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:
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
— 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.
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.
About Last Night: Montego Glover, Nicholas Christopher, Brandon Victor Dixon & More!
Broadway may go dark on Mondays, but Broadway Black stars were still shining all over New York City last night.
First up was the New York POPS Underground performance. Formerly known as “Cabaret Evening,” Underground is the intimate offering of New York Pops orchestra. Hosted at the infamous Feinstein’s/54 Below the benefit supports NY Pops music education program, PopsEd. Last night’s special guests were Tony Yazbeck and Tony Award nominee Montego Glover. The ever joyful Glover performed a few musical favorites including “I Loves You Porgy,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” and a jazzy rendition of the Memphis delight, “Someday.”
Before recognizing Queens P.S. 175 Principal Patricia Cooper as the first honoree of the NY PopsEd initiative, Glover shared, ” I know from experience that music has the power to save, to guide, to inspire. I am standing as living proof that music has done exactly that.”
Glover and Yazbeck closed the show with an exciting duet of “Feelin’ Good” featuring Tony’s incredible tapping skills and Montego effortlessly belting notes that only dogs can hear. Hate that we couldn’t share it with you, but we were just too busy being entertained to capture it on film!
Next, it was down to the West Village to see Darling, a developmental piece by Ryan Scott Oliver. Following the smooth Nicholas Christopher (Hamilton) as Peter and the vocally stunning Kerstin Anderson as Wendy “Darling,” this abstract musical is a contemporary telling of Peter Pan like you’ve never imagined it before.
Producers, Motown Choreographer Warren Adams and Hamilton star Brandon Victor Dixon, were on hand to introduce the show to an enthusiastic audience at the hip Le Poisson Rouge. The brilliant musical arrangement told a captivating story while highlighting the young cast’s musical aptitude and artistry. Vocal standouts included leads Christopher and Anderson, singing for the GODS for the duration of the show, the Lost Boys, with their soulful, sassy musical quips, and Les Miserables vet Brennyn Lark, taking sexy to a WHOLE other level. The recorded event concluded with a thunderous standing ovation from the audience, confirming this show is exactly what young theater lovers want. Keep an eye out for this one. It’s gonna be big!
Answering Prayers We Didn’t Think To Pray: Erivo & Henry Star In The Last Five Years
The Color Purple and Shuffle Along are exuberant examples of Black excellence. Even more so, these shows are the gifts that just keep giving. Shuffle Along’s beloved Joshua Henry is not only preparing for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton Chicago, he’s also teaming up with The Color Purple’s Cynthia Erivo for a one-night only performance of The Last Five Years.
The September 12th benefit concert at Town Hall will send all proceeds to the Brady Center. The Brady Center is an organization committed to cutting gun-related homicide in half by 2025. This is a cause the show’s composer and director, Jason Robert Brown, is passionate about. Brown believes the upcoming performance is a product of serendipity. He released a statement saying, “From the moment I heard Cynthia sing ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ at the Royal Festival Hall in London last year, I have been determined to see her interpretation of Cathy, one of the most nuanced and difficult roles I’ve ever written.”
Neither Erivo or Henry are strangers to the composer’s work. This time last year, Erivo graced the stage of London’s St. James Theatre to perform Brown’s Songs of a New World. As if an act of grand foreshadowing, she later performed “I Can Do Better Than That” from The Last Five Years at Marie’s Crisis. On September 12th, Cynthia Erivo will bring new life to Cathy for all of Town Hall to praise.
Joshua Henry will play Jaimie, opposite Erivo. Henry has a rich history with Broadway, we’ve seen him originate rockstar roles in American Idiot and revive the soul of The Great White Way in Porgy & Bess. Joshua Henry consistently proves to be an ingenious performer, continuously raising the bar of performance. I’m not the only one that thinks so, Brown spoke of Henry saying, “…who could possibly be a better partner than Joshua, a singular extraordinary performer.” Brown’s relationship with Chicago’s next Aaron Burr goes back to a riveting performance of Parade at Geffen Hall, another stage where we saw Henry’s commitment and skill.
In his statement, Brown celebrated artists and spoke of improving his community the best way he knew how. Of the many passionate statements made, Brown beamed, “To have such amazing artists bring my work to life is thrilling enough, but to be using this performance to benefit the invaluable and desperately important work of the Brady Center is a particular honor.”
Tickets went on sale August 15th at 10AM and sold out within a few hours. To those blessed beings that got one, enjoy a beautiful night of performance and thank you for helping bring peace and change to a hurting world. We all can play a part in bringing peace to our communities. This concert is proof that personal determination can bring reality to your dreams and safety to your community. Click here, to learn more about the Brady Center and its determination to do better.
Daniel J. Watts Presents The Jam: Love Terrorists Benefit For Orlando
On July 31 WattsWords Productions in association with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Presents Daniel J. Watts’ The Jam: Love Terrorists (A Benefit for Orlando) at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall in NYC for one night only.
“In light of the recent events, most notably the horrendous mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that rocked the world last month, we need to galvanize the masses to speak openly, honestly, and sincerely about our fears and differences so that ultimately we can come together as a society,” said poet/performer/activist Watts. “I aim to do that with this original THE JAM: LOVE TERRORISTS. It is paramount that we support each other and use our talents to the betterment of humanity.”
A play-on-words, THE JAM pays homage to Watts’ great-grandmother who, after making jam from scratch, would share with others what she was unable to consume herself. THE JAM is Watts’ continuation of that legacy featuring his original spoken word, often set to music and/or dance.
Check out this throwback to past The Jam event!
#TBT #RememberTheTime we celebrated #MichaelJackson for #TheJam #Tributes!! Get you tickets for the #LoveTerrorists @websterhall this Sunday. Link in the bio @ephsykes @taharqamusic @tisvoltaire @dewittflemingjrdotcom @derrick.baskin @djduggz @leemute @glbaileyii @sdubtwa #TheInnerView @hamiltonmusical
THE JAM: Love Terrorists is a veritable call to arms, demanding any and all to terrorize with love. The final lines of the title poem read:
Life is a blessing and then you die.
What better way to die than from loving to death?
Love is a weapon of mass construction.
Use it at your leisure.
These are our demands.
Watts (Hamilton) will be joined by his band The InnerView, including lead vocalist Derrick Baskin (Hulu’s “Difficult People,”Whorl Inside A Loop), Hamilton’s Ephraim Sykes (HBO’s “Vinyl”) on drums and vocals, Taharqa Patterson (Lights Out On Broadway) on guitar and vocals, Hamilton’s Voltaire Wade-Greene on bass and vocals, and Taylor Williams (The Color Purple, She Loves Me) on keys, with Preston Dugger III (Motown the Musical, Memphis) aka DJ Duggz spinning through the evening. Beyoncé’s music director and bassist Divinity Roxx (ImPossible, The Roxx Boxx Experience) joins the bill, as well as special performances from the casts of Hamilton, On Your Feet and Shuffle Along. The official after party features DJ Duggz.
The doors for what is sure to be an incredible event will open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm. It is a night you won’t want to miss! Visit www.WebsterHall.com for more information and tickets!
iLLA! A Hip Hop Musical Returns to New York Musical Festival
After a sold-out run in Atlanta and Toledo, the award-winning iLLA! A Hip Hop Musical continues its reign and returns as part of the 2016 New York Musical Festival this week for concert performances at The Pearl Theatre. Directed by J. Kyle Manzay, the show features a book, with music and lyrics by Ronvé O’Daniel, and additional music by Jevares C. Myrick. David Coffman produces.
With the recent success of Hamilton, Coffman believes audiences are ready for this kind of story.
iLLA!, which is slang meaning, “to be greater,” tells the story of Prince, a classically trained dancer who dreams of becoming a hip-hop star. After suffering a humiliating defeat at a leading open mic competition, Prince struggles to redeem himself in the eyes of his friends and family.
He falls in love with a girl named Stacy but their family prejudices threaten to tear them apart. Can Prince overcome his fears and troubled home life to achieve his dreams? It’s a journey of Swagger, Survival and the Search for Self.
Watch the extended trailer below:
Titus Makin Jr. leads the cast as Prince. Many may remember him as one of the original Warblers in the hit-musical television show “Glee.” He’s joined by Andrew Bancroft, of Freestyle Love Supreme, and Danielle Lee Greaves (A Streetcar Named Desire, Rent).
Performances take place on Friday, July 29th at 5pm; Sunday, July 31st at 9pm; and Tuesday, August 2nd at 9pm.
Last year, iLLA! received its first reading at the New York Musical Festival Developmental Reading Series, where it won the 2015 Award for Excellence. It performed in subsequent workshops at the Toledo School for the Arts in Ohio, and the Cobb County Center for Excellence in Performing Arts in Atlanta, Georgia.
Per its mission statement, the NYMF “nurtures the creation, production, and public presentation of stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse new musicals to ensure the future vitality of musical theater.” In its thirteenth year, more than 90 shows have seen productions on and Off-Broadway, in regional theaters all over the country, and in more than 24 countries worldwide.
The 2016 NYFM runs from July 11th to August 7th.
For tickets and more information, visit NYMF.
We Were There: Leslie Odom Jr. Begins His Residency at the McKittrick Hotel
It was small. It was intimate. It was smoky. It was the epitome of Jazz.
Leslie Odom Jr. kicked off his New York Residency at the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea last night and what a night it was. Shall I give you the play by play? Yes, I will. Read along for all the fun.
10:30 PM – The tickets said doors open at 11, so we figured if we get there a little early we can have good seats. We were right. We were behind about 20 other people all waiting to be in “The Room Where It Happens.”
10:50 ish – Leslie, with his gorgeous wife Nicolette Robinson makes their way into the venue and they walk right by us in line. My best friend almost fainted.
11:00 PM– Doors open. They let us in, we tell them our name and we are led through the darkest, most fun maze to get to the venue. It was like a game, but I didn’t come to play- I came to hear good music!
11:20 PM– My best friend and I see someone with dreads, I think to myself that can’t be Ledisi can it? IT WAS LEDISI. More about that later. Then a few more people made their way into the reserved section Billy Porter and Spike Lee, to name a few.
11:30 ish – The band comes out and warms up a little bit, shortly after Leslie makes his way to the stage dressed to the nines, there’s some applause then he wastes no time getting into the first song, “Autumn Leaves.”
11:30 PM-12:45 AM Leslie sings song from his self-titled album including; “Look For The Silver Lining”, “Joey Joey Joey”, “Cheer Up Charlie”, the most beautiful rendition of Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You” and a jazzed up arrangement of Spring Awakening’s “The Guilty Ones”. His voice was as smooth as ever as he crooned and swayed the night away. The small setting added to the overall intimate feel of the concert, sometimes you felt like he was singing right at you. Between songs he offered a few anecdotes and provided context. Other than that he let his singing do the talking. The best part- halfway through the concert he told the audience he had a special guest. This special guest was none other than LEDISI. You heard me correctly! First, she sang the most beautiful arrangement of “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” from Pal Joey. And yes, scatting was included! Then she and Leslie did the unthinkable, THEY DID A DUET OF LEDISI’S “ALRIGHT”. Let me tell you, thats one of my favorite Ledisi songs, so to hear her and Leslie sing together was the epitome of “melodies from heaven.” He also couldn’t end the night without singing Hamilton, so he did a lovely rendition of “The Room Where It Happens”. He ended the night with the beautiful “The Party’s Over”, and just when you thought he was done he sent us on our way with a beautiful prayer.
Safe to say, Leslie Odom Jr. is making a name for himself in the music world and we can’t wait to be there for the ride. This is the first of his three Thursday night residencies at the McKittrick Hotel. All shows are, sadly, already sold out. But fear not! Let these videos hold you over, and keep checking his Twitter for when he announces more concert dates. This is a show you DON’T want to miss.
— Broadway Black (@BroadwayBlack) July 15, 2016
— Broadway Black (@BroadwayBlack) July 15, 2016
EXCLUSIVE: Broadway Black Behind The Scenes Dreamgirls 35th Anniversary Concert
It’s been 35 years since The Dreamette’s “moved” their way into our hearts, and if you had the childhood I had, your home stereos. Which is why Broadway Black was more than thrilled to learn about the Dreamgirls 35th anniversary concert that would reunite its original stars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, and Jennifer Holliday. I mean thrilled, to the point I was trying to figure out how to not pay bills thrilled. On July 10th, the ladies performed at their one night only (Ha!), sold-out show in Hollywood, and they were even joined by some of our other favorite performers Frenchie Davis and Mary Wilson!
A night that was sure to be one for the books, it’s a shame that everyone in the world wasn’t able to witness it. However, this is Broadway Black and in true Broadway Black fashion our readers should know by now, WE GOT YOU. Check out an EXCLUSIVE behind the scenes look of the Dreamgirls 35th Anniversary Concert below, brought to you ONLY by Broadway Black.
If you still can’t get enough of Dreamgirls, remember it’s coming to London this fall (and hopefully Broadway after that!).
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