Unlike many Americans, I didn’t grow up on Disney films. Sure, I owned Pocahontas, The Lion King and Aladdin on VHS, but I can’t quote an entire movie and I certainly don’t know every song. It wasn’t until I visited Disney World with Princeton High School Symphonic Band that I began to understand the magic behind the world of Disney.
Disney shaped the childhood memories of many and continues to make memories eight times a week on Broadway through The Lion King and Aladdin.
Not only do the shows have large ensembles of, arguably, the most spirited people on Broadway prone to break out in song in an otherwise lifeless layover in La Guardia, but each cast boasts a large representation of men and women of color.
I’m still replaying Viola Davis’ Emmy acceptance speech and the Tony and Emmy-Award Winning actress could not be more spot on with her remark that Black women can’t win awards if there is no opportunity for them. It’s no secret that Broadway continues to struggle with diversity on the stage and with its patrons. Mega-hit Hamilton is changing the game by not only bringing a show to the stage that features a hip hop influence, but highlighting the talent of people of color by blindly casting some of America’s greatest historical figures.
But to me, the question is still how do we make theatre more accessible? How do we bring in a diverse crowd? How do we cultivate a love and passion for the stage at a young age?
A lot of this starts by seeing people of color in complex, sincere, challenging, leading roles. Creating opportunity. Writing a new reality.
The Lion King recently made history by surpassing Phantom of the Opera as the highest- grossing Broadway show of all time. Phantom producer Cameron MacKintosh credits Tony Award-Winning director, Julie Taymor, and her vision for “bringing in elements of Asian and African theater, music and performance” as one of the many factors in its success.
Here’s to writers, producers, and directors reaching through “green fields and lovely flowers” and giving opportunity to these talented men and women.
Special shout out to the incredible men and women of color in these productions!
The Lion King: L. Steven Taylor (Mufasa), Gugwana Dlamini (Rafiki), Jelani Remy (Simba), Chantel Riley (Nala), James Brown-Orleans (Banzai), Bonita J. Hamilton (Shenzi), K’Lynn Jackman (Young Nala), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala), Nathaniel Logan McIntyre (Young Simba), Jahi Diallo Winston(Young Simba), Lawrence Keith Alexander (Ensemble), LaMar Baylor (Ensemble), Allison Blackwell (Ensemble) India Bolds (Ensemble), Elishah Bowman (Ensemble), Derrick Davis (Ensemble), Lindiwe Dlamini (Ensemble), Bongi Duma (Ensemble), Angelica Edwards (Ensemble), Jamal Lee Harris (Ensemble), Kenny Ingram (Ensemble), Andre Jackson (Ensemble), Lindsey Jolyn Jackson (Ensemble), Joel Karie (Ensemble), Lisa Lewis (Ensemble), Mduduzi Madela (Ensemble), Kimberly Marable (Ensemble), Jaysin McCollum (Ensemble), Ray Mercer (Ensemble), Kyle Lamar Mitchell (Swing), S’bu Ngema (Ensemble), Nhlanhla Ngobeni (Ensemble), James A. Pierce III (Swing), Chondra La-Tease Profit (Sarabi/ Ensemble), Jacqueline Rene (Swing), Thandazile A. Soni Donna Michelle Vaughn (Ensemble), Kellen Stancil (Swing Dance Captain), Sophia Stephens (Ensemble/ Understudy Rafiki, Sarabi, and Nala), Bravita Threatt (Swing/ Dance Captain), Natalie Turner (Swing), and Donna Michelle Vaughn (Ensemble).
The Lion King is directed by Julie Taymor and choreographed by Garth Fagan. It is on stage at the Minskoff Theater. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
Aladdin: James Monroe Iglehart (Genie), Clifton Davis (Sultan), Trevor Dion Nicholas (Standby Genie/Babkak/Sultan), Tia Altinay (Attendant, Ensemble), Donald Jones, Jr. (Henchman, Ensemble), Amber Owens (Ensemble), Khori Michelle Petinaud (Attendant, Ensemble), Ariel Reid (Ensemble), and Jaz Sealy (Prince Abdullah, Ensemble).
Aladdin is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-Winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten!) and is on stage at the New Amsterdam Theater. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
Protected: Get Your War Clothes On: Billy Porter Energizes in GLAAD Acceptance Speech
Jazmine Sullivan: The Next Singer-Songwriter To Write A Broadway Musical?
We recently caught up with Jazmine Sullivan at The HeLa Project, a multimedia exhibition inspired by the HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Like the rest of us, Jazmine is in awe of the under-told story of Henrietta Lacks and her instrumental role in modern medicine. We further asked about why she got involved with the project and she said: “Anyway I can give light to an extraordinary woman like that, I’m there.”
Some of the integral women in bringing this story to light have their roots in Broadway: Tony Award-winning producer Oprah Winfrey, who not only stars in the film, but also credited as executive producer, and Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry, who portrays the title character.
We wouldn’t be Broadway Black if we didn’t keep it real.
Let’s be honest, we can’t get enough of 11-year-old Jazmine singing “Home” like she wrote the piece, so we got to asking, and it turns out Jazmine wouldn’t mind putting her pen to paper to create a musical for the Broadway stage.
She said performing on Broadway isn’t in the plans for the near future but, “You never know! I love writing and creating characters!”
God!? Oprah!?!? Stephen Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey?!?! Who’s going to snatch this up?
Until then, it sounds like we have some new music to expect. What kind of musical would you like to see from Ms. Sullivan? Sound off below in the comments!
Audra McDonald Starstuck By Beyonce At Beauty and The Beast Premiere
What happens when two queens meet? Can the world truly handle all of their queendoms once together? Does the world suddenly explode? The answers to these questions–TBD. But when Audra McDonald met Beyoncé at the Beauty and The Beast premiere last weekend, the Broadway star proved she’s no different from us– minus the whole six Tony Awards thing.
In a sit-down interview with People magazine, the Shuffle Along star recalls meeting Queen Bey at the LA premiere.
“I was headed [sic] out a certain exit and she was coming in, and I saw Blue Ivy, and I was like, ‘That’s Blue Ivy, maybe she’s here with, I thought it was her nanny,” she explains. “And I looked up and I went, ‘Queen!’ And then she said, ‘Nice to see you.’ And I went ‘Queen!’ I have never been goofier because I was just so starstruck.”
Surely THE Queen of Broadway Audra McDonald can handle meeting Queen Bey– obviously not– admitting she could only manage to say “Queen” to her about “three times” and not much else.
“I’m a grownup, I’m 46. I’m a grownup, I should have been able to handle it,” she says. “But it’s Beyoncé and I couldn’t handle it. I’ve met presidents but I was much more freaked out about Beyoncé.”
Us too Audra, us too.
Catch Beauty and the Beast in theaters now.
Selma, The Musical: An Unheard Song
In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council set their sights on Selma, AL as the stomping ground for voter registration reform. Twenty-four years later, Selma The Musical took the stage at New Federal Theater to tell the story of the civil rights leaders that inspired its very existence. Tommy Butler, the show’s creator, wrote the book, music and lyrics and then turned to his community to help tell the story.
This 1978 musical not only put black history in the spotlight, the creative team itself featured makers of history. Cornelius A. Tate, Selma’s musical director, has a long list of Broadway credits. This list includes the infamous Hair, a show that gave him the title of being the first Black musical director on Broadway. The accomplishment is well deserved considering Tate led the cast of Selma through a demanding score that cast a light on the pain and injustice throughout Black history.
Selma is unapologetic in its critique of race relations during the Cvil Rights Movement. It uses the same painful language that ran ramped alongside hoses and hounds in Alabama streets. This musical served as a wake-up call. It shook the critics of its day and introduced new performers to voice the frustrations of inequality. Tommy Butler, the shows creator, starred in the musical alongside a collective of newcomers. Denise Erwin, Susan Beaubian, Carton Williams and Ernie Banks led the cast in songs calling for justice, equity and peace. A cry we can still hear from our community.
Selma The Musical was a show that asked the obvious in the most honest way it knew how. The voices who deny the existence of injustice will call Selma “unfinished” and “archetypal.” I invite you to reflect on the events that brought this musical to fruition, the limitations we are still overcoming, and the necessity of telling the difficult stories in our history. The show’s original cast recording can be found on Apple Music. New Federal Theater, where the show saw its debut, continues to release productions that question the justice and equity that is denied to Black people in America. You can view their upcoming projects.
Who Should Play Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard Musical on Broadway?
Known around the world as “The Voice,” soul-pop icon Whitney Houston’s birthday was on Tuesday, August 9, and the legendary singer would have been 53 years old. Multiple music journalists and social media luminaries celebrated by compiling lists of her most memorable songs or iconographic promotional music videos. In 2009, Guinness World Records cited her as the most awarded female act of all time. So, it’s no surprise that seven years later—four years after her tragic death—the public still grieve her death and showbiz insiders are trying to make bank. That may include a Broadway musical revue of, arguably, the singer’s masterpiece. It may also include a Hunger Games style casting battle royale between divas.
The day prior of what would’ve been Whitney Houston’s 53rd birthday, various mainstream news outlets announced the musical adaptation of the vocal titan’s first major film project, The Bodyguard, gearing up for its first U.S. national tour, with Deborah Cox cast in the revamped role of Rachel Marron. Cox, 42, the chart-topping Canadian R&B singer-songwriter and actress who recently ended her celebrated stint as international dance legend Josephine Baker in a Broadway bound musical at Florida’s Asolo Repertory Theatre in May, isn’t estranged to Houston or her body of work. In 2000, Cox recorded the 2000 single “Same Script, Different Cast” with Houston. In 2014, Cox re-created several tracks of Houston’s commended discography for a controversial and commercially panned 2015 Lifetime biopic, Whitney, though the new vocals received raves by top critics. Now set to perform the musical theatre adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 Oscar-nominated film when it premieres at Paper Mill Playhouse, not only does Cox have big shoes to fill in playing the role that Houston made emblematic, but Cox is also having to compete with the popularity of other singers who have played the role across the pond. One in particular being Tony winner Heather Headley.
In 2012, Headley made her London stage debut in the West End production of The Bodyguard, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Written by Alexander Dinelaris, when the show began previews at the London’s Adelphi Theatre, Headley was one of the best things about it. Sound familiar? Headley replaced award-winning actress-singer Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery in the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple to critical acclaim and a prolonged standing ovation, with many noting the diva’s stage presence and theatrical complexity. Headley, 41, who earned a Tony Award in 2000 for her performance in Aida, was presented with a Sardi’s portrait on the day before Houston’s birthday. Prior to that, Headley originated the role of Nala in Broadway’s The Lion King — her Broadway debut in 1997. Headley also appeared with Il Divo on Broadway for a limited concert run in 2014, where she sang various numbers from The Bodyguard soundtrack to audience applause.
When Headley left the West End production of The Bodyguard, British soul diva Beverley Knight replaced her and was nominated for Best Takeover in a Role at the Whatsonstage.com Awards as a result. In July, Knight, 43, returned in a limited six-month run of The Bodyguard on the West End. Alexandra Burke, who won the fifth season of “The X Factor” in the U.K., would replace Knight in the original production before it shuttered and she embarked on a nationwide tour; Burke, 27, became the longest leading cast member to play the part. Which means, the Grammy Award-nominated Cox may have to finesse her acting prowess if producers intend for a Broadway run.
The tour for the jukebox musical kicks offs at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse this November before making stops in more than 20 U.S. cities. This is apropos considering Houston is a native of New Jersey. But what does it mean of the multigenerational, cross-cultural sisters eager to play the role on Broadway?
While Cox may transfer to Broadway after a few workshops of the Broadway bound Josephine musical in the future, it is unknown when that could be. Of all of the actresses who have played the role of Rachel, her opulent mezzo soprano ringers truer to Houston’s velvety and plush vocals. Headley, however, is a Broadway diva, one who has finally returned to Broadway and is giving a performance of a lifetime in a what many assumed to be a thankless part. Knight, outside of music fans, is largely unknown in the states, but has the grit and the experience that coincides with the level of stardom that Rachel has. And Burke, who is seen in many ways as a “Beyoncé of Britainia” by the press, has the youth and the fiery energy needed to play the part.
Who do you think should play the role? Let us know in the comments.
Get You a Fave That Can Do Both: Broadway Stars Get Political
Photo by Christopher Boudewyns for Broadway Black
These past weeks have been a phenomenal expression of talent and tenacity. From Audra McDonald and Cynthia Erivo snatching souls on Twitter, to Broadway for Black Lives Matter taking us to church, to the best DNC that has graced our country, we’ve been blessed.
Now, we all love a strong belt and a clean 8-count, but when an artist flexes their mental chops for the movement, that’s when they strike gold.
Ben Vereen and Broadway’s finest took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to pay homage to the lives taken in Orlando’s Pulse shooting. Their rendition of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” brought the crowd to their feet and put compassion at the forefront of politics if only for a moment. But ,Vereen was not there to simply lend his voice in song.
In partnership with ARTSPEAKS, Vereen advocated for arts education funding at both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. Vereen sat down with Huffington Post to expound on his stance, “I’m not saying everybody’s got to be a song and dance man or an artist, or whatever aspect that we separate ourselves from,” he said. “We need our creative thinking people in politics, in corporations to think on the up, rather than the down.”
Vereen’s outspokenness sparks a discussion on the ability of artists to be political thinkers as well. We know this to be true! We stanned as six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald took Bill O’Rielly on the dragging of his life and educated him on the historic tumultuousness of slavery. Tracie Thoms, of Rent and the upcoming Falsettos revival, is known for her outspokenness on issues regarding social justice. She is one of many that contributes to the education and expansion of the black community, simply by being aware and ensuring those around her are as well.
This past Monday, marked the first ever Broadway for Black Lives Matter. This event, for and by Broadway, invited the biggest names in the business to have an honest and productive conversation on bringing change to the social and political climate in America.
The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective conceived an event that changed the lives of everyone in attendance. With the help of Amber Iman, Adrienne Warren, Britton Smith, and dozens of top Broadway talent, we found strength in numbers and power in politics. Norm Lewis, a panelist and longtime Broadway veteran, called for the investment of black money in black banks, the annual revaluation of police, and noted the loss of respect in the justice system. He spoke with the eloquence and passion of a young Cornel West. His tenacity does not stand alone.
The voices of Broadway are talented, to say the least; they have healed us, inspired us, and now they are encouraging us to be our best and brightest selves. The mind of artists is poignant, we are capable of rond de jambes and revolutions. Don’t count out the kid in the back with a paintbrush or song; the first thing to wow you may be their art, but it won’t be the last.