There is going to be fury on Broadway tomorrow, and a lot of sighing, privately, from the people who run the real show.
The Great White Way has been under fire since Black Lives Matter for it’s supposed lack of diversity. There have been diversity initiatives, diversity committees and a great deal of “soul searching” about how to make the theater more welcoming to minorities.
And yet for all of that, the shock at the Tony Awards last night was that “The Inheritance,” a play about gay men (of all ethnicities) beat out “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’ sexually-charged, explosive play about the fundamental racism of America.
“Slave Play” was thought to be the favorite. The New York Times loved it, as it does about everything that reminds us of how racist America is supposed to be. Every time Jeremy O. Harris bought a new outfit, the Times wrote all about it.
But behind the scenes, Broadway people were annoyed. To accuse them of being racist, exclusive, and elitist gnawed at them. The theater has been diverse and welcoming of everybody since it’s beginning. The Greeks started it, and most of them were bisexual. Shakespeare wrote sonnets to men and women. Joe Papp created free Shakespeare in Central Park so that every New Yorker, black, white, Hispanic, could be touched by the beauty of Shakespeare.
Joe Papp was also the first champion on non-traditional casting. He cast whites, blacks, and Hispanics in Shakespeare despite the bricks thrown at him by critics who thought only white actors could do those plays.
And when young men were dying of AIDS in New York City in the early 1980s, the only place that stepped up to help them was the theater. The theater created Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to help people who were shunned by their families, who had no money, who would have died alone. Television and Hollywood pretended “gay” people did not exist at that time.
Broadway took care of them.
And before there was the “great” Jeremy O. Harris, there was a playwright called August Wilson, who wrote about the black experience in American. “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Seven Guitars.” All of them were produced on Broadway. Not in the movies, not on TV, but in the theater.
I’m glad Broadway celebrated its diversity last night. But the best moment was when the great Jennifer Holiday sang, “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going.”
It’s from “Dreamgirls,” as you know. Written by a couple of white guys, one of whom died of AIDS, directed by Michael Bennett, who died of AIDS, and performed by a diverse cast in 1981.
Don’t tell me Broadway is behind the times.