Tag: blacks on Broadway

THEATER: How Black Stars on Broadway are Redefining Legacy of “The Great White Way”

Keke Palmer And Sherri Shepherd's Debut In 'Cinderella' On Broadway
Keke Palmer And Sherri Shepherd’s Debut In ‘Cinderella’ On Broadway (Source: Jenny Anderson / Getty)

‘The Great White Way’ is seeing a serious dose of color these days.

In 2014, Black actors broke ground on Broadway when Norm Lewis became the first Black male to play the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and Keke Palmer played Rodger and Hammerstein’s first Black Cinderella on the stage. This year, Brandy scored another career milestone as the third notable Black actress to play femme fatale Roxie Hart in Chicago. And just last week, photos of Taye Diggs as Hedwig & The Angry Inch’s first Black male superstar hit the web to tons of excitement.

These inspiring moves are not only monumental for the actors, but also for the world of Broadway. While television and film are often called out for their extreme lack of diversity, Broadway has a long history of incorporating actors of color, as well as from the LGBT and disabled communities. And yet, despite impressive attempts at inclusivity, most people remain unaware of the strides made in the theater world.

To put it mildly, Hollywood could learn a lot from the Great White Way’s  moves to culturally harmonize the stage.

Brandy Norwood Prepares Her 'Chicago' Broadway Debut
Brandy as “Roxie Hart: in “Chicago” (Source: Bruce Glikas / Getty)

Black actors first began standing under those bright white lights in 1920 when Charles Giplin became the first Black actor on Broadway to play the lead role in The Emperor Jones. Seven years later, Ethel Waters became the first Black actress in a lead role in Africana. Meanwhile, Show Boat was the first production to feature an integrated cast and even an interracial marriage.

The Roaring Twenties gave us our “Black firsts” on Broadway, but racism and segregation marred an otherwise elegant art scene, due much in part to the terrible effects of minstrelsty.  Minstrels shows may not have been “Broadway” productions, but the racist shows garnered popularity nonetheless. Sometimes performed through the vaudeville platform (think baby Broadway), the productions continued through the 1960s, when fight for civil rights decreased their popularity.

Still, amid all of the setbacks, Black actors persevered by singing, dancing and acting their way into our hearts. More importantly, they did so not for the amusement of the White man, but out of their talent and genuine passion for the field.

In 1950, Juanita Hill was the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for a Supporting Role as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Another Rodgers and Hammerstein production, the story was far from the famed duo’s most famous shows, but was notable for its tackling of the harmful affects of racism head-on.

The next 30 years would see a number of other noteworthy moments, including Diahann Carroll’s Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for No Strings. Vinnette Justine Carroll‘s achievement as the first Black female director of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, the production of Ntozake Shange’s emotional For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, powerhouse actress Audra McDonald winning and of course Jennifer Holliday’s portrayal of Effie White in Dreamgirls:

But the last two years have been extremely notable for their high-profile and consistent opportunities for Black stage actors. Not only did Broadway darling Audra McDonald make history by winning her sixth Tony in 2014 (also becoming the only actress to win in all four acting categories), but Phyllicia Rashad won a Tony for the revival of A Raisin In The Sun and Denzel Washington shone in his much-praised role in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.

Continue reading “THEATER: How Black Stars on Broadway are Redefining Legacy of “The Great White Way””

Russell Simmons Bringing Hip-Hop Musical “The Scenario” to Broadway in 2016

Russell Simmons hip hop musical
Russell Simmons (LARRY BUSACCA/GETTY IMAGES)

Russell Simmons is developing a hip-hop musical that will draw songs from hip-hop’s “golden age” from between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, in the same way that “Rock of Ages” pulled tunes from the hard-rock classics of the ’80s.

Simmons has teamed with “Rock of Ages” producer Big Block/Scott Prisand for the show, which aims to conjure the same fun, concert-like vibe that helped sustain the nearly six-year run of “Rock of Ages” on Broadway. The original story of “The Scenario” will be written by Dan Charnas, who wrote the book “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop.”

The attachment of Simmons, who’ll produce through Def Pictures, lends “The Scenario” some notable cred. As the founder of Def Jam Recordings in 1984, he’s credited with playing a major role in hip-hop’s rise to the mainstream. He also founded the Def Comedy franchise in 1989, and he produced and conceived 2002 Broadway outing “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam.”

Simmons and Big Block hope to get “The Scenario” into New York in late 2016, although they aren’t necessarily targeting Broadway. “Rock of Ages,” for instance, played an Off Broadway run before it shifted to Broadway; the producers could also consider putting the production in a nontraditional space outside the typical Broadway box.

“The Scenario” is being developed by a team of producers that includes Simmons, Def Pictures/Jake Stein, Big Block/Prisand, Scott Benson, Tom Pellegrini and Jamie Bendell, Brian Sher and Stella Bulichnikov.

article by Gordon Cox via Variety.com

Tony Winner Audra McDonald Announces Broadway Return Alongside George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover for 2016 Musical “Shuffle Along”

Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in 2016, in collaboration with George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover.
Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in 2016, in collaboration with George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover. (© David Gordon)

Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in a new collaboration with Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe and Tony-winning choreographer Savion Glover. The collaboration is called Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Follows. The production begins previews March 14, 2016, at the Music Box Theatre, with opening night set for April 21.

McDonald will play Lottie Gee, the 1920s performer who appeared in the cast of Shuffle Along. This 1921 musical by Flournoy Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle altered the face of Broadway in giving several black performers their first Broadway credits. The show helped launch the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, and Paul Robeson, among many others.

Ninety-five years later, this backstage musical will explore the creation of this now-forgotten show. Wolfe directs and pens the book, while Glover choreographs. It marks their first collaboration since their 1996 hit Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. The production will have music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Daryl Waters, scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Ann Roth, and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Scott Rudin serves as producer.

Additional information about the production will be revealed in the coming months.

article by David Gordon via theatermania.com

Walter Mosley’s “Devil in a Blue Dress” Headed to Broadway

devil in a blue dress, denzel washington,

It was first a novel, then a film and now it’s headed to Broadway. “Devil in a Blue Dress” will be getting the theater treatment.  The popular film that starred Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle in 1995 — based on one of Walter Mosley‘s most popular works — is coming to the Great White Way.

“Devil in a Blue Dress” is a noir novel and film about a man in 1948 Los Angeles who loses his aerospace manufacturing job and turns to private detective work.

Mosley revealed the Broadway news when he was promoting his new book, “Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore.”  He has partnered with Jazz musician and composer Branford Marsalis to bring the work to the stage.  There’s no word on if Washington or Cheadle will reprise their roles from the film, but the production should begin within the next year.

article by Deron Dalton via eurweb.com

THEATER REVIEW: “Raisin in the Sun” Brings Denzel Washington Back to Broadway

From left, Sophie Okonedo, Mr. Washington, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Bryce Clyde Jenkins and Anika Noni Rose play members of a family pondering whether to move to a suburb. (Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

The spark of rebellion, the kind that makes a man stand up and fight, has almost been extinguished in Walter Lee Younger. As portrayed by Denzel Washington in Kenny Leon’s disarmingly relaxed revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun — which opened on Thursday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater — Walter appears worn down, worn out and about ready to crawl into bed for good. Frankly, he looks a whole lot older than you probably remember him.

That’s partly because, at 59, Mr. Washington, the much laureled movie star, is about a quarter of a century older than the character he is playing, at least as written. (This production bumps Walter’s age up to 40 from 35.) But it’s also because, as this production of Raisin makes clearer than any I’ve seen before, Walter inhabits a world that ages men like him fast.

Listen to how his mama, Lena (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), describes her late husband’s existence: “I seen him, night after night, come in, and look at that rug, and then look at me, the red showing in his eyes, the veins moving in his head. I seen him grow thin and old before he was 40, working and working like somebody’s horse.”

In this engrossingly acted version of Hansberry’s epochal 1959 portrait of an African-American family, Walter is all too clearly his father’s son. Lena may tell him, shaking her head, that he is “something new, boy.” But you know that her great fear is that he is not. Small wonder she shows such smothering protectiveness to Walter’s 11-year-old son, Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins).

A claustrophobic fatigue pervades the cramped, South Side Chicago apartment in which A Raisin in the Sun is set. And despite its often easygoing tone, a happy ending feels far from guaranteed. As designed by Mark Thompson, the Youngers’ living room cum kitchen is a narrow corridor that keeps its three generations of inhabitants in close, erosive proximity.

The production begins with a searing vision of bone-weariness. Ruth Younger (Sophie Okonedo), Walter’s wife, stands frozen center stage in a bathrobe, amid sallow morning light. Her face is harrowed, and her arms are braced against the kitchen counter in what is almost a crucifix position. She is trying to find the strength to get through another day.

Mr. Leon relaxes that initial tautness for the scene that follows, in which the Youngers — who also include Walter’s sister, Beneatha (a first-rate Anika Noni Rose), a pre-med student — go through their usual morning rituals. And the play as a whole has a genial, conversational quality; it always holds you, but without trying to shake you.

Still, that opening scene strikes a note that will resonate. Exhaustion is pulling at the Youngers like a dangerous force of gravity. As Hansberry puts it in her stage directions, “Weariness has, in fact, won in this room.”

Continue reading “THEATER REVIEW: “Raisin in the Sun” Brings Denzel Washington Back to Broadway”

Norm Lewis Becomes First Black “Phantom of the Opera” Lead on Broadway

Norm LewisTony Award nominee Norm Lewis will join Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera as the show’s first Black lead after 26 years.

On Thursday, producers of the long-running show announced that the stage vet and Scandal actor would make his debut alongside Sierra Boggess on May 12. They noted that he will be the first African-American to play the role.

“I love the show but also to have hopefully set a precedent to see more diversity in casting,” Lewis told The Associated Press.

The thespian’s Broadway credits include Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Chicago, Side Show, Sondheim on Sondheim, and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (in which he received a Tony nomination), among others.

To date, Phantom has played to more than 130 million people in 27 countries and grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide.

article by Camille Travis via uptownmagazine.com