Broadway Star Chester Gregory Talks Color on the Great White Way Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the "A" w/Souleo
5/23/2013, 4:06 p.m.
The Great White Way was given a dose of black magic this past week during the Apollo Music Cafe's "Black Magic: A Broadway Cabaret." The evening featured the stellar talents of Tony-award winner Lillias White ("Fela" and "Chicago") and Chester Gregory ("Dreamgirls" and "Sister Act") performing songs that were made famous by black entertainers on Broadway. The timely event arrived in a season where there is a surge of African-Americans on Broadway in productions such as "Porgy & Bess," "Sister Act," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Magic/Bird," and the recently closed, "The Mountaintop."
While Gregory welcomes the increased presence of diversity, he remains unsatisfied with the lack of people of color behind the scenes. "What I still long to see is more of us producing, writing and directing to share a more authentic experience for what it is to be African-American," he says.
Gregory believes that promoting such change begins by nurturing the interests of youth in theatre. So if you happen to attend "Sister Act," and mention that you're a student chances are he will come and greet you with open arms. "I get excited when I see black folk and students in the audience. I go out and talk to them and let them know there is work for you here in this field behind the scenes."
Heeding his own advice has recently found Gregory working on his own untitled theatrical project in collaborating with playwrights. However don't expect Gregory's play to debut on Broadway since he noted funding is a major challenge for many people of color in the theater world. Therefore off-Broadway and off-off Broadway is often rich in works from people of color including Katori Hall's "Hurt Village" to Layon Gray's "Black Angels Over Tuskegee."
While much is discussed about the state of African-Americans on Broadway, the Latino community is largely overlooked. Therefore worthy of being added to the aforementioned list is the Felix Rojas' "Growing up Gonzales," at The Jan Hus Playhouse. The play is about the coming-of-age experiences of two brothers in the Puerto Rican section of the Bronx. According to Rojas the Latino community faces a slightly more complex challenge when it comes to increasing visibility on Broadway.
"People think if it's a play about Latinos all Latinos can relate to it. That's not the case," he reveals. "Mexicans will support Mexican theater, the Spanish will support theirs and our cultures are very different. African-Americans have done a great job creating an audience for film and theater. The African-American community is a lot less complicated than the Latino community."
Rojas is focused on creating universal works with humor and pathos to help bridge such divides within and outside of the Latino community. "I know you can't give a crash course in the Nuyorican culture but I am a cultural ambassador to anyone who is open to one."
If only the gatekeepers of Broadway would crack those doors even wider, then talented individuals like Rojas and Gregory would find an even larger stage where they can shine from Harlem to the Great White Way.