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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.

  • Jodi Disario

    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.

  • Julia Neufeld

    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

  • JD

    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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