Broadway & Black History Collide with L Morgan LeeEpisode 35
Tony nominated actress L Morgan Lee from Broadway’s breakout hit ‘A Strange Loop’ tells the story of a surprise Facebook message that changed her life. She also talks about her love for the stage, old movies and the goals she has set for her evolving career as a Black transgender actress and performer.
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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi and welcome to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guest five of the Blackest questions that we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history. Past and present. So here’s how this works. We have five rounds of questions about us. Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic breakfast and they’ll hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. Our guest for this episode is Tony Award nominee actress and singer L Morgan Lee, who was part of Michael R. Jackson‘s Pulitzer Prize winning musical, A Strange Loop that just wrapped up its Broadway run last month. The Musical received 11 Tony nominations, the most for any show in 2022, and L Morgan received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a musical, and she was recognized as a trailblazer in the Broadway community. And she’s been honored for her work and commitment to inclusion.
A Strange Loop [00:01:18] Big, Black and queer, that’s Amerian Broadway.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:25] L Morgan, thank you so much for joining us here at the Blackest Questions. Are you ready to play?
L Morgan Lee [00:01:30] I’m ready. Thank you for having me, Dr. Christina.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:32] Oh, I’m so excited. And I saw Strange Loop and you were fabulous. So we’ll get into that a little bit later in the episode. Okay. Question number one. In January of this year, this person became the first Black governor of Maryland and is only the third Black person to be governor of any state in the United States. Who is he?
L Morgan Lee [00:01:55] This is so embarrassing. Because I’m from Maryland. I should know the answer to this. I have no idea.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:01] Okay. So he’s the third Black man to be elected governor. We’ve had other governors who had to step in, who were appointed. And the answer is Wes Moore.
L Morgan Lee [00:02:10] Wes Moore.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:11] He’s a Democrat and military veteran who won Maryland’s governor’s race by a landslide. He’s only 44 years old, a new to politics. He’s never held any other office. He was a Rhodes scholar, a bestselling author, a Wall Street investment banker and the founder of an anti-poverty nonprofit. And in the United States, we’ve only had two other elected Black governors before. Wes Moore. L Douglas Wilder, who served one term as Virginia’s governor back in 1990. And the other was Deval Patrick, who led Massachusetts in 2007, serving two terms. So you are from Maryland.
L Morgan Lee [00:02:43] I’m from Maryland.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:44] When you’re not on Broadway and singing and acting, do you follow politics at all?
L Morgan Lee [00:02:50] No, I don’t. I’m someone who keeps up, like with small, like with basic things kind of here and there. But it’s awful. I’ve become a bit of like a social media follower out of politics. So the things that hit the big headlines I catch, but just because my mind is always sort of going in a bit of a blur, it it I feel like it all just sort of jumbles in together in piles. So I probably just need more breath in general so that I can retain more of this information.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:17] Absolutely. Because there’s so much, you know, as someone who’s been studying politics for so long, I need a breather. Right. I need a break sometime. Now, what part of Maryland are you from?
L Morgan Lee [00:03:27] I’m from the like Bouie Green Belt area of Maryland. So. P.G. County. Yeah. I mean, but I’ve been in New York, like, significant, not significant, but a bit longer than I had been in Maryland at this point. So at this point, I’m probably from New York, but I originated in Maryland.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:45] Isn’t it that that beautiful crossover where, you know, for New Yorkers, it’s like, well, I’ve been here, but, you know, the old school New Yorkers are like, well, what high school did you go to? And then then it’s like, okay, well, technically a transplant, but here we are. So when you were growing up in Maryland, though, were you involved in musical theater and, you know, sort of that community when you’re growing up or when did when did you get bitten by this singing and acting bug?
L Morgan Lee [00:04:10] Well, I’ve been singing since I was in my high chair. So and so I was always singing. I did a lot of like show choir stuff in high school. And I went to Duke Ellington for two years, which is in Georgetown in D.C. And so that sort of really started the bug full on because we got to travel a bit. And it’s interesting, I was saying to some of the other day, there’s so many shows happening at the Kennedy Center and like, it’s such a like revered, honored, you know, space to play in and particular people now are talking about it so much. I took it so much for granted because like our show, we were there all the time.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:48] Right. You were like “Whatever, the Kennedy Center.”
L Morgan Lee [00:04:50] It was like whatever, the Kennedy Center. But like, so now I’m like, I wish I had taken more leg of what that was because I’d love to be at the Kennedy Center now. I know those hallways, but like, it’s yeah, it’s interesting, like what we take for granted when we don’t realize where we actually are, how important the spaces we are, are.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:08] Well, you know, as they say, like youth is wasted on the young, you know, like you’re just hanging out of the Kennedy Center, not realizing it’s Kennedy Center.
L Morgan Lee [00:05:14] This is the Kennedy Center. Right.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:16] It’s the Kennedy Center. Now, as someone who lip sings in church. Right. I mean, I’ll tell you, I have the worst voice ever. What advice do you give people who, you know might be in high school who look at you, I mean, you’ve been you become an icon and a trailblazer. And it’s such an inspiration to so many people who want to be on Broadway, who want to be off-Broadway. You know, your voice is incredible. What advice do you give to, you know, say, that high school student who who’s kind of in the musical choir or, you know, dipping, they’re telling the theater to sort of take the seriously and go down some of the paths that you’ve gone. What would you tell them?
L Morgan Lee [00:05:54] Keep studying. Study, study, study, and not even necessarily like yes, with teachers, but also on your own. I spent a lot of time just in practice rooms alone singing just because I love doing it and I feel like we have to. The minute money gets involved in it and it becomes a career. You have to really, like, be able to sort of draw yourself back to, like, the reason why you do this. Because capitalism and all this stuff will really sort of take the joy out of it if you’re not careful. So if you want to pursue it at a on a bigger platform, I think really spend the time like cultivating the craft itself so that you have something to hold on to in the moments when you feel tired. Because that’s that’s the of the utmost importance, especially at this point. Like I just finished writing the almost year run of a show where the show becomes your job, it becomes work, and you have to often tap back into, okay, wait, why am I doing this? Who is this for? And a lot of that for me ends up being tapping into that like kid in a practice room just sitting at the piano or like my mom catching me outside of my bedroom, playing on my keyboard, singing things and doing monologues. That’s the stuff that that helps you through.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:10] Oh, okay. I’m here with L Morgan Lee. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. We’ll be right back with more of the Blacklest Questions. Okay, we’re back. I’m with L Morgan Lee. You just finished her run on A Strange Loop. Welcome back to the Blackest Questions. Are you ready for question number two?
L Morgan Lee [00:07:29] Oh, God, yes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:30] Okay, we got this. We got this together. Black history is Amerian history.
L Morgan Lee [00:07:35] You like mentioned that they get a little harder as we go. And I’m like here we go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:38] I’m right here with you, Right? You know, listed as someone as I just I was honest. As I said, I lip sync in church. I look to you. You were my Sherpa on this journey. Okay. Question number two. This moment in history took place in June of 1969, when police arrested mostly Black and brown women at a gay bar in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood in New York City. This woman is credited with catapulting the LGBTQ movement for civil rights. What am I describing?
L Morgan Lee [00:08:09] Stonewall.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:11] Yes, the Stonewall riots. So when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar, patrons fought back. It’s believed a Black drag performer named Stormé DeLarverie threw the first punch because the authorities started to get violent while loading people into their patrol cars. The raid led to six straight days of protests largely led by Black gay rights activists. And on the one year anniversary of the riots, June 28, 1970, thousands of people marched from Manhattan to Central Park, which was the first official gay pride parade in the United States. So much like race relations in this country, gay rights are far from being calcified solidified in in our pantheon. Where do you think we are with our current climate for LGBTQ+ rights?
L Morgan Lee [00:08:56] Oh.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:58] I know. I feel like we’ve come with, you know, that Benson and Hedges was a legend. Has it Benson Hedges or a Virginia Slims commercial? Like, we’ve come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go.
L Morgan Lee [00:09:08] Yeah, I think that that we certainly have come a long way. But again, yeah, we, we have only really reached the surface of the changes that need to happen in particular with right now. In particular, there are so many there’s like hundreds of different things and legislatures like trying to be passed to prohibit trans folks from even basically existing at this point, which it’s, it’s laughable because it’s like you can put all of the the laws and things you want into place, but people will not stop existing. And so it’s just going to be a constant back and forth. And quite frankly, people will do the things they need to do. And so if we don’t find ways to allow them to happen in a safe and sort of nurtured way, it could then turn into a much more dangerous situation for so many people. And we don’t want to see any more uptick and and harm being done to trans youth or, you know, suicides and such. I mean, that. So it’s took a sort of dark terror and all of a sudden. But we don’t want to see the numbers go up for people who are young people in particular, who are harming themselves or who are doing things to themselves because they don’t feel like they have access to the things that they need.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:23] Absolutely.
L Morgan Lee [00:10:24] So I think we have a long ways to go. And the first I feel like one of the biggest things that will help us in doing that is if we can learn to listen to one another. I think a lot of these conversations are happening without the people who are being whose lives are being impacted by them being in the room for the conversations. Yeah, I would not I would not dare, you know, want to be on a panel or board making decisions about subjects that I don’t understand or know. If I’m living something every day, I’m the person you want to be in the room because I can actually give you a little bit more insight on what these things actually mean. And you don’t want one trans person. You need plenty of trans people because people’s lives and needs are so different, just like any other group.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:07] Just like any other group. Absolutely. You know, and especially with the intersection of Black trans men and women in our community, I think that that needs to also be a conversation in the forefront. You know, I think it’s all the time when we think about, say, like housing, you know, you have all these panels. It’s like, is anyone on this panel housing insecure? Right. We’ll have it on like, you know, youth developments like but no young people are on the panel, you know, So it goes on and on about, you know, drug usage. It’s like, well, we don’t have any former, you know, former people who were addicted to substances that, you know, were once illegal, are now legal or whatever the conversation may be. And I think it’s so important to to really highlight the, as you said, the diversity of the trans community in many of these spaces. And it’s not just one specific one selected voice.
L Morgan Lee [00:11:51] Right.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:51] You know, you sort of you know, I’m still thinking about the you know, you coming into developing your your role and your voice, literally your voice as a singer and an actress. Do you remember some of those songs that you sang that kind of gave you either courage or motivation as you were on this road, you know, knowing that, as we, you know, talked before before we started recording, I mean, you know, you’re a Black woman on Broadway, which is still. That’s you know, that’s almost a rarity, sadly, but true. You know, we still don’t have representation, just just Black women being on the stage in such a prominent stage that you were on during Strange Loop. What do you do you remember some of the songs that you tapped into that gave you strength to kind of keep going?
L Morgan Lee [00:12:39] I am so sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era. Well, I say that, but like, with like, have a caveat that like, I was born in the wrong era, but I would not want to live in those eras because we certainly come in ways and correct times. But like, I mean, I, I grew up on watching like the old MGM movies and like, you know, old Diahann Carroll clips and Lena Horne and Judy Garland and like, so so the music that tends to speak to me tends to be like old Harold Arlen tunes. And like, you know, it’s the it’s the you know, you’ll never know is Rosemary Clooney. It’s like these old, like, bluesy, jazzy, like lush, old movie picture things.
[00:13:24] When he went away, the blues walked in and met me. If he stays away. Oh, rocking chair will get me.
L Morgan Lee [00:13:36] And like, those are also the scenes that did that for me growing up. And I loved singing. Growing up, I was much more of a TV and old movie person. So the dream sort of has always been to be on screen, but then people sort of people realize that you sing and immediately it becomes, Oh my God, musicals. You’re a Broadway and you’re like, Wait, wait, wait. But I want to film. I want to do film. So it’s it’s it’s a lot of old pictures like Mommie Dearest and like The Wiz and Judy Garland and like, you know, grease grease to, you know, all these old, like, sort of would be classics to me are the things that sort of raised me. And so many ways the women of Brewster Place, I could smell from like start to stop. It’s like these are the these are the things that actually shaped so much of me. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:33] Well, on this podcast we believe in manifesting. So I’m putting it out there that L Morgan is going to be on TV and in film. Yeah. Upcoming year two. I hope that you walk around, you know, when you said Mommie Dearest, I’m like, I just picture you walking around with like a boa and some fancy, you know, nightgown in a martini glass, like yelling at your cat or something like that. Yeah, just, just getting into character.
L Morgan Lee [00:14:55] Full face mask with a towel around the hair. Screaming and all.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:01] So when the delivery man comes, “What are you doing in my home?” Like, I’m here to deliver your pizza.
L Morgan Lee [00:15:10] That’s amazing.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:10] I love it. I love it. So, you know, and I think, you know, and I was just thinking about the women of Brewster Place just because the visuals were just so dramatic. And as a young girl, you know, watching it on television, you know, to see all these beautiful Black women with so many different ranges of acting stuff on the screen, you know, you just again, just like you said, with with, you know, hanging out of the Kennedy Center, I don’t know if I fully understood just how powerful and groundbreaking that made for TV movie really was. You know, as a young Black girl watching it and seeing all these beautiful, dynamic Black women playing just the whole spectrum of Black woman. Yeah. And that’s just so painful.
L Morgan Lee [00:15:54] The statement that it makes to have this group of Black women all having to, like, try to take down that wall together, it’s like the older I get, the more the more sort of comfortable in my own skin I get, the more I understand it. And like, it’s just like my my respect and and love of Black women in particular says Black women has grown like so greatly as a result of for me and as a result of transition and life. And it’s like it’s oh, it’s like the world that is being met every day by Black women is is out of this world. And it’s something that I feel like I wish there were more ways of being able to express what that is so that people could get an idea of exactly what people are going through and exactly what it takes to simply go through your daily routine. It’s like it’s it’s it’s not it ain’t the same thing as, you know, most people, I think, assume it is. And this idea of the strong, you know, the strong trope that’s being put on and it’s like, yeah, because we live in a world where how can we survive otherwise? And it’s like, you know, we don’t we don’t have the conversations that we could be having and instead we just sort of like to throw people into categories and labels and just dismiss the experience.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:16] Right? And it’s, you know, so much of it is not just about survival, but it’s about thriving.
L Morgan Lee [00:17:22] Thriving.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:22] I am talking to L Morgan Lee and you are listening to the Blackest Questions. We’re going take a quick commercial break and we’ll be right back. Okay, we’re back. I’m talking to Tony nominee L Morgan Lee, and we’re just having a total Black girl fest. L Morgan, are you ready for question number three?
L Morgan Lee [00:17:40] Yes. Bring it on.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:42] We got this. We got this. Okay. Speaking of fabulous Black women, this year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominated a female hip hop artist for the first time. Who is she?
L Morgan Lee [00:17:55] Oh. Oh, no. I don’t know that many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hip-Hop. Oh, Jesus. I’m so, I mean, I’m going to say Missy Elliott, but that’s probably completely wrong.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:09] You are correct. It’s Missy Elliott.
[00:18:12] Is worth it? Let me work it. I put my thang down. Flip it and reverse it.
[00:18:17] Missy Misdemeanor Elliott is a four time Grammy Award winning artist from Virginia. Your neighbor who exploded on to the male dominated hip hop scene in the late 1990s. Her unique music videos also set her apart. She’s produced and written songs for artists like Aaliyah, Beyonce, Eminem and Lizzo. And Missy also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this year. Now, listen. I am a Missy fan. Okay. I’m now an L Morgan fan. You know, now that we’re here on this podcast, I’m totally fangirling out. But Missy has been like my ride or die since her very first album. Are you a Missy fan? Do you listen to hip hop or. You know, I know you listen to probably you know, you mentioned other types of music, but do you listen to Missy in particular or hip hop in general?
L Morgan Lee [00:19:00] I don’t listen to a lot of hip hop. I mean, I like rap hip hop culture. And my mind sort of is very, very old school. I told you the wrong year altogether. I mean, I’m still like, I will still jam out every once in a while to a Salt-N-Pepa moment. So, so like beginning of rap, it’s when I started listening. Yeah. Not a lot of hip hop. But like Missy, I have definitely noticed a bit more recently. Like I said, social media is the the thing that puts some some things in my face. So I’ve noticed that she’s had this whole, like, sort of image renovation situation, this like revamp. And I was like, wait, that’s Missy. Okay. All right. Right. Okay.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:41] I mean, our listeners know that I’m stuck between 1993 and 1998. Okay.
L Morgan Lee [00:19:46] Okay.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:47] Permanently stuck. Just stuck in cement. But I mean, I think that’s like the golden age for me. There’s so many amazing albums that came out during that time. But I think, you know, as someone who’s such an amazing performer, you know, to see her in her videos and like the costume changes and the different personalities, she’s always been an icon for me just because of her, her creativity. So in and you know, and thinking about someone like Salt-N-Pepa, I mean, even their hair, you know, you just sort of it’s just so iconic when you think about, you know, their their jackets and the sneakers and the makeup and the, you know, the bamboo. I just lost my bamboo earrings last week. And you would have thought that, you know, the world was about to end. So as far as you know, when you’re getting into character and you’re, you know, getting ready to go to the theater or, you know, get prepared, do you have a particular type of music that’s like you’re you’re kind of hype music that sort of gets you in the headspace where you need to be or are you more of a quiet, reflective type of peson.
L Morgan Lee [00:20:48] Oh, no, I’m really, really loud. I like I actually am like such I’m such a cancer. And the funny part is that I’m actually a bit of an introvert. So.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:00] As cancers are.
L Morgan Lee [00:21:02] Yeah, it’s like I’m a bit of an introvert. So like, I get into my own little space and like in the dressing room, for instance, I would listen to kind of the same playlist almost every day like I would. So people in the hallway knew that I was like getting into I like, Oh, she’s warming up because it was always this like the same playlist of tunes. And it’s not necessarily like the what you expected to be like. People think like I am. I like hype music, stuff that’s going to get me like excited and jumping around. I’m listening to like Jasmine Sullivan singing like in love with another man. Oh, like I’m listening to like, this old R&B. Like. Like slow jams. Like, completely the opposite of getting reared up. And then I’ll, like, pop in for Strange Loop. I popped in like, six would pop in there somewhere. So like that cast recording from I’m six and like, Bridgerton the musical, these are my two like, you know, things that went into the mix that like, helped me, you know, if I, once I get myself comfortable enough where I can feel a bit warm, I can put on Bridgerton If I can sing through that, then I know I’m fine for the show. But yeah, it’s a very random list that has like almost nothing to do with what I’m actually doing on the stage.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:14] I can imagine your colleagues walking past and hearing the Bridgerton soundtrack. Oh, okay. Well, she’s getting ready.
L Morgan Lee [00:22:20] There she go. They know that like, once it gets to like the right the right songs, they’re like, okay, well she she’s about to finish the warm up. Yep. And that’s what doesn’t come out the dressing room and chat with us.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:32] And so beyond listening to me and by the way, when is your birthday because I’m a cancer and I can listen to the same time as some people I have like the musical listening days of like a four year old, right? I can listen to the same thing over and over and over again every day, you know? And it’s like and I hear something new every time. When’s your birthday?
L Morgan Lee [00:22:48] I’m July 5th.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:50] I’m July 13th, so. Oh, happy birthday, buddy. Oh, so that’s a good day once you. Once you’ve listened to your music. What’s your next process to get ready? Cause I’m fascinated. You know, you’re doing these shows, what, eight times a week?
L Morgan Lee [00:23:05] Eight shows a week.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:07] And each time you bring a little more nuance and a little more subtlety and a little more, you know, pizzazz. So what’s your process? Listen to your music. We’ve got bridgerton out of the way. And then what happened.
L Morgan Lee [00:23:19] For me, a once I’ve I’ve been downing coconut water, listening to the music, doing my makeup, and for A Strange Loop, as I was starting to finish the music, my hair girl would come in and do hair and put my mic in. And at that point I’m like, almost finished. I’m almost fully ready. And then we go downstairs and we get on stage. So for me, it’s like I but I also I got to the theater like a good two, two and a half hours before the show. Just because I don’t like to. Yeah, It’s like I’ve got a little home in space I don’t want to rush. So everything back.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:57] To these, you know, fit things.
L Morgan Lee [00:23:59] Sweating. And I’m like, you know, Well, I get there have a meal.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:03] We’ll be good travel buddies, L Morgan.
L Morgan Lee [00:24:04] Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:05] Cause I get to the airport, it’s like, Oh, my flight’s at noon. Okay, well, it’s 945, and I’m here in position. I’m ready go.
L Morgan Lee [00:24:11] So I can relax. Have a drink. I want a snack. I can listen to music, All the things. It’s about setting a mood.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:20] We have to create a home in an environment. Okay. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. I with L Morgan Lee, you’ve been listening to the Blackest Questions. We’ll be right back. Okay, we’re back. I’m with L Morgan Lee. Tony nominated actress from A Strange Loop. Broadway’s most recent production. L Morgan. We’re doing all right. You ready to rock and roll?
L Morgan Lee [00:24:41] Yes. Let’s do it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:43] Okay. Question number four. This actress became the first openly transgender woman to play a lead actress in a Broadway show. Who is she and what musical did she star in?
L Morgan Lee [00:24:55] Angelica Ross played Roxie in Chicago.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:59] You are correct. So Angelica Ross portrayed Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago. Ross made her acting debut in 2005 with her role in the Italian comedy film Natalie on Miami. She’s also received a primetime Emmy for her web series, Her Story. But she’s most known for her role in FX series Pose. Outside of acting, Ross is also a transgender rights advocate and a businesswoman who started her own tech company called Trans Tech Social Enterprises, which helps employ transgender people in the tech industry. So Angelica Ross, who’s in Chicago. Did you happen to see Angelica when she was in Chicago?
L Morgan Lee [00:25:35] I saw her first performance.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:38] Really?
L Morgan Lee [00:25:39] I saw the very first night she went on. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:42] How do you know her? Were you just a fan? And that’s you just went to go see?
L Morgan Lee [00:25:47] I. You know. I know. I know her sort of peripherally through people, but our our we have teams that were sort of similar. So some are saying press person, which means shows. Okay. Wanted to extend us an invite on that night in particular, of course, because I wanted to support her and it was a big deal.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:08] It’s a huge deal. Now, you know, her Broadway work was recognized. Let’s talk a little bit more about your historic accomplishment because, you know, on The Blackest Questions, we don’t believe in hiding our light under a bushel. So as the first openly transgender actress to be nominated for a Tony Award. Tell us a little bit more about that. Tell us about how you felt about that and about, you know, working on A Strange Loop that’s just been such a groundbreaking musical on a whole host of levels. To start with, just sort of Black Broadway in general.
L Morgan Lee [00:26:39] Yeah. I mean, it it it was crazy. The best word I can start with.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:45] Are you still pinching yourself?
L Morgan Lee [00:26:47] It’s it’s interesting because I’ve finally got to a point where I can accept it and stop pinching myself. It took me quite some time to do that. I feel the responsibility of that now in an interesting way. There’s a word that people use, trailblazer, is one that I now see in a very different way than I’ve ever seen it before. It’s it’s interesting how the universe sort of presents you with things that make you appreciate life and people more. And it’s like when I hear this idea of firsts, now I understand it and in a slightly different way. And one of the things is that we never we always hear about the accomplishment that the first have done, but we don’t hear we don’t then follow up to see how they are doing. So, like, you know, this this person sort of cracked a glass ceiling. Someone told me along the way, you don’t crack the glass ceiling without being cut. And so there’s there’s a lot of wanting to make sure that I can help, that I can help make sure that people behind me sort of don’t have to go through some of the same things that I experienced along the way. And like, this goes back to the conversation we had earlier where it’s like you want people to be in the room so that you can if we all are invested in moving forward and in making progress, then we have to have the conversations. And so you need those people who have been in the room or who are experiencing what the room looks like without that work to be present in those conversations to help us to prepare things to get better. I don’t want to look back at at, you know, younger folks coming through and like not say anything and then see their feet get burned. I want to make sure that they know which shoes to wear before they get in the room.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:33] Right.
L Morgan Lee [00:28:34] And so, you know, we Broadway in particular, but our business, our industry, our world has a lot of work to do to allow people to be. I think that we one of the things that was great about A Strange Loop is that it introduced Broadway to a very different sort of assortment of humans than typically are in a Broadway show. And many of us have had careers, and I’ve been doing things. I’ve been in the city, you know, a little over 20 years at this point. So like have been touring a lot. But like, this show was the first time that people were able to fully see me. And part of it is because I also sort of came to my own, you know, self through the process of developing on this show in so many ways. And so. Being in A Strange Loop helped to introduce audiences to what it looks like in particular in that show to have a show centered on a larger bodied queer man who was Black, a fat Black man who is like going through the things that he goes through. There’s no show that centers on that particular archetype, and those of us who are playing the rest of the characters around him, we’re just sort of a hodgepodge of different characters who were playing with material that like we might never get to do otherwise, you know?
L Morgan Lee [00:29:57] I started A Strange Loop in like 2015, I think it was, and it was I got it from a DM and my Facebook from Michael asking if I wanted to do a reading of this project that he was working on. And like it, it sort of he just wanted me to be me. And so, you know, we got in the room and started playing with these different characters and the play, and he was someone who was excited about letting us sort of fly and find our version of who these people were. And so that’s when I was first definitely introduced to the sympathetic ear character who does not have a clear name. She just sort of left, was left with a sympathetic ear or patron. And I think that, like, she is the reason I sort of stuck it out with the show a bit, because when I first started the process, I was able to hide inside of her. And a lot of ways there were there was an element of what she brought to the story that I was like, I’ll never get to do this in a show. So I’m going to hold on to this little bit of a thing here, and I’m going to just I’m going to ride this thing as long as I can. And then post-transition, it started to become very, the the interesting situation was I was holding on to her because I had to hide. But post-transition, it became. I get to do this now and like and now I’m getting to do this and other shows and other projects and other things. And so she felt like a really, like beautiful entryway into what lies ahead.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:29] Oh, well, dare I say L Morgan Lee, coming out of your cancer shell into this beautiful, beautiful portrayal in A Strange Loop. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. I could talk to you for days. And we’ll be right back. You’re listening to the Blackest Questions. Okay. We are back with the Blackest Questions. I’m talking to L Morgan Lee. Tony nominated actress, I might add. We’ve got our last question. Are you ready?
L Morgan Lee [00:31:57] I’m ready.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:58] Okay. This weekly Black newspaper is the oldest in New York City and one of the most influential and oldest continuously published African-American newspapers in the country. It was also one of the first publications to publish the writings from Malcolm X. What newspaper is it?
L Morgan Lee [00:32:16] I don’t know, I want it. I don’t know that I’ve seen it. Yeah, I don’t know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:22] Well, I’ll make sure you get a copy because it’s the Amsterdam News and I write it for them and they still it’s a weekly publication, comes out every Thursday. You can also get it online. But the Amsterdam News began in 1909, and founder James Henry Anderson founded the paper with just $10. Copies were then sold for just $0.02 per issue. A little bit more than that now. And the old brownstone on seventh Avenue in Harlem, where the paper was originally published, was designated a national historic landmark in 1976. So I can make sure you get a copy of the Amsterdam News. It’s still a print copy every Thursday. Where do you get you’ve mentioned sort of social media quite a bit. Is that where you primarily get your news? And so do you stay abreast of what’s going on in not just New York City, but kind of Black America writ large?
L Morgan Lee [00:33:09] Yeah, Yeah. It’s it’s typically through social media. It’s like I mean, it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It’s that the things.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:15] The trifecta.
L Morgan Lee [00:33:15] Yeah, exactly. I’ll see what pops up and what people are talking about and what people are sort of going in on. And then I sometimes I go through a rabbit hole and then find out lots of other things that I did not realize were going on. I mean, there’s also there’s that world where it’s like, I’ll be like, “L Morgan, girl, pay attention.” Open your eyes to what’s happening around you.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:40] Look around.
L Morgan Lee [00:33:41] But then I’m like, Girl, I’m trying to. I’m just trying to survive here. I’m trying to live my life. So, like, yes, it’s it’s that interesting sort of back and forth of of you need to be aware of what’s happening because you can then find ways to either be helpful or just or just know. And the other side of it is life is stressful and like sort of trying to get through every day can be tricky. In particular, I’m someone who takes on a lot of things. You know, I have an ongoing to do list that almost never gets finished because I overload it constantly. And so I think that like in an effort, one of my things I am working on is, is trying to be better at self-care and like allowing myself space and time to like finish things. Because when you’re constantly sort of chasing after and never finishing, it’s hard to keep up with anything going on around you because you’re always in this sort of spiral of craziness. And so I have to mean.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:46] I feel like you’re preaching to my soul. Thank you.
L Morgan Lee [00:34:49] It’s like, yeah, it’s like it just it’s because it’s very easy to jump in and, like, want to start or want to help or want to learn or want to build or want to read. It’s like I just there’s so many options of things to do that I don’t necessarily know how to say, No, I’m not going to do that now. I’m going to I’m going to leave that for another time. I don’t do that well, I just start and then I’m like, well, and now that’s on the pot.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:13] Right, Right. I’m trying to get better at realizing two things. No is a verb and no is a full sentence. And so in just a no is enough, Right? And so and just because I say no doesn’t mean the opportunity is never going to circle back. But, you know, I, I, I think I have a tendency sometimes to juggle a lot of things, and I’m really good at juggling. But I will say if one ball drop, they all fall.
L Morgan Lee [00:35:41] It’s interesting because my to-do’s are self-imposed. I you know, I read Shonda Rhimes has a book called The Year of Yes, which I used to sort of sit back and sort of be afraid of everything. And I read that book and started to just allow myself to do things. No, thank God has become something that I’ve definitely grown able to do to other people. It’s it’s to myself that I have issues. I’ll have an idea, I’ll have a spark and I’ll go, Oh, I’m adding it to my like drafts and my Gmail. Yeah, it’s like I’ve so many drafts in my Gmail that up. Like I need to, like, start saying no to myself a little bit.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:20] Right? No is a verb to myself. So, you know, that’s the that’s the new T-shirt. Absolutely. But, you know, I think, you know, for someone like you and for a lot of our listeners out there, you know, when you also start tapping into your talents and you get more comfortable in who you are in your full self, then it is a great way to say, yes, I can do that, actually. You know, this is something that’s going to bring me joy or enlightenment or some sort of professional momentum, so why not say yes? But then you realize was that a lot of yeses and so I might need to reel it in, might want to say no to myself once or twice.
L Morgan Lee [00:36:55] Right? Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s it’s the it’s the, in particular, it’s the trying to make more space for Black women. So. Like one of those things is because I said to you earlier that like I have such an I want to be on film and TV, it’s like I, I see the things that we are presented with. I see the shows. There are some great ones out there, but then I also see them stories that are like not really being told. And so I believe that if you are the one that sees where there is a void, perhaps that is the universe also letting you know that you might need to be a part of filling what that void is. If you see why that story needs to happen, if you if it’s in your skill set, if you’ve been gifted with certain things, then you maybe need to be a part of like helping that that void get filled. And so that’s something that I’m sort of working on. It’s like I, I want to, you know, I want a development deal. I want I want to be able to like, work through some projects so that I can bring more of us in more or less on projects because the spaces that I’m in where they are dominated, particularly by Black women, whenever I get opportunities to be in those spaces, they just tend to be really beautiful and like they tend to. There’s an understanding that people have that you don’t deal with, that you don’t encounter as much in other spaces. And after coming out of A Strange Loop, which was so dominated by like male energy, it was it was just it was time to breathe. And I’m glad that we had a wonderful end. And I’m I’m free of of that space. And and now I’m able to start looking forward to like again what what comes next.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:31] Just new things. Oh well we’re manifesting with L Morgan Lee on Blackest Questions. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. I can’t wait to see what you do next. I’m so excited. Just know that you’ve got like a mega fan in Brooklyn and all of our listeners are the Blackest Questions. We are so excited to see what comes next. We’ll be right back. Okay, We’re back. I’m with Tony nominated actress L Morgan Lee. We have made it. We made through the five questions. We’re going to play a little bit of the Black Lightning Round. That was just fun for you. L Morgan I’m going to ask you some quick questions. First thing that comes to your mind, you just let me know, Okay? You ready?
L Morgan Lee [00:39:05] Got it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:07] What’s your favorite thing about New York City?
L Morgan Lee [00:39:12] The food. So many different kinds of food. So many different kinds of food.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:17] What’s more fun for you, getting all dolled up or lounging in comfy clothes with no makeup on?
L Morgan Lee [00:39:22] Lounging and comfort clothes with no makeup on.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:25] What’s something people would be surprised to know about you? Such a Cancer.
L Morgan Lee [00:39:30] Something that people will be surprised to know about me. Maybe that I am an introvert because, you know, people see the sort of outer shell of things that people see what you allow them to see. But yeah, I mean, the center of me is, again, sitting on my couch with no makeup and pajamas and watching old movies.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:54] Which would you rather do the cooking or do the cleanup?
L Morgan Lee [00:39:57] The cooking.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:59] Okay. Which Broadway classic could you watch over and over again?
L Morgan Lee [00:40:07] Oh, God there’s so many. First one comes to mind. I’m going to say, so random, Hello, Dolly. With Barbra Streisand.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:40:15] Okay. I’m a big Rodgers and Hammerstein girl. The Carousel. And the last question. What’s your favorite trash TV to binge?
L Morgan Lee [00:40:25] Oh, this is my love language, actually. Because I watch lots of them. I mean, currently currently the Real Housewives franchises are that the trash TV to binge. I mean, I think that’s the the dominant one. And I can’t say a single one because I watch many of them. I mean, Potomac has been the focal point at the moment. Okay. But yeah, Potomac and Atlanta in particular are my two faves. Beverly Hills creeps in there.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:40:53] So you were definitely walking around the house with your martini glass yelling at everyone. And I love it. Flippen. For our listeners out there, you’ve been listening to and laughing with L Morgan Lee, Tony Award nominated actress, and you’ve been listening to the Blackest Questions. I want to thank you all for listening. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong, Geoffrey Trudeau, and Regina Griffin is our director of podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to this podcast. So you never miss an episode. And you can find more from theGrio Black Podcast Network on theGrio app website and YouTube. Thanks for tuning in.
Panama Jackson [00:41:27] You are now listening to theGrio Is Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified. Coming this February, theGrio Black Podcast Network presents Dear Culture: Tru’ish Black Stories.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:41] When you think of sheer artistry, sheer creativity, the ability. For someone to bring Black people together in the most fundamental ways. It’s, you know, I would say of my four, Randy Watson’s my number one.
Michael Harriot [00:41:55] When the news about Rickey first broke, what I heard about it is the thing you hear about, you know, every time somebody Black dies that it was gang related. That means the police don’t know what happened. So they just said probably the gangs, probably, you know, the other Black dudes.
Damon Young [00:42:12] When I think of Akeelah, you know, I think about I think about how impressionable white people can be. I think about how, you know, if you watch that movie again, you know, he should’ve lost like three times.
Panama Jackson [00:42:24] Where were you when you heard the story about them suckers getting served by Wade’s dance crew?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:42:31] You know, it’s crazy that you mention this. So as a New Yorker, right, Everyone knows where they were on 9/11 Right. You know, couple of years later, right. It’s 2003. Everyone hears about this crazy moment in a boxing ring. Because that’s where dancers duke it out. Right. In boxing rings.
Panama Jackson [00:42:48] If you could say something to Ricky right now, what would you say to him?
Monique Judge [00:42:52] Ricky, You should’ve never got that girl pregnant. You knew I had a crush on you. You should have got with me instead.
Panama Jackson [00:42:56] Moments in Black culture examined like never before. Join us each week as we dive into the Black moments that changed us. That changed the world. Make sure to subscribe to Dear Culture so you never miss an episode.