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On The Mountaintop: Martin Luther King’s Legacy of Love

Malia West

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Featured Image: Martin Luther King Kr. attends Broadway Answers Selma w/ Sammy Davis Jr. via Getty Images

The man we celebrate today came from holy beginnings. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is laced with hymns and praises and he is lauded as the leader of the civil rights movement. But Martin Luther King Jr. was just a man. He held rallies where that was a battlecry, “I AM A MAN!” Today, calling Dr. King a man seems simple, belittling almost, but in his time it was too much to ask. As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let’s revisit just how radical his proclamation was.

In Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop we see a human King. There are no grandiose statues or great pulpits, just a man with a passion for freedom and love. The 2011 Broadway production starring Samuel L. Jackson as King & Angela Bassett as his co-star, left theatre goers standoffish in light of an imperfect King. Ironically enough, Katori drew the humanity out of King in an effort to draw the greatness out of us. Katori’s King was so openly fearful so we could understand bravery. Katori immortalized King’s place in the theatre; she gave dimensions to a man who lived under the threat of death but spoke about the equality and promise of tomorrow.

Today we celebrate a man who not only spoke of equality under monuments, but marched for it in the streets of Memphis. Martin Luther King Jr. remained steadfast in a movement that watched its leaders become martyrs every day. This was a man that demanded humanity from a nation that abused him for drinking coffee at diner countertops. In light of the tumultuous leadership heading to the American government, I encourage you to celebrate King by honoring his resilience.

King’s most powerful weapon was his voice. Nations honored him, while ours feared what his determination could do. King thrived in a country that was committed to keeping the Black community marginalized and without structure. Martin Luther King did not just turn the other cheek, he faced discrimination with debilitating logic, grand inspiration and a will power that eviscerated anyone that supported injustice. King’s tireless trek towards peace was consistent therefore powerful. Even when his own house was bombed, he spoke love and not hate to a crowd of angry onlookers.

We celebrate King, not only for his ideals, but for the actions that brought them to life. Every January, we honor a man who gave his life so that we would give the same respect to the garbage man that we gave to the governor. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life so that our character would speak for us instead of our color and his did just that. Even in the face of absolute hate, he spoke of love and solidarity.

Dr. King dedicated his life to creating a world as beautiful as the words he wove together. We celebrate Dr. King because, in his dreams, he saw a world that transcended hate and ascended to The Mountaintop. We celebrate Dr. King because while he was with us, he didn’t just preach about this mountaintop, he led us there too.

I sing, I write, I annoy my mother. I'm Malia, and you'll come to find that the three things I love most in the world are Broadway, blackness, and the written word. Here, I talk about them all. Catch me on stage, on paper, and online.

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Just Want To Say Thank You

#ObamaLegacy: 8 Broadway Moments of President and First Lady Obama

Tristan Halstead

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In the final stretch of President Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency and in honor of his and First Lady Michelle Obama’s involvement and love for the Broadway community, Broadway Black looks back on the First Family’s top eight moments dedicated to the theatre:

1) The Birth of Hamilton

On May 12, 2009, the First Family hosted the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word in celebration of America’s poetry culture. Artists such as Esperanza Spalding and James Earl Jones lent their voices to the evening, the latter performing a monologue from Othello. However, no act that night would be as memorable as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s preview of The Hamilton Mixtape, based on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. That performance of the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” would evolve into the groundbreaking Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, which earned 11 Tonys, a Grammy, the Pulitzer, and two #1 albums on Billboard.

2) Obamas Crash the 2016 Tony Awards

The Obamas came full circle with Hamilton when, in a surprise appearance via satellite, they introduced the cast’s performance at the 2016 Tony Awards. The pair recounted Miranda’s visit to the White House’s poetry jam and their uncertainty about his project about the founding father “who embodies hip hop.”

3) Michelle Obama Hosts Broadway Shines a Light on Girls’ Global Education

In March 2015, the First Lady launched the Let Girls Learn initiative, which sought to address the challenges young girls face that would prevent them from achieving a quality education and reaching their full potential. Last September, Michelle and Stephen Colbert hosted an event at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, which featured a range of performances from Broadway shows including The Color Purple, Waitress, and Wicked.


4) A Celebration of American Creativity

In 2015, President Obama and FLOTUS hosted an all-star music tribute commemorating the 50th anniversary of  National Foundation On the Arts and the Humanities Act that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The evening included Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald performing “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime, the show that earned McDonald a Tony.

5) #Bam4Ham: Obama Freestyles with Lin-Manuel Miranda

During peak-Hamilton, the Obamas invited local students and the cast of Hamilton to the White House for a daylong celebration of the arts. Dubbed #Bam4Ham, the event included workshops, a Q&A session, and performances by the cast. Of course, our President couldn’t resist participating in a freestyle with the musical’s award-winning composer, which would reference Obamacare, The Federalist Papers, and NASA. This visit would also be featured in the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America.”

6) Obama Presents Audra McDonald with the National Medal of Arts

In late September of 2016, the President presented McDonald with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor for achievements in the arts. Pregnant at the time, the six-time Tony Award winner stood grinning as the announcer struggled to find her citation; “I can make up a citation if you want,” Obama quipped.

7) Michelle Celebrates TLC’s Broadway at the White House

True to her spirit and legacy, the First Lady never gave up an opportunity to promote the growth and education of the youth, especially when it came to the arts. With hosts Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth, she invited 40 students from public high schools and after-school programs to participate in a series of masterclasses and workshops dedicated to various production aspects of theatre. The event, which later aired on Thanksgiving of 2015 on TLC, featured performances from Fun Home, Finding Neverland, On Your Feet, and Bobbi MacKenzie of School of Rock. We can’t get over that “proud mama” moment at 4:45 either.

8) Obama: 1, Ticket-Scalpers: 0

Long before the rise in popularity and demand of a certain blockbuster musical, the dreaded ticket-scalpers were the bane of any concert- or theatre-goer’s existence. With a ticket bot, any person could purchase a huge number of tickets, in the time it takes the average buyer to find the calendar feature on the ticketing site, and resell them at a much higher price.

Tickets for Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.’s, final performance sold as high as $10,900 a seat. Mind you, the average face value of a ticket at the time was $189. Many unsuspecting patrons have even fallen victim to fake ticketing schemes, including billionaire Chris Sacca of “Shark Tank” fame.

Early last December, the President signed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, prohibiting “the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events,” a bill which Ticketmaster helped develop.

To the First Family,
The Broadway theatre community — Broadway Black — cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done to help embrace, shape, and protect the future of this art form.

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Events and Happenings

The Importance Of Broadway Black Royalty At #BWAY4BLM

Kristen Martin

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Photo by Lelund Durond for Broadway Black

 

The Broadway For Black Lives Matter electric sensation felt at the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University this past Monday was undeniably an authentic result of the power of unity. It was arguably one of the few spaces, if not the first, where Broadway stars, fans, music icons, and social justice advocates all joined together to discuss a plan for change in relation to the Black Lives Matter Movement. This event confirmed the importance of Broadway Black royalty at BWAY4BLM, operating as our key ingredient to the formula needed for change.

It is no secret that we all have something distinct to offer mankind. What we love to do and who we are explains this philanthropy quite well. That might be the ability to bring people together through music, playing an instrument or singing, and another by the ability to unify others with an inspirational speech or dance, or expression of ideas in a panel discussion. Either way, by opening a discussion between these parties, we are able to stress the importance of everyone working together by bringing their most prized and honorable feature to an event like BWAY4BLM.

With that in mind, I have been reimagining Ledisi’s rendition of the timeless “A Change Is Gonna Come” (by Sam Cooke), all week long. Her triumphant attitude paired with the audience’s irresistible hand raising and forceful movements was simply a transfer of energy. She imparted her power, success, and royalty to every person who tuned in. In fact, all of our participants added their respective talent as a contribution for change in an atmosphere that makes our idea of an equal society more tangible.

These voices: Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Cynthia Erivo, India.Arie, Billy Porter, Ledisi, and Professor Frank Roberts have bridged the gap between people unconnected (for their own personal reasons) to the BLM movement. They’ve immersed the people who are uninvolved, uninterested, or unmoved by the countless deaths of innocent Black citizens in the discourse of human rights.

Our royalty has made the discourse of Black inclusion a coherent one, which was indigenous to their artistry. And as the art separately in its own division affects the non-supporters of the movement, so does the social platform for justice. That is because the platform is inherent to the artist, which is to say that they’ve skillfully justified Black Lives Matter in front of these uninterested crowds by solely intending to produce art. The same voice/s heard among a wide and diverse population has proven worthy and strong to the point of advocating for change. And during the time of the event, and before, even, our heroes named royalty used their success as a mode of education and communication toward ignorant US citizens who only set out to revere and respect their art.

The idea of opening up conversation and providing as many outlets and opportunities for viewership, involvement, and reflection is invaluable and could not have been done without individuals who are already admired for their accomplishments thus far. Our efforts in organizing this event has traveled far outside the country, beyond the four walls, into the homes of white music fans, and musical theatre kids, producers, journalists, professors, stage managers, make up artists and stylists, script consultants, presidents, colleagues, accountants, and any professional with connections to our artists. We offer our deepest thanksgiving to the commitment of our bold, beautiful, Broadway Black royalty, and on behalf of the team, thank you.

 

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Danai Gurira, Stephen C. Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey To Be Honored At TCG Gala

Alicia Samuel

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Tony Award nominated Eclipsed playwright and “The Walking Dead” star, Danai Gurira, along with our favorite Broadway producers, Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones Harvey and the Vlcek Foundation/Rick Kinsel will be honored at this year’s Theatre Communications Group Gala. These trailblazers will be honored Monday, November 14 at the Edison Ballroom in NYC.

“We’re thrilled to honor both the visionary artistry and activism of Danai Gurira as well as the groundbreaking work of producers Stephen C. Byrd and Alia M. Jones-Harvey,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director, TCG. “By bringing the voices of women from Liberia’s civil war to the Broadway stage through their acclaimed production of Eclipsed, they’ve reaffirmed theatre’s power to humanize and connect us across borders. The success of Eclipsed is also an example of TCG’s holistic approach to making a better world for—and because of—theatre. It was a TCG grant that supported the research and travel for the play; TCG Books will now keep it in print for many years to come and at our 2016 TCG National Conference in Washington DC, we featured U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power sharing the impact of plays like Eclipsed in her cultural diplomacy.

We are also delighted to have the opportunity to honor The Vilcek Foundation and its executive director Rick Kinsel. The Foundation provides annual prizes and awards to foreign- born practitioners in biomedical sciences and the arts. The arts focus for 2016 was theatre, and we were proud to see Blanka Zizka receive the Vilcek Prize in Theatre. Sarah Benson, Desdemona Chiang, and Yi Zhou each received Creative Promise Awards.”

Gurira recently received her first Tony Award nomination in 2016 for Best Play for her play Eclipsed. Featuring an all black female cast, Eclipsed was the first of its kind to ever hit Broadway. It also scored Tony nominations for Best Direction of a Play, Liesl Tommy, and Best Featured Actress in a Play, Saycon Sengbloh and Pascale Armand.

Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey hold the distinction of being the only African-American lead producers on Broadway.  Together they comprise Front Row Productions, which aims to bring a unique brand of diversity to Broadway and London’s West End, both onstage and off, evidenced by their Olivier-winning production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in London’s West End (also on Broadway) starring James Earl Jones; and most recently by their acclaimed, 5-times Tony-nominated production of Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed starring Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o.  On Broadway, Byrd and Jones-Harvey are also responsible for multi-racial productions of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Blair Underwood and Daphne Rubin-Vega; Romeo & Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad; and The Trip to Bountiful which featured Cicely Tyson in a Tony-winning performance.

The Gala also offers an opportunity for the TCG community to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and raise support for TCG’s wide-ranging programs and services. Highlights from the past year include: a National Conference in Washington, DC that brought over 200 theatre practitioners to Capitol Hill for meetings with legislators; the awarding of $1.184 million in Audience (R)Evolution Cohort Grants to innovative audience engagement projects; and the publication of significant work by emerging playwrights like Stephen Karam’s The Humans, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, and Annie Baker’s John. In the spirit of the Gala honorees’ commitment to diversity and international activism, TCG is especially excited to celebrate the launch of the Global Theater Initiative, a partnership with the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics; and the groundbreaking meeting of the inaugural and second cohorts of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Past honorees at the TCG annual gala—now in its fifth year—include Tony®, SAG and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy; Tony winning director Kenny Leon,  Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Ming Cho Lee, Jules Fisher, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation,The Shubert Foundation, Ruth and Stephen Hendel and Judith O. Rubin.
The evening will begin with cocktails at 6:00 followed by dinner and special performances at 7:00. Guests have been asked to wear festive attire.

For more information please contact: 212.609.5931, gala@tcg.org or visit www.tcg.org.

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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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How Do We Feel

Broadway Blues: Shuffle Along Plays Its Final Performance Today

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Today is bittersweet as we say farewell to one of our most beloved shows, the Broadway hit musical Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. Today the show officially ends its run after playing 38 previews and 100 regular performances.

I must admit, going down 45th street won’t fill me with the butterflies like it did earlier in the year, but I am glad I got to experience that feeling. To know what could be, and how we can continuously work towards making it the norm.

Why life’s but a chance and when time comes to choose,

If you lose, don’t start singing the blues,

But just you Shuffle Along, and whistle a song,

Why sometimes a smile will right every wrong,

Keep smiling and Shuffle Along

The lyrics of the title song, “Shuffle Along”, are perhaps some of the most profound words of advice a show can offer. It’s always a downer when shows close on Broadway, and there are a multitude of factors that go into a show’s closing. However, it doesn’t hurt any less when  a show you loved and adored leaves way too soon. But, like the lyrics of the song suggest, “keep smiling and Shuffle Along.”

Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed stars Tony Award winners Audra McDonaldBrian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter. The cast of 34 is rounded out by Tony Award nominees Joshua HenryBrandon Victor Dixon and Adrienne Warren, and features Broadway Black’s Off-Book The Theatre Podcast host Amber Iman. It was also nominated for several Tonys including Best Musical and also earned George C. Wolfe a Tony nomination for Best Book and Best Direction of a Musical, Ann Roth for Best Costume Design, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhower for Best lighting Design, Daryl Waters for Best Orchestration and Savion Glover a for Best Choreography.

Still keeping our hopes alive for a cast recording, but till next time dear friends! May God be swift employment and plenty of memories to last a lifetime!

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Good Works

#IAmAudra: Audra McDonald Fans Show Their Love & Support For The Actress

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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There’s only one person that can have people pretend to be pregnant and be silly all in the name of love, and that’s Audra McDonald. The #IAmAudra campaign helmed by fellow Shuffle Along co-star Christian Dante White, certainly brought joy to an otherwise unfortunate week of events. (Plug. Go see Shuffle Along before it leaves us prematurely. End Plug.)

It only took moments before submissions came pouring in from people playing the piano while eating a donut, to tap dancing, to eating lots of Popeyes (come on, let’s be real who doesn’t love POPEYES!). Broadway black stars and adoring fans alike participated in the lovefest, and I have to be honest it was tons of fun. Let’s make everyday #IAmAudra day, right? Christian thanks for the laughs and love. Check out a few of our favorites below and check the hashtag #IAmAudra on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram whenever you’re feeling down.

#IamAudra

A video posted by Christian White (@christiandante) on

#iamaudra #thatsaonestep #shufflealongbroadway

A video posted by Erin Moore (@mooregranola) on

You KNOW, over here at Broadway Black we had to show out too!

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