Novelists seem infatuated by the Jazz Age. Whether it’s “Lost Generation” authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald (This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises) and Virginia Woolf (Mrs Dalloway), or contemporary writers like Anna Godbersen (Bright Young Things) & Libba Bray (The Diviners). Broadway historians, theatre makers and writers also seem to be obsessed. However it seems when it comes to the art of storytelling on the proscenium stage, very few are fascinated by or specialize in the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro Movement and “Negro Vogue” period of the 1920s. This is noticeable especially in the world of American musical theatre.
Thank God for Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe, who has been a staunch advocate of showcasing black talent in the Jazz Age. Since his NYC directorial debut, Wolfe has enthusiastically raised awareness of African American culture in the post-war period of the United States on the proscenium stage. With the 1986 off-Broadway production of The Colored Museum—a satirical variety show that subverts and cross-examines prominent themes and identities of black urbanity, Western civilization and popular culture—, Wolfe explored the complexities of that time. In his Obie winning 1989 follow-up, Spunk, Wolfe showed instances of Zora Neale Hurston, one of the major forces operating in that generation of 1920s black intelligentsia and how they were debased by white America, their peers and ultimately history. Via tap dance, with his 1996 musical revue spectacular Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, Wolfe showed how that time period (and prior African American history) influenced the present. He has done so consistently, whether it was co-writing and directing The Wild Party with ecoteric musical theatre composer Michael John LaChiusa in 2000 or his visionary 2016 reboot, Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. But zero theatremakers have actually taken it upon themselves to recreate the Harlem Renaissance on the Broadway stage with some of its more illustrious and notorious luminaries.
Sure, there’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Bubbling Brown Sugar, but outside these topsy-turvy Jazz Age revues about the time period, there hasn’t been original musical about the New Negro Movement of the 1920s. We say, it’s high time theatre artists create an authentic (and star-studded) Harlem Renaissance musical for the Great White Way. Here are 5 dream teams we’d like to see attempt an original musical on the subject:
Director: Robert O’Hara, Book: Robert O’Hara & Kirsten Childs, Music/Lyrics: Kirsten Childs
When it comes to wickedly witty hilarity, eye-popping visual razzle-dazzle and a narrative that veers on the darker side, look no further. In addition to being black intelligentsia, figures like Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, Bruce Nugent and Alain Locke were huge party animals. Wouldn’t it be cool to see that on the big stage?!
Director: George C. Wolfe, Book: Branden Jacob-Jenkins, Music/Lyrics: Jeanine Tesori
In 2003, Tony Kushner (Angels In America) partnered with Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Violet) and created the acclaimed Civil Rights-era musical Caroline, or Change under the direction of none other than George C. Wolfe. We say, let Wolfe and Tesori partner up with Pultizer Prize nominated playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins (Gloria, An Octoroon, Appropriate). Admit it, very few playwrigths deliver dialogue with such gusto.
Director: Diane Paulus Book: Suzan Lori-Parks Music/Lyrics: Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman
We admit it, it’s a weird combo. But oddly enough, it works. Tony winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair) previously collaborated with Pultizer Prize winning playwright Suzan Lori-Parks (Topdog/Underdog) on The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess when it premiered on Broadway in 2012. Unafraid of spectacle and glamour, with the addition of Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman ( NBC’s “Smash,” Hairspray; South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), this could be the biggest sure-fire Broadway hit since… Hamilton. (Yeah, we said it).
Director: Liesl Tommy, Book: Lynn Nottage, Music/Lyrics: Henry Krieger & Tim Rice
Pairing one of the biggest rising talents, director Liesel Tommy (Eclipsed), with one of Pultizer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage (Ruined) seems to be like a match made in theatre heaven. But two dramatic theatremakers need a dramatic songwriting team who can deliver showstoppers. So, why not pair them with Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls, Side Show) and Tim Rice (Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Aladdin, The Lion King, Aida)? Imagine the ticket price!
Director: Kenny Leon/Bill T. Jones, Book: Katori Hall, Music/Lyrics: Stew and Heidi Rodewald
While the current American musical theatre panorama is transmogrifying into a more youth-driven and socially conscious arena, it is unclear of who will be the next major voices in theatre. That said, veteran director Kenny Leon’s work on “The Wiz Live!” made it clear that he’s one of the most underrated and effervescent directors working in theatre. Bill T. Jones (Fela!) proved he knows how to bring energy and aplomb to the stage. Katori Hall (The Mountaintop, The Hurt Village) writes with a dark magic that is perfect for this kind of theatrical exhibition. With music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald (Passing Strange, The Total Bent) this could be an icon off-Broadway show and a Broadway hit.
Power’s Omari Hardwick On How Denzel Washington Impacted His Life
Power is back in full swing and in its fourth season. Omari Hardwick is still fine as hell. Anika Noni Rose is giving her best praise in her role this season.
It goes without saying that we at Broadway Black are here for Power and we’re tuned in every Sunday. We’re also tuned into the story of generosity and brotherhood between Omari and Broadway Black legend, Denzel Washington.
The struggle is real and for Hardwick, that struggle is no different from anyone else. Before he made it big, he was substitute teaching and coaching football; where coincidentally his coaching John David led to a relationship with Denzel Washington and his wife, Pauletta.
“They gave me shelter when I didn’t have a place to stay or whatever but they sort of allowed me to be close enough to the family so I sort of transitioned into getting an agent…the whole thing…doing all these odd jobs.”
Hardwick was seconds away from signing on to be a firefighter before he booked a role with Spike Lee for “Sucker Free City.” However, things went wrong as they sometimes will, and the deal fell through. Although “The funds were low and the debts were high” the Washington’s gave Hardwick a reason “to smile, when he wanted to sigh.”
Well we’re surely happy Hardwick is giving his best life as “Ghost” on Power. Washington continues to grant gifts as he brings August Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle to HBO, with the exception of Fences.
Check out the full interview between “The Real’s” Loni Love and Omari Hardwick HERE.
WATCH! A Poet & A Playwright: Staceyann Chin & Donja Love Inspire on PBS’ First Person
I get excited when I see artists and creative producers seeking to increase visibility about diversity within black queer communities. Queerness like Blackness includes a wide spectrum of experiences. The visibility of these experiences is needed to understand the contributions Black Queer people make to society and see clearly the struggles Black Queer people still face. First Person, the PBS Digital Studios show about gender identity, sexuality and queer community hosted by Aaryn Lang, Donald Shorter, Kirya Traber and Tonyln Sideco, brings these narratives to the forefront. First Person recently interviewed gay Black playwright Donja R. Love and nationally renowned Black lesbian poet and activist Staceyann Chin about their lives.
Donja R. Love is a Philadelphia born and raised Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker. In Season 2 Episode 1: Boundless Black Masculinity, Donja Love shares his experience of surviving depression and suicide ideation, expanding notions of Black masculinity, and what he refers to as the radical power of “softness.” Love discusses coming out, his strong relationship with his parents and offers advice to his younger self.
In Season 2 Episode 2: The Evolution of Staceyann Chin, spoken-word poet Staceyann Chin talks about growing up in Jamaica when derogatory words were words available to identify queer people or lesbians. This lack of language led to a late discovery that she was a lesbian. While attending college in Jamaica, the young poet was sexually assaulted by 13 boys after she began verbally declaring her sexuality on campus. Chin talks about her journey to find her voice as an activist and raising a child as a single lesbian.
Love and Chin offer tender reflective testimony about their queerness. For these artists, their queer joy, queer struggle, queer experiences are intersectional and deeply connected to systems of race, gender, class, and mental health. The richness in their narratives is bolding and inspiring offering a generous honest what it means to be black, queer and creatives.
Staceyann Chin is currently living in NYC with her daughter and is on tour with Jill Scott.
Donja Love is now preparing to make his Off-Broadway debut with Sugar In Our Wounds at Manhattan Theater Club. The play is one play of a trilogy titled The Love Plays, that explores Queer Love during pivotal moments in Black History.
Exclusive: Denée Benton and Okieriete Onaodowan Talk Great Comet, Diversity & Artivism
Two Black actors leading a show that encourages inclusive casting and ignores gender norms set in Moscow in 1812. How “non-traditional.” But is it really?
Benton, who plays Natasha with whimsical naïveté, has the role of her dreams in her Broadway debut further inspired by her never having to deny her Blackness to do it.
“I remember having my hair texture was very important to [the creative team] and important to me. I was like, ‘I couldn’t let this moment pass by for a Black woman in all of her Blackness being Natasha.’ I thought it was just very important but the fact that there’s a creative team that shares the consciousness and none of them are people of color, it’s just… it was incredible to me.”
This same consciousness of the creative team was also very key throughout her audition process. Having auditioned previously for director Rachel Chavin and writer Dave Malloy, any initial hesitations about going out for Great Comet dissipated once she got her hands on the material and fell in love with the music and her character, adding “there was synergy and everything was right and that’s when I knew it was mine.”
On the other hand, Onaodowan was quite busy playing the tailor-turned-spy Hercules Mulligan and soft-spoken James Madison in Broadway’s hit Hamilton when he received the call. “Rachel called on my second to last show of Hamilton. We were talking about the Ghostlight Project and she told me, ‘Actually I want you to be Pierre.’
“I learned ‘Dust and Ashes’ and I played some for the producers and then I worked with a piano teacher. The main thing was to make sure I could play the piano.” Now in early stages of preparations, Onaodowan commits to getting the technicalities and nuances of Pierre out of the way before deep-diving into his story. We look forward to seeing “Oak” on stage again, but this time on 45th street, the same street declared “Broadway Black Street” during the 2015-2016 season where The Great Comet plays nightly.
“It’s just understanding. Broadway is in a weird spot because there’s only so many seats you can sell, and it’s a risk taking on something that may be culturally relevant or moving the needle along; but again, it’s business. It’s financially making your money back and making a profit.”
He adds the best part of the success from Hamilton isn’t its diversity, per say, but that Hamilton is “terribly profitable.” That “these people and this music, this style/genre of music is profitable so, hopefully, producers say ‘Hey I can make a dollar.’”
Similarly, Denée chimes in: “What I found is you have a lot of well-meaning creative teams who are liberal people, who have good hearts but haven’t necessarily done the research in what it means to break a system that was based on systematic racism.” That said, it will take creative teams like those of The Great Comet to step outside of the box, for there to ever be any true progress for actors of color.
Onaodowan is also aware it doesn’t solely fall on those who make the shows, but those who see the shows. “[Ticket-holders] buy tickets. If you see a show that is diverse, even if you’re not crazy about it, go out and support it because you’re saying ‘I support diverse theatre and there’s an avenue for this,’ it can be profitable.”
Still, both actors maintain hope for the future; hopefully, one that shines as bright as the light fixture in the finale of The Great Comet.
With the way social media has taken off, it allows some of our favorite stars to interact with fans about upcoming projects or simply enlighten them about issues that affect society, helping them stay optimistic and outspoken. It’s “artivism,” as the BAC calls it. Something both Benton and Onaodowan haven’t taken lightly. Benton, this past Black History Month, launched what she calls the “Black Princess Project” to highlight Black royalty that we otherwise wouldn’t have learned.
“That’s the only reason fame matters, because you have such a wide platform and, nowadays, if they won’t teach it in our history books, you can just post it and I like that. For me, it’s important. This would all start to feel meaningless if I couldn’t use [my platform] to change something or say something.”
As the son of Nigerian immigrants, Onaodowan has remained outspoken about immigration rights, giving the keynote address to a crowd of new citizens naturalized in New York City last September.
He also stresses the importance of artists using their voices to uplift communities and speak out about what matters. “I think artists do have a [civic] responsibility at some point. I always say as artists, you are responsible. If you have that platform you are responsible for what you put out there, and as much as you would love to just do your art, when you reach a certain level there’s [sic] certain things that come with your job.
“I don’t know how to write grants or run a non-for-profit or anything like that. But, in my lane, what I can do is use this platform of how many thousand people listen to me to try to put something positive out in my own personal way. It’s important to use your platform to say something because people listen.”
Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan joins Denée Benton in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on July 3rd.
For tickets, follow the Great Comet.
Protected: Get Your War Clothes On: Billy Porter Energizes in GLAAD Acceptance Speech
Okieriete Onaodowan to Host 3rd Annual Shubert Foundation High School Theatre Festival
Before picking up the accordion for his upcoming run in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, from the original cast of Hamilton, will host the third annual Shubert Foundation High School Theatre Festival for New York City Public Schools.
On Monday, March 13th at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street) at 7 p.m, more than 100 students from five New York City high schools across the city make their Broadway debuts performing from their selected winter musicals or plays.
Additional guest artist presenters include Shoba Narayan, Nicholas Belton, and Paul Pinto of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, with cast members from Dear Evan Hansen.
A panel of professional theatre artists and theatre educators selected a total of five productions from a pool of 25 schools. Students from the chosen schools will present excerpted scenes and musical numbers from:
The Music Man: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (Queens)
Almost, Maine: Brooklyn High School of the Arts (Brooklyn)
Company: Susan E. Wagner High School (Staten Island)
Angels In America: Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts (Manhattan)
Into The Woods: Edward R. Murrow High School (Brooklyn)
School principals and teachers, along with student family members, will attend to support their young performers representing four of the five boroughs, along with Philip J. Smith, Chairman of The Shubert Organization and Robert E. Wankel, President of The Shubert Organization.
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña states:
“Theatre instruction teaches students the importance of rehearsing while building self-confidence and strengthening public speaking skills. These are critical skills that prepare students for college, careers and beyond. That’s why I’m so pleased that we continue to expand access to theatre programs and arts education across the City. In particular, we are committed to leveraging the incredible connections we have to New York City’s rich cultural resources and developing meaningful arts partnerships with organisations like Shubert.”
According to the press release:
“The High School Theatre Festival showcases the ongoing and excellent theatre work currently taking place in NYC public high schools, as well as highlighting the positive effects of theatre study on skills for the stage and in life: collaboration, artistry, discipline, focus, literacy, student voice, self-awareness, presence, active listening and empathy.”
Peter Avery, the Festival’s producer and the Director of Theater for the NYC Department of Education, further expressed the importance of the festival, and the impact it might have:
“How inspiring for our student performers to have such unique support for their Broadway debut of their show excerpts, from a professional tech crew and pit musicians to the broader embrace of the theatre community. Given today’s discourse, it is all the more crucial to celebrate the next generation of diverse, talented artists in our NYC public schools. These young men and women, representing a myriad of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, expand the definition of casting and collaborate to produce meaningful theatre for others.”
Sponsored by The Shubert Foundation in partnership with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), the festival focuses on the impact a full theatre program might have on students and school communities, and further enables them to see theatre and the arts as a potential career path. Since 2005, The Shubert Foundation has provided more than $4.3 million to the New York City Department of Education for Theatre/Arts programs.
For more information, visit Shubert Foundation.
The Broadway Black Guide to Carrying Your “Wokeness” Through March
Right off the heels of the most exhausting* time to be woke for those of us blessed and basking in our best melanin lives–Black History Month–is March. March is Women’s History Month.
And today, March 8, is International Women’s Day.
Now, what is International Women’s Day? Ain’t it already Women’s History Month?
Let’s be real, raise your hand if you remembered it is Women’s History Month.
Alright. It is what it is and there’s work that needs to be done to use this time to educate and elevate our stories. But hey, that’s why we’re here talking, right?
As described by the UN, International Women’s Day is “a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.”
Okay, okay, so what about this strike going on? The demonstrations?
No, the Deltas did not just leave their National Convention. The sea of red you’re seeing is for A Day Without Women. The leaders of The Women’s March have urged us to come together in economic solidarity to recognize the value that women hold, but more importantly, to acknowledge and rise against the inequality in: lower wages, discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.
A few of our Broadway Black favorites in formation.
Alright. I’ve got on my RED, what else can I do?
- Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor.
- Can’t take off? I get it. Me either. But educate with love, why you’re (men included) wearing red.
- Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).
Like Black history month, every day can be used to educate, love, and support the contributions Women make in the world. Here at Broadway Black we’re in the business of shinning a light on the women making noise on and off the stage.
Check out our compilation remembering and saluting women who are out here doing the dang thing!
- Hidden Figures, the official story of Black Girl Magic, and how it might come to Broadway
- Upcoming Event:Dominique Morisseau, Katori Hall, and More discuss a life in theatre
- Dreamgirls Taking Over the 2017 Olivier Nominations
- Lupita N’yongo & Danai Gurira are teaming up again on Black Panther
- Ten Contemporary Plays by Black Women
How are you celebrating International Women’s Day? Tweet us pictures of you standing in solidarity!
*Exhausting: yea, I said it, exhausting. When you have folks trying to efface the little amount of consistent and committed time dedicated to honoring the achievements of our ancestors and those who continue in their path, by moving to change the focus to the broadened “Great Americans Day,” I gotta go. Or bosses and coworkers catering fried chicken and macaroni as their only nod to our heritage. #PermanentEyeRoll Or referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as if he is the only African American who walked this green earth. It is exhausting. Also, my hat is off to all of you in the trenches of Facebook comments and Twitter mentions because *in my best Drake voice* they don’t make no award for that, but y’all deserve #trophies for your commitment to education with a side of shade and tea.