Friday, November 18, 2011

"The Great Black Way"

Yesterday I was invited to the final dress rehearsal for the new Broadway play, Stick Fly, being produced by Alicia Keys. Besides bringing up my Daddy issues, it got me thinking about what seems to be the dominant, if not only, model for producing Broadway plays whose themes are centered on African-American life and culture. That is, the celebrity-backed play.

True to form, the Hip-Hop generation has found a way to bring their message to a mainstream audience without sacrificing authenticity (We keeps it real!). Being a theatre lover, I would venture to say that I have seen most of the Broadway runs of "black plays" which can be broken down into two categories (if it is not listed here, I did not see it):

1) Musicals backed by celebrities: FELA (Will & Jada, Jay-Z), Color Purple (Oprah)

2) Traditional plays with limited-run, star-studded casts: Top Dog, Underdog (Mos Def, Jeffrey Wright), A Raisin in the Sun (Puff Daddy, Phylicia Rashad), Mountaintop (Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett)

First of all, kudos to Hip-Hop for adding shades of grey to "the great white way!" And Kudos to the wonderful cast of Stick Fly as they open their doors for the first time tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed the show last night and me and my "date" Lurie Daniel-Favors (Muse Moniker: "The 'Fro") spent the last 15 minutes trying to ignore eachother's boohooing.

Despite my complete satisfaction with the production, I couldn't help but lament the choice to replace the original cast of the first run of the play, which I was lucky enough to attend at DC's Arena Stage. Not the least because my good friend and Muse family member, Nikkole Salter, starred in the original and had an Oprah-Color Purple-like connection to the playwright and the story. But more because of Broadway's reputation for launching stars in general. I wonder with a name as big as Alicia Keys, would it have been possible for Stick Fly to make it to Broadway with the cast that garnered her attention in the first place?

Although there are cultural sensitivities stemming from the history of black performers being relegated to roles involving "shucking and jiving," I believe that our affinity for the Art of entertainment, particularly singing and dancing, has led the way for traditional Broadway audiences to support non-musical plays with African-American themes and casts. The success of Color Purple and FELA as well as Lion King (largely black cast) and Sister Act (non-celebrity black star) has had a normalizing effect that we have a unique opportunity to capitalize on in an effort to catapult the careers of some lesser known talent in our community.

How Stick Fly fairs on Broadway will go a long way in proving my theory as the longer it runs, the more likely it is to replace it's television and movie star cast members with lesser known actors. For my money, I would like to see Nikkole eventually reprise her role as Taylor and I have a sneaking suspicion that a star will be born tonight as Condola Rashad makes her Broadway

LaNora Williams-Clark ("The Muse") is an "attorney refugee" turned Writer and Entrepreneur. She currently divides her time between Washington, DC and Harlem, NYC where she is penning her first book, "The Other N Word."

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