Last summer I had the privilege of experiencing the Cole Porter classic Kiss Me Kate at Pasadena Playhouse, featuring — get this — an all-Black cast. Starring Wayne Brady, Merle Dandridge and directed by the acclaimed Sheldon Epps, the ingenious adaptation of the beloved musical not only affirmed my adoration for the time-honored piece, but perpetuated my thought that the possibilities for non-traditional casting are endless. Hamilton boasting a multi-racial cast, Keke Palmer as Cinderella, the late Kyle Jean-Baptiste as Les Mis’ Jean Valjean, are all indications that ethnic is IN. So now, I’m like a kid in a candy store, re-imagining entire works, mostly Broadway classics, that would feature some of my favorite Black artists without boundaries. Here is my Broadway Black Wish List:
David Alan Grier & Stanley Wayne Mathis – The Producers
When I went to see Porgy & Bess with the brilliant Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, I was less than enthused that Grier, that guy from TV’s “In Living Color,” would be making an appearance. Clearly, I was ill-informed. The Yale School of Drama alum approached the role with a wisdom, a professionalism and a personality that made me reevaluate every misconception I’d had. His charisma has since had me pining to see him recreate the role of Max Bialystock originated by Nathan Lane with Mathis as his sidekick, Leopold Bloom. With Grier’s comedic cunning, just a twinge of Mathis’ Schroeder-like wit, and some obvious tweaks to the cultural references, this duo could possibly pull off “the biggest flop in history.”
Nicholas Christopher & Nikki Renee Daniels – The Music Man
I’ve seen Christopher in a few roles, mostly contemporary pieces, and to say he is charming would be an understatement. But many aren’t familiar with his straight-toned, classical music style and I’d love to see him bring that to the stage as the smooth-talking, fast-walking Professor Harold Hill with Daniels as the sensible and sensitive Marian…the Librarian. Daniels’ performance in Porgy and Bess proved that she has the vocal timbre to handle the traditional Meredith Wilson score and, quite honestly, I’d just love to see their chemistry on stage.
Audra McDonald – St. Louis Woman
This show is already traditionally done with an all-Black cast. Most recently, it was seen as part of the City Center Encores Series with Vanessa Williams starring as the belle of St. Louis, Della Green. However, I dream that Ms. McDonald recreates the role of Lila, the scorned, jilted lover who murders her cheating man, because that’s pretty much what we expect from an Audra performance and what she does best – dark with just a twinge of crazy.
In my excitement to devise my Broadway wish list, I came across only one problem: my performer list was too short. I found myself coming up with the same male lead or the same female protagonist, reminding me that though the pool is expanding, we have yet to reach the level of equality that we strive for in this field. We are still outnumbered and often discounted, but art is universal and diversity is on the rise. We’re heading towards an era where inclusive casting won’t even need to be articulated. Go ahead and take it in: non-traditional is the new normal.