theatre world nearly pulled a muscle trying to pat itself on the back for being so “diverse.” Yet here we are with Milk of Magnesia in Egypt. Leslie Odom Jr. said that we “shouldn’t be so quick to praise” and to look to the next two seasons to see if there has actually been change. Lin Manuel-Miranda simply called last season a “fluke.” Both men seem to have been correct.

I get it. There are times when ethnicity isn’t essential to the story. This is not one of those instances.

“Well, Hamilton cast real historical figures as a different race!” SHUT UP! Stop being willfully ignorant and obtuse.

Hamilton’s casting created opportunities for POC, because there are significantly fewer fully fleshed out roles for them. And even when there are opportunities the roles are STILL given to white people. I bring your attention back to The Prince Of Egypt.

There is no reason why a theatre that has employed POC in the past missed the mark on this. How does one go from Norm Lewis and Patina Miller to every shade of milk? It is not only disappointing, it is infuriating! The blatant disrespect is unacceptable and something needs to be done.

This is the part where I usually wrap it up by offering solutions to the problem. There’s only one solution.

  1. CAST PEOPLE OF COLOR.

 

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In Wack News: Motown The Musical Is Closing July 31

Alicia Samuel

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Yes, you read that headline correctly. Motown The Musical is closing a mere 19 days after its opening.

The show based on the history of Motown Records, the Detroit-based record company that gave the world Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and so many others, was set to have a limited run. It was initially set to end the limited engagement Nov. 13. Now producer, Kevin McCollum, has announced the show will be closing July 31.

The musical was recently on Broadway back in 2013 and ran for 775 performances to great reviews, but this second go-round the build up and hype for the show wasn’t there (sips tea), so the show only reached about 37 percent of its grossing potential last week.

*Stands on soap box*

It’s a sad time on Broadway for us. With some of our favorite shows closing abruptly and the upcoming season looking melanin deficient, we can only keep our fingers crossed that things will turn around. Everyone wants to take a chance on a “Hamilton”, but it appears to be disingenuous and “just business.” If “diversity” doesn’t make a dollar right away, it’s shelved and we end up right back where we started. Shows written and performed by people of color are not “trendy”. They are a reflection of our lives and our lives matter. We deserve to be represented and, more importantly, we deserve to be FAUGHT FOR.

So here is our call out. Calling all aspiring Broadway producers, writers, actors, media OF COLOR! Now is the time to get inspired and step up to the plate! It is a fact that people only fight for what they believe in. We believe in ourselves. It’s time to prove it.

*Steps down off soap box*

You have little more than a week to catch Motown The Musical before it closes! Get your tickets now!

 

 

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Renee Elise Goldsberry Will Leave Hamilton; Netflix Series Next

Andrew Shade

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Tony Award winner Renee Elise Goldsberry will leave her award-winning role as Angelica Schuyler in the record-breaking Broadway musical Hamilton: An American Musical. It has yet to be announced who will replace her or when her final performance will be. However, according to the Hollywood Reporter, she will depart this fall to film and star in new Netflix series Altered Carbon, a show inspired by the Richard Morgan novel.

Goldsberry has been seen on Broadway in the original cast of The Color Purple, The Lion King, and portrayed Mimi in the final company of RENT. She is also a two-time Daytime Emmy Award nominee for her work on the soap opera One Life to Live.

This announcement comes on the heels of several other big Hamilton updates. Leslie Odom Jr. and other cast members performed their last show last week, Brandon Victor Dixon and others were announced as replacements, Daveed Diggs announced his departure just a few hours ago, & the cast of the Chicago cast of Hamilton was announced today as well. Whew! So much is happening over at Hamilton. It’s an emotional rollercoaster on and off the stage for sure.

It’s a little crazy to think that so soon after The Tony Awards all of the Tony-winning actors have left the show but we’re really not mad at them, WERK!!

The hit musical, Hamilton, won 11 total Tony Awards this year, including best musical, direction of a musical (Thomas Kail), best actor in a musical (Leslie Odom Jr.), best score (Lin-Manuel Miranda), best book of a musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda), best featured actor in a musical (Daveed Diggs), and best featured actress in a musical (Renée Elise Goldsberry). Also won a record number of technical awards including best orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire), best costume design (Paul Tazewell), best choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler), and best lighting design (Howell Binkley).

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