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.
— The Incredible Oak (@OakSmash) June 30, 2017
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.
Tony & Emmy Nominated Actor Earle Hyman Passes Away at 91
It is with heavy hearts that we report television actor and theater great Earle Hyman passed away* November 17th, 2017, at the age of 91. Hyman was born October 11th, 1926 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, of African-American and Native American ancestry. Hyman’s parents, Zachariah Hyman (Tuscarora) and Maria Lilly Plummer (Haliwa-Saponi/Nottoway), moved their family to Brooklyn, New York, where Hyman primarily grew up.
According to an interview in The Villager, Hyman’s interest in theater started at the age of 13 after seeing a production of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. Hyman stated,
“The first play I ever saw was a present from my parents on my 13th birthday — Nazimova in ‘Ghosts’ at Brighton Beach on the subway circuit — and I just freaked out.”
Hyman would go on to make his Broadway stage debut as a teenager in 1943 in Run, Little Chillun, and later joined the American Negro Theater. The following year, Hyman began a two-year run playing the role of Rudolf on Broadway in Anna Lucasta, starring Hilda Simms in the title role. He became a charter member of the American Shakespeare Theatre beginning with its first season in 1955 and played the role of Othello in the 1957 season. Throughout his career, he continued to take on challenging characters playing side by side with great likes Andy Griffith (No Time for Sergeants 1958) and Luther Adler (The Merchants of Venice 1973). It was in 1980 when Hyman would get his shot at the lead, playing Oscar in The Lady from Dubuque, earning a Tony Award Nomination for Best Featured Actor.
His career on Broadway would span nearly 50 years with a total of 16 productions to his name with his work earning him a Theater World Award in 1965, and the 1988 St. Olav Award for his work in Norweigan Theater, a language for which he is also fluent.
In the television world his career spanned nearly 60 years with his first credited work being Look up and Live in 1954; Throughout the years he would continue playing various small screen roles including adaptions of Macbeth (1968), Julius Caesar (1979), and Coriolanus (1979).
However, He is best known for his role on the iconic sitcom The Cosby Show, where he played Russell Huxtable, father to Heathcliffe Huxtable played by Bill Cosby. His work garnered him a 1986 Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series.” During this time, he also did work for the animated series “Thundercats,” where he played the voice of Pantho for five seasons.
Hyman is also related to the iconic singer and Broadway actress, the late Phyllis Hyman (Sophisticated Ladies 1981) and rising recording artist/actress Myriam Hyman (@Robynhoodmusic)
R.I.P. Earle Hyman (Best Featured Actor nominee @thetonyawards 1980 for ‘The Lady from Dubuque’) #YouAreBroadwayBlack • With over 15 Broadway credits to his name Earle Hyman was an American stage, TV, & film actor most notably known for his role on The Cosby Show as Cliff’s father, Russell Huxtable as well as the voice of Panthro on Thundercats. He made his Broadway debut in 1943 in ‘Run, Little Chillun’ & would later join the American Negro Theatre. Born October 11th, 1926 we honor his life and the contributions he made with his stellar craft. (Relation to music legend Phyllis Hyman & rising star @robynhoodmusic Miriam A. Hyman)
*We received this news shortly after his passing on the early morning of November 17th from a few close, reliable sources who reached out to us. Out of respect for his family & those who loved him personally we held the information until today.
#BroadwayBey? Beyonce set to Star as Nala in a Live-Action remake of The Lion King
You heard it correctly. Rumor has it that the mother of Blue, Rumi, Sir, and the Beyhive is close to inking a deal that will have her cast as Nala, in the Live-Action Remake of The Lion King. The 25 million dollar deal will consist of Beyonce playing the lead role in addition to handling oversight of the entire soundtrack; which will have new African inspired music sung by Bey herself.
Beyonce is no amateur to musicals, playing the iconic role of Deena Jones in Dream Girls for which she earned a Golden Globe Nomination. She would later receive rave reviews for her performance as Etta James in Cadillac Records, earning a Grammy Award for her version of the song “At Last.”
This is still a rumor, reported first by TheBeyhiveTeam on Twitter. Stay tuned to Broadway Black for future updates on this exciting news.
Who would you like to see cast alongside Queen Bey? Sound off on Twitter and Facebook using #BroadwayBey
Mandy Patinkin steps down from The Great Comet following Backlash; Oak still set to Depart
On Wednesday, Broadway Black broke the news of Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan’s departure from the The Great Comet, and being replaced by theatre vet Mandy Patinkin, citing low ticket sales as the cause for the abrupt decision. The news sparked outrage from the Theatre community, with many citing ramped issues with diversity and how the underlying issue of race seemed to be playing a role.
Several actors, writers and producers jumped to the defense of Oak, Rafael Casal, who condemned the theatre community in a series of tweets.
Imagine 2 weeks into your great review in a new show, the producers come to u & “ask” you to step down so a white actor can take your place? pic.twitter.com/QV9Y83bnvi
— RAFAEL CASAL (@RafaelCasal) July 26, 2017
Actors of color can’t even express frustration w/ inequality in the arts for fear of being met w/ even fewer opportunities to rise.
— RAFAEL CASAL (@RafaelCasal) July 26, 2017
Actors of color on Broadway are required to make themselves famous enough to be in the shows that white actors get famous from.
— RAFAEL CASAL (@RafaelCasal) July 26, 2017
#TheGreatComet quickly became a nationally trending topic. The amount of backlash quickly reached Producer Howard Kagan, who spoke about the decision and responded to the outrage by stating:
“This continues our show’s remarkable history of having great actors and singers see the show as audience members, only to tell us they are inspired to join the cast! Whenever possible we will accommodate them as we did here with Mandy and his Homeland TV schedule. Oak, who was scheduled to appear as Pierre for this period graciously agreed to make room for Mandy, and we sincerely hope that Oak will return to us in the fall or winter. He is a terrific Pierre.”
Oak, released a separate statement, letting us all know the break up was not as fluffy as Kagan made it seem. He stated:
I always try to speak from my heart with love after listening. I have listened. I’m more than grateful for all the love and support the community and fans have shown me. It makes what we do and deal with as artists easier when you know many people do indeed have your back and that you are valued for your work. In spite of everything, I am grateful to have had the time to bring this character to life with a remarkable cast that truly make the Imperial Theater a sacred place every night. My pops would always tell me to be aware of the company you keep. I’m fully aware of the remarkable talents this cast holds, with Denee at the helm. My work is just a reflection of what they bring, have brought and will continue to bring, be it me, Mandy, whomever is co-pilot to Denee. AUGUST 13th WILL BE MY LAST SHOW! I will not be returning. So make room in your schedule between now and Aug 13th. Come through, have a drink, and let’s celebrate the time we have because as always, that’s all we are guaranteed. We make the most of the gifts we are given and I’m driven to deliver a defining moment in time, with every line I let loose on stage. #MynameisOak #TheHomiesRollDEEP #TheFansMadeRoom #WeAreTheChange #IPierredAndProspered #MyPierreWillPerish #August13th #OnwardsAndUpwords #KatyPerry #SkateyPierre?
“I always try to speak from my heart with love after listening. I have listened. I’m more than grateful for all the love and support the community and fans have shown me. It makes what we do and deal with as artists easier when you know many people do indeed have your back and that you are valued for your work. In spite of everything, I am grateful to have had the time to bring this character to life with a remarkable cast that truly make the Imperial Theater a sacred place every night. My pops would always tell me to be aware of the company you keep. I’m fully aware of the remarkable talents this cast holds, with Denee [Benton] at the helm. My work is just a reflection of what they bring, have brought and will continue to bring, be it me, Mandy, whomever is co-pilot to Denee. AUGUST 13th WILL BE MY LAST SHOW! I will not be returning. So make room in your schedule between now and Aug 13th. Come through, have a drink, and let’s celebrate the time we have because as always, that’s all we are guaranteed. We make the most of the gifts we are given and I’m driven to deliver a defining moment in time, with every line I let loose on stage.”
Following the brief silence from Wednesday, in a turn of events reported by The New York Times this afternoon, Mandy has decided to step down from the show citing the concerns with race, and the backlash from the theatre community. He states
“My understanding of the show’s request that I step into the show is not as it has been portrayed and I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor. I hear what members of the community have said and I agree with them. I am a huge fan of Oak and I will, therefore, not be appearing in the show.”
According to the New York Times, they were blindsided by the decision and have not announced any next steps with the show. However, producers of Great Comet, led by lead producers Howard and Janet Kagan, did issue an official apology stating:
“As part of our sincere efforts to keep ‘Comet’ running for the benefit of its cast, creative team, crew, investors and everyone else involved, we arranged for Mandy Patinkin to play Pierre. However, we had the wrong impression of how Oak felt about the casting announcement and how it would be received by members of the theater community, which we appreciate is deeply invested in the success of actors of color – as are we – and to whom we are grateful for bringing this to our attention. We regret our mistake deeply, and wish to express our apologies to everyone who felt hurt and betrayed by these actions.”
Stay tuned for updates as this is story continues to unfold…
Us: What is happening? pic.twitter.com/3giP4VdJLD
— Broadway Black (@BroadwayBlack) July 28, 2017