The Great White Way, as Broadway is sometimes called, is much browner these days.
You have to literally win the lottery to take a gander at the hip-hop infused Hamilton; Eclipsed, starring Lupita Nyong’o, features an all black female cast and is also written by black woman Danai Gurira; Audra McDonald will make yet another masterful run on Broadway in Shuffle Along later this month.
And now you can add Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker in the mix as well.
Whitaker stars as Erie Smith, a fast-talking low-level hustler in 1920s New York. Smith is grieving over the death of Hughie, the longtime clerk at the shoddy hotel where Smith resides. The entire play consists of Smith drunkenly regaling the new desk clerk (played by Frank Wood) with tall tales about dames, gambling and memories of Hughie.
Whitaker is the fourth actor to play Smith on Broadway.
At barely 60 minutes long, Hughie is a bit of an anomaly in the world of Broadway theater. There is no intermission, and in the two-character play, Whitaker’s Erie Smith has about 90 percent of the lines. It’s an interesting choice for a debut. Whitaker explained to theGrio.com why he opted for this project.
“It came to me at the right moment,” Whitaker said. “I was looking for a challenge. I wanted something that would really push me to try new things and use new tools. When I got the play, I was like ‘Wow.’ It meant a lot of different things to me. I had never read it before that moment. At first, I wanted to do an original play, but when I started talking to people about Hughie, most people had never heard of it and nobody had seen it. So it was kind of like being in an original play, but had the added layer of an amazing playwright underneath it. Also, I was afraid, so I thought I could learn something here. I took the chance.”
The fear Whitaker mentioned was about leaping outside of the much more familiar environment of movie sets.
“The greatest challenge has been stepping out on the stage in front of a live audience,” Whitaker revealed. “But there’s a great joy in that too. With an audience, you can feel them, and it helps you. The first challenge was just trying to get through the dialogue piece knowing that there are no outtakes or anything.”
Though Hughie just premiered and Whitaker will star in it through June, he is open to doing more Broadway in the future and humble enough to acknowledge the learning curve.
“I think there will be more Broadway,” Whitaker said. “We’ll see. I’m enjoying the experience so far. I’m just like a baby. That’s what I’ve been feeling like throughout the whole production. I’m just a kid not knowing exactly what to do all the time. There are all these little details that go into a performance, like how many times I should read the script, whether I should eat lunch or not first. So, we’ll see how it goes when I grow up a little bit.”