theGrio’s 100: Alia Jones-Harvey and Stephen C. Byrd, successful producers on the Great White Way
Who are Alia Jones-Harvey and Stephen C. Byrd?
Many productions in the recent string of Broadway hits featuring predominately African-American casts have come to life through the work of Alia Jones-Harvey and Stephen C. Byrd. Working as partners for their Front Row Productions firm, they have co-produced celebrated pieces such as The Trip to Bountiful — which helped celebrated actress Cicely Tyson earn her first Tony Award in her decades-long career.
Why are they on theGrio’s 100?
When Jones-Harvey and Byrd produced an all-black version of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2008, it was a runaway success. The production starred Terrence Howard, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose and James Earl Jones — and garnered over $14 million in sales. This phenomenon whetted audiences’ appetite for more, leading to numerous revivals of black plays, such as Bountiful, in addition to colorblind casting for other recent shows not produced by Harvey and Byrd, but likely inspired by them.
In this way, they have helped a new generation of theater-goers enjoy black stories and African-American actors as universally powerful.
“It has to do with people wanting to see themselves on stage and wanting to identify with the stars who are being cast in those roles,” Jones-Harvey told theGrio in a recent interview. “We cater to the traditional theatergoer in a certain sense because the titles we have chosen are classic works with strong themes that we all relate to, across different cultures. The casting is all about drawing in new generations, new audiences, who want to see their favorites; or people who are new to theater.”
What’s next for Alia Jones-Harvey?
Breaking out of their established path of producing blockbuster revivals, Front Row Productions is currently working on a new piece that will also be a musical — Black Orpheus. Based on the play by Vinicius de Moraes, which debuted in Rio in 1956, Black Orpheus has become beloved by arbiters of international black culture because of the 1959 film remake it spawned. Byrd and Jones-Harvey plan to take its story of black, star-crossed lovers set in Brazil to the Great White Way through song.
“It was the first play on stage in Brazil to feature black actors and that in itself was a draw for us, that it has that history,” Jones-Harvey told us. “It was an impactful piece and it has never been done as a musical here in the States. We are really excited to bring this iconic love story, set in Rio during Carnival, to Broadway.”
Follow Alia Jones-Harvey on Twitter @aleostar