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Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan Departs The Great Comet; Mandy Patinkin Will Replace

Jamara Wakefield

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You heard it here first, Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, is leaving Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. According to sources, the New Jersey born actor who is best known for the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in Hamilton, is being replaced by Mandy Patinkin in an effort to “boost ticket sales.” Oak’s relationship with The Great Comet has been rough from the start, as he was initially set to succeed Joshua Groban at the Imperial Theatre July 3 until delays caused him to start on July 11th. It was at the time that Onaodowan, tweeted in June that the show mysteriously needed another week to prepare for his arrival.

Although this delay was not clarified by The Great Comet, it seems odd that Oak became responsible for communicating this information to fans as opposed to the show. The story of Onaodowan joining the cast with delays followed by the abrupt replacement of his role to boost ticket sales raises questions about how Black actors are valued and supported within Broadway. It is ironic when Black actors participate in narratives about colonial history, change present day history by adding to the diversity to Broadway, and then are easily replaced as if their only value to a production is based on ticket sales.

In 2016, Onaodowan won a Grammy award for his contributions to the Hamilton soundtrack. He is a talented actor with a rich stage resume on Broadway (Hamilton & Rocky), Off Broadway (Langston in Harlem & Neighbors) and on the small screen debuting as Afrika Bambaataa in three episodes of the Netflix original series The Get Down.

Critics agree that his performance in The Great Comet is stellar bringing a deeply moving energy to the character of Pierre.  While it is a great loss to lose such a talented actor, it is clear The Great Comet will not be the last stop on his path of Black excellence. Onaodowan’s last performance as Pierre on Broadway is August 13th 2017.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jodi Disario

    July 26, 2017 at 2:54 PM

    Saw the show this past week. When I bought the tickets, I didn’t realize that Groban had left and Oak had replaced him. I literally wept with JOY when I found out. Oak was SO amazing. When I listened to the cast album later, I was heartfully disappointed that there is not a legal recording with Oak as Pierre, because his characterization of the role is so rich and beautiful it should be preserved. Oh, and that theatre was packed. I did not see a single empty seat. I think this is a stunt to create buzz before they announce the tour. People outside of the theatre world don’t know Oak, but they know Inigio Montoya and the guy from Homeland and Criminal Minds. That will be their selling point. I wholeheartedly disagree with their lack of faith in theatregoers across America.

  2. Avatar

    Julia Neufeld

    July 26, 2017 at 3:43 PM

    I have been wanting to see this show since it was Off-Broadway, and it wasn’t until they announced that Oak was going to play Pierre that my mom agreed to get tickets during our upcoming trip to NY (she’s not a Josh Groban fan, but LOVES Oak). Fortunately our tickets are for next week so we’ll actually get to see him as Pierre 🙂 Still very disappointed that he’s leaving so quickly. Oak is an amazing actor and even without seeing the show yet I know he’s going to be incredible

  3. Avatar

    JD

    July 27, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    I agree with others that while the optics of this situation are awful, Okieriete’s replacement is a living broadway legend making a return to the stage after many years. The show was likely to toss anyone out in order to have him join the cast, even for a paltry 3 week run. I am a strong advocate for more diversity in theater, but I do not believe this was a racially motivated replacement. Unfortunately, Okieriete has run into the challenging situation of bigger name casting. It can happen to anyone. If Audra McDonald wanted to step into a role of a young white actress, you’d better believe that actress would be asked to make room…

    Additionally, while I know the people making racism accusations of this situation may want to be supportive of Okieriete, I really hope they don’t ultimately cause his career more harm.

    This man wants to work, he is not a star, and is only known for one Broadway role. I’m not trying to discourage advocacy or conversation, but people (particularly white liberals) really need to be thoughtful about their words and actions here. For instance, of his “friends” is very aggressively going at the Great Comet on Twitter and encouraging others to do the same. Ultimately, I think that will only hurt Okieriete’s ability to work. Please don’t burn bridges on his behalf. He will need them.

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Happy Jackie Washington Day! Get Into All That Is Jenifer Lewis!

Broadway Black

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Jenifer Lewis as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! Photo by Curt Doughty

Jenifer Lewis as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! Photo by Curt Doughty

Don’t act like you don’t know what day it is. Today is July 15th. A day that is undoubtedly in one of the top spots for the most celebrated made-up holidays in the world. It’s Jackie Washington Day. An icon made famous by the incomparable Black mother of Hollywood, Jenifer Lewis. If you’ve never watched the film Jackie’s Back to witness the outstanding performance Lewis gives as Jackie Washington you need to go to drop everything and watch it ASAP!

Presented as a mockumentary, Jackie’s Back chronicles the life and career of Jackie Washington (Jenifer Lewis), a 1960s/1970s R&B diva. After several years of toiling in obscurity, Washington decides to organize her own comeback concert with filmmaker Edward Whatsett St. John (Tim Curry) filming the event.

Jackie’s Back is a cult classic and is simply timeless although the filmed was released 20 years ago, June 14, 1999. Directed by the legendary Robert Townsend,  the film also starred David Hyde Pierce, Tim Curry, & Whoopi Goldberg with special appearances by Diahann Carroll, Liza Minnelli, Rosie O’Donnell, Chris Rock, Bette Midler, Charles Barkley, Don Cornelius, and many more!

However, Jenifer Lewis is so much more than that one iconic role and she proves it over and over.

She graced the Broadway stage on more than one occasion. If you read her book “The Mother of Black Hollywood” you’ll learn all about her theatre background. She was last seen as Motormouth Maybelle in the Broadway musical Hairspray in 2008.

However, Lewis made her Broadway debut as a replacement in the original company of Eubie! in 1978. She later went on to be a part of the original company of Comin’ Uptown (1979) & Rock ‘N Roll! The First 5,000 Years (1982).

She also keeps us cackling on ABC’s Black-ish:

We’ll never forget her in “What’s Love Got to do with It” or “In Living Color!”:

But let us not forget the amazing words of wisdom she’s laid upon us:

It can’t be lost on you how much of a treasure Jenifer Lewis is. Give her her things on this day and every other day. She deserves.

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Kareem Lucas’ The Maturation of an Inconvenient Negro (or ‘iNegro’) Kicks Off Cherry Lane Theatre’s Mentor Project

Drew Shade

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Cherry Lane Theatre Kicks-Off Mentor Project With THE MATURATION OF AN INCONVENIENT NEGRO (OR INEGRO)

Cherry Lane Theatre is proud to kick-off its Obie Award-winning Mentor Project with this year’s first production, The Maturation of an Inconvenient Negro (or iNegro) written by and starring Kareem M. Lucas, mentored by Craig ‘muMs’ Grant. The Maturation of an Inconvenient Negro is directed by David Mendizábal and began performances on Wednesday, February 20 and runs through March 2 at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, NYC). Tickets are $25 ($60 for a three-show membership) and can be purchased by visiting cherrylanetheatre.org or by calling 866-811-4111.

This solo show of heightened poetry and raw self-reflection takes the audience on the subversive journey of a young Black man coming into himself, as he struggles to break free of what he holds onto most tightly. In iNegro – No one is safe. Nothing is sacred.

This marks the first show of three Mentor Project productions. Upcoming productions include three girls never learnt the way home, written by Matthew Paul Olmos and mentored by Taylor Mac (March 13 – 23, 2019) and The Climb written by C.A. Johnson and mentored by Martyna Majok (April 3 – 13, 2019). Casting and creative team TBA.

Craig ‘muMs’ Grant (left) & Kareem Lucas for Cherry Lane Theatre’s 2019 Mentor Project

The creative team includes set design by Wilson Chin, costumes by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Cha See, sound design and composer Mauricio Escamilla, and Kristy Bodall is the Production Stage Manager.

The Mentor Project, winner of an Obie Award for its dedication to helping early-career playwrights develop new work, each year partners an emerging author with a seasoned professional for a year of script work, rewrites, casting, rehearsals and a full production at Cherry Lane. Mentor Project is also the recipient of the James Kirkwood Award for American Playwrights.

This marks the 21st year if the Mentor Project which has helped develop works by playwrights such as Jocelyn Bioh, Katori HallRajiv Joseph, and Antoinette Nwandu.

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