We called Black Broadway: African Americans On The Great White Way by Stewart F. Lane “the book of all books” when we introduced it to you not too long ago. Now, it’s time to really tell you why, as well as give you a little insight into how this book came to be. We had the chance to sit down with the author and Mr. Lane was more than happy to share his theatre experiences that helped cultivate him as a Broadway producer that led him to this point.
This book starts with a wonderful forward from Tony Award winning director Kenny Leon (A Raisin In The Sun). He briefly describes his journey to the stage and how growing up in Florida in the early 1960s he “could never image the world of Broadway”. His story mirrors the lives of so many other major influences to the Great White Way. So, his words give that extra stamp of approval of how necessary this book is and how it will surely educate you in a way you never thought before. And he was right.
Black Broadway provides an insider’s look at Broadway by focusing the spotlight on landmark shows including A Raisin in the Sun, Porgy and Bess, Dreamgirls, Fences, The Wiz, Purlie Victorious, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in ‘Da Funk,and The Scottsboro Boys; great theatre writers including August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Eubie Blake and Ossie Davis; legendary performers such as Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Bert Williams, Sammy Davis Jr., and Cab Calloway; to Tony-winning stars who continue to light up the boards including Audra McDonald, Denzel Washington, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Savion Glover, Ben Vereen, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Leslie Uggams, Tonya Pinkins, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Holliday, Billy Porter and more.
Everything about this book is just phenomenal. The pages are filled with over 300 dynamic pictures, many of which have never seen the light of day. Until now. It’s the pictures that draw you in but the history outlined in the words that keep you. And after it was all said and done, I just smiled.
I received the chance to sit down with the Mr. Lane to talk about the development of this book and his major influence in the theatre community. There was no way I could let the opportunity pass.
BroadwayBlack (BB): Mr. Lane you’ve been producing Broadway shows for over 30 years, written several books including “Jews on Broadway”, and won 6 Tony Awards. Why Black Broadway? What influenced you to do this?
Stewart F. Lane (SFL): It had never been done before and also I found a publisher who shared my vision. I wanted a book that would be illustrated with all sorts of posters,. pictures, and playbill covers. And they were willing to go down that road with me to acquire the rights to these things. This was more than just the African American contribution to the 20th century theatre, this goes back to 1600’s and thought it was important to tell this story. The dutch introduced slavery in the early 1600s but by 1624 there was already a black Shakespeare company doing Richard III. The Grove street company.
BB: You’ve had your hand in many of Broadway productions that starred black actors and often times in roles that were not traditional made for a black actor. Do you things have changed in acceptance of black actors not in “black roles”?
SFL: We understand that if a plot of play is racial centered it might be hard to do creative casting because its a part of the story. But if it’s something like Death Of A Salesman, why can’t you do an all-black cast. I remember, I graduated with Alfre Woodard (Boston University), and she was always talented and she was always getting cast but they were casting her as a maid or something else and she said “I don’t want that. I want something else.” And now she’s playing the President (in NBC’s drama pilot State Of Affairs). Doing colorblind casting allows you to explore and opens us up as artist.
BB: Have you ever had any resistance with colorblind casting with some of the projects you’ve done like the all-black cast of Streetcar Named Desire with Blair Underwood?
SFL: Someone was complaining to me that James Earl Jones plaything the president in The Best Man was inappropriate because in 1962 there would never have been a black President. But I said the play isn’t about race. We’re not going for stark accuracy here, we’re telling a story. However, the show was enormously successful, the public bought tickets to it and the play speaks for itself.
BB: What is your favorite part of this book?
SFL: I would have to say the Harlem Renaissance period. I was kind of familiar with it because I directed a production of Ain’t Misbehavin’. The idea of the whole migration north of the black community, looking for a better way of life, and using their talents to enrich everyone’s lives. Look what came out of it, Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, the poetry of W. E. B. Dubois. I found that exciting.
BB: Top 3 Black Broadway shows. Plays or Musicals.
SFL: 1. A Raisin In The Sun
2. Ain’t Misbeavin
3. Purlie Victorious
It was a pleasure to sit down with Stewart F. Lane to dive more into what this book offers and how it all came to be. You should really get this book and we’re going to give you a chance to do so. Follow the rules below or buy your copy HERE
BLACK BROADWAY: AFRICAN AMERICANS ON THE GREAT WHITE WAY
BOOK GIVEAWAY RULES:
1. Follow @BroadwayBlack on Twitter
2. Like the @BroadwayBlack Facebook page.
3.Tweet us and tell us what famous black actress did Stewart F. Lane attend college with?
Winner will be announced on Thursday March 12, 2015