Broadway’s Backstage Power Players
From Alicia Keys to Katori Hall, meet the black faces ruling Broadway behind the scenes
Introducing Loop 21’s Broadway Backstage Pass
With a record three Broadway shows slated for production in the 2011-2012 season featuring predominantly black casts, in work cultivated by black playwrights, this year will be remembered as a banner one for black Broadway fans. In the coming weeks, Loop 21 will take fans behind the scenes and backstage for a special look at the actors, artists and executives of color responsible for the browning of Broadway. Our first installment of this four-week special is featured below.
Broadway’s Backstage Power Players
Many of us are familiar with the famous faces of color that have graced the Broadway stage, from Denzel Washington, to Chris Rock, but some of the most important black Americans working in Broadway are those whose faces you never see. They are the power behind the scenes, from the playwrights whose imaginations give us the stories that fill the stage, to the directors who make their visions come alive and the producers who make it all possible, below a look at Broadway’s Backstage Power Players:
Already a Grammy winner, Keys may soon add TONY winner to her resume. She is producing the critically acclaimed “Stick Fly,” opening in November. Keys will also compose music for the play, about what happens to an upper class black family on Martha’s Vineyard.
As the Director of Publicity for Jeffrey Richards productions, Gandy has helped steer the marketing and publicity of some of the most acclaimed Broadway productions in recent memory, among them “August Osage County,” which won the 2008 TONY for Best Play and the musical “Spring Awakening” which won 8 TONY Awards in 2007. The current Richards Productions roster includes the highly anticipated “Porgy and Bess.” Prior to working for Richards, Gandy worked with Broadway legends like Bob Fosse. Over the years, Gandy has become something of a legend herself. As a testament to her standing within the industry, she is now one of the few women of color whose image hangs on the walls of Sardi's the famed Broadway restaurant, an honor traditionally reserved for performing greats like Elizabeth Taylor. (Click HERE to read our interview with Irene Gandy.)
The TONY nominated director is the most influential director of color currently working on Broadway. In addition to directing the star-studded 2004 revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” he has directed three successful August Wilson plays, the most recent being the award-winning “Fences,” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. He is slated to direct the upcoming remake of “Steel Magnolias” featuring an all-black cast.
As the Founder of Front Row Productions, Byrd played a key role in mounting the biggest grossing Broadway play of 2008; a revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” starring an all-black, all-star cast featuring James Earl Jones, Terence Howard and others. Prior to becoming a producer, Byrd worked as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs and co-founded a private equity firm.
Alia Jones (left)
After a successful career in marketing (including a stint as Vice-President of Marketing for a hedge fund), Jones began her career as a theater producer with a bang. As part of Front Row Productions, the Spelman College graduate (who also holds an MBA from NYU) served as co-producer on the 2008 Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Hall became the first black woman to win the Olivier Award (the most prestigious theater award in England), for Best New Play for “The Mountaintop,” inspired by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Based on the response from critics, it’s possible that the Broadway version starring Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson may net Hall a TONY Award too.
While audiences are likely to think of Goldberg first as a performer, she is an accomplished Broadway producer. She previously served as a producer of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” which won the 2002 TONY for Best Musical and of the revival of the August Wilson classic, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which marked the Broadway debut of Anthony Mackie. Goldberg is currently serving as the producer of the Broadway musical version of one of her biggest hit films: Sister Act.
Katori Hall’s biggest competition for Best Play at the 2012 TONY Awards could end up being another playwright of color. Lydia Diamond’s “Stick Fly,” opening on Broadway in November, has received extensive critical acclaim throughout its pre-Broadway runs.
Will & Jada Pinkett Smith
The Hollywood power couple recently became a Broadway power couple, when “Fela!,” which they co-produced, earned 11 TONY nominations, winning 3.
One of the most acclaimed living black writers Lori-Parks won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and was named a MacArthur “Genius” in 2001. She was selected to be a part of the creative team tasked with “re-imagining” the Gershwin classic “Porgy & Bess,” opening on Broadway in January 2012.
Stew (aka Mark Stewart)
The musician known as “Stew” earned seven TONY nominations for “Passing Strange,” a semi-autobiographical musical on his travels through Europe. He won for “Best Book,” and the show’s final Broadway performance was filmed by Spike Lee.
Apparently not content to have multiple Grammy Awards, Jay-Z co-produced a TONY Award winning play, joining Will & Jada Pinkett Smith on Broadway’s “Fela!”
There is probably no greater stamp of approval for an actress than for Hollywood’s most acclaimed actress, Meryl Streep, to produce your show. That’s precisely what Streep did for Sarah Jones, whose one-woman show “Bridge & Tunnel” won a special TONY Award in 2006.
Winfrey came full circle in 2006, when the musical version of “The Color Purple,” which she produced, earned 11 TONY nominations. The film version of the bestselling Alice Walker book had earned Oprah an Oscar nomination twenty years before.