Blackness comes to ‘The Great White Way’: 5 reasons to get excited about New York theater

As Broadway begins to reopen, theGrio highlights five current or forthcoming productions created by Black creatives.

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The presence of Black actors, writers, and directors represented on stages in the hallowed theater district of New York City has always been minuscule compared to that of their white counterparts. For every Purlie, there are 10 South Pacific’s. For every Amen Corner, there are 10 Death of a Salesman’s. For every Dreamgirls, there are 10 Phantom of the Opera’s.

Broadway and off-Broadway have featured several innovative productions like The Wiz or Fences, birthed by Black creatives from Charlie Smalls to August Wilson. We began to see an uptick of provocative, dynamic plays and musicals from people of color over the past few years such as Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, and Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed. And no doubt the attention has been helped by the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash musical Hamilton.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

However, the representation of Black playwrights and directors looking to craft the stories continues to be few and far between. Only 20 percent of a recent season were written by people of color, while 93.8 percent of directors on Broadway in 2017-2018 were white, according to ABC News.

Such racial disparity has led to the birth of the group Broadway For Racial Justice (BFRJ), which was created in 2020 initially as a way to offer financial assistance for Black theater employees during the COVID-19 pandemic as well a place to disclose racial trauma happening in the workplace. Noax, singer and BFRJ’s Director of Operations recently told theGrio that representation was also a key component:

“Representation really is the first step in this work. Once you place a large, diverse group of people in a room, what care is being put into making sure it’s a safe space for all people? Even within our own communities of color there are so many different intersections.”

People walk through the Theater District in Manhattan on May 06, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

As performance venues and theaters have now reopened to the public after going dark for over a year, there are some exciting new Black-led productions happening or are on the horizon in New York. Here are five to look forward to:

Opened October 13
John Golden Theatre
Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III
Written by Keenan Scott II
Starring Luke James, Tristan “Mack” Wilds

This musical is an expressive look into the lives of seven Black men during a day in Brooklyn, NY, all of varying age, backgrounds, and beliefs. The production combines singing, slam poetry, and spoken word to this intense, humorous and poignant portrayal of seven different human emotions. It makes the first time the cast and creative crew is all occupied by Black men in Broadway’s history, according to ABC News.

Opened September 27
The Metropolitan Opera House
Directed by James Robinson and Camille A. Brown
Written by Kasi Lemmons
Composed by Terence Blanchard
Starring Will Liverman

Another landmark, Fire Shut Up In My Bones marks the first opera by a Black composer in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, according to The Guardian. With Blanchard lending his brilliant jazz and film score chops, Lemmons’ libretto is adapted from the harrowing memoir of Charles Blow, which tells the story of a young Black man dealing with sexual trauma and the aftermath that follows in his life.

With an all-Black cast and Brown also leading the choreography that incorporates step dancing straight from HBCU’s, Fire Shut Up In My Bones has been a sell-out and is sure to garner large viewer numbers when it streams live to cinemas on October 23.

Brown will be making her Broadway directorial debut in 2022 with the revival of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, as reported by Playbill.

Opens October 29
American Airlines Theatre
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Written by Alice Childress
Music by Nona Hendryx
Starring LaChanze

This play originally opened off-Broadway in 1955 and was due to make its Broadway debut two years later. But it never did, until now. This incredible, if not sadly appropriate for the times, play is a chronicle of the pitfalls of Black actors and singers navigating through Broadway auditions. LaChanze, who won a 2006 Tony for her portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple, ignites the late Childress’ words ablaze, while also singing to original music from Hendryx.

Opens January 12, 2022
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Written by Dominique Morisseau
Starring Phylicia Rashad, Chante Adams

This contemporary play tells an all too universal story of how people deal with loss and poverty. As a factory in 2008 Detroit faces closure, an ensemble of factory workers must lean on each other for comfort and hope, thus blurring the lines between blue and white collars. Rashad, who brings class and experience to all she touches, stars in the play, due to open in the new year.

Opens January 11, 2022
Pershing Square Signature Center
Directed by Scott Elliott
Written by John Ridley
Music by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter
Starring Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter

Inspired by the 1931 George S. Schuyler novel of the same name, Black No More stars Roots frontman Trotter in his off-Broadway debut as Dr. Junius Crookman, a Black doctor who creates a procedure to turn his skin white, as reported by the New York Times. The satirical journey through the Harlem Renaissance era will also feature music and lyrics all handled by Trotter, with the book written by Ridley, writer of the Academy Award-winning film, 12 Years A Slave.

With veteran choreographer Bill T. Jones also on hand, this promises to be a spectacular performance.

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