Broadway is back, better and more inclusive than ever! That was the message at Curtain Up!, a fabulous 3-day event that happened this past weekend in Times Square. For those 3 days, thousands of people got to experience the excitement, brilliance and charm of live Broadway theater along with provocative panel discussions. The events took place between 45th and 47th Streets on 7th Avenue in Times Square, with many happening in Duffy Square on a mainstage.
It was a smorgasbord of theatrical fare, from piano bar music with classic Broadway songs, to sing-alongs and a tribute to Irving Berlin that included impressive live performances. There were live performances from 18 Broadway shows, including both musicals and plays, and each carried with it the unbridled energy of talented performers who were so happy to be back. Shows included “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life And Times of the Temptations,” “Aladdin,” “Caroline, or Change,” “Chicago,” “Come From Away,” “Company,” “Dear Evan Hansen” (four Evans were on stage performing), “Diana the Musical,” “Girl from the North Country,” “Hadestown,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “The Lion King,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Phantom of the Opera”—(four Phantoms on stage including Norm Lewis sang), “SIX,” “Tina-The Tina Turner Musical,” “Waitress,” “Wicked” and the plays “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Lackawanna Blues,” “Pass Over,” “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” and “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Throughout the weekend, the spirit of equity and inclusion reigned supreme and demonstrated that this will be the environment moving forward. Jelani Alladin, the first Black Cristoff on Broadway from Disney’s “Frozen,” hosted the extravaganza, and his joy was pure. The opening ceremony featured Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, and there was a presentation by Netflix’s “Dear White People” where the steps to diversifying the arts for BIPOC members of the community was the focus. Joshua Henry was featured in The Playbill Variety Show. Alladin hosted the Jimmy Award Reunion. On Saturday, one of the most stunning events earlier in the afternoon was a powerful, poignant panel called Black to Broadway It’s “Play” Time! This panel put front and center the Broadway Leagues practice of inclusion as it included Black playwrights from plays currently playing and those coming to Broadway. On the main stage the audience got to hear Keenan Scott II (“Thoughts of a Colored Man”), Lynn Nottage (“Clyde’s”), Douglas Lyons (“Chicken & Biscuits”), and Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu (“Pass Over”) talk about their productions, the deep issues they address and how there are currently seven plays by Black writers this Broadway season, the other three being “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morrisseau, “Lackawanna Blues” by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and “Trouble In Mind” by the late Alice Childress. Scott, Nottage, Lyons and Nwandu talked about their backgrounds and what inspired them to write their plays and also from where the stories originated. Some were reactions to the murders of Black men by police or racist white people. Some stories came from tragic situations in their personal lives that dealt with coming out. What was clear on that stage was that moderator Harriette Cole was coming straight with the hard questions and these playwrights were giving the real, often moving responses. You witnessed the convictions behind the work. You felt the passion, the message and the appreciation for this phenomenal opportunity to be on Broadway. Except for Lynn Nottage, all the others on the stage are making their Broadway debut. In their words you hear their love for their community and their need to be heard. It was so powerful!
Curtain Up! also spotlighted the contributions of Latinx performers and had hot, spirited performances later in the evening during Viva! Broadway When We See Ourselves. The celebration of Latinx joy had the crowd dancing, and served as a way of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. The joy and rhythm of the Latinx performer was front and center and it was glorious! There were performances by Daphne Rubin-Vega, Robin de Jesus, Bianca Maroquin, Ayodele Casel, Janet Dacal, Alma Cuervo, Linedy Genao, Nicholas Edwards, Eliseo Roman, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Josh Segarra, Caesar Samayoa, Jennifer Sanchez, Henry Gainza, Claudia Mulet, David Baida, Florencia Cuenca, Marielys Molina, Natalie Caruncho, Angelica Beliard, Sarita Colon, Gabriel Reyes, Roman Cruz, Steven Orrego Upegui, Adriel Flete, Noah Paneto, and Harolyn Lantigua. Special guests included Emilio Sosa—chairman of the American Theatre Wing, Tony Award winning choreographer Sergio Trujillo, Luis Miranda (father of Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Rick Miramontez.
“Chicken & Biscuits,” the play by Douglas Lyons, held a press meet-and-greet on 50th Street near the Circle in the Square Theatre where it will be playing, and it was marvelous. Lyons was there as well as Zhailon Levingston, who became the youngest Black director in Broadway history at the age of 27. The cast and creatives were on hand and shared their excitement about this comedy about a Black family at the funeral of the patriarch. And what was really appetizing was the actual hot and delicious chicken and biscuit boxes given to attendees! Tony Award winner Norm Lewis will lead the cast and is thrilled to be making his Broadway comedy debut! I can’t wait. “Chicken & Biscuits” will start previews Sept. 23. Go to ChickenAndBiscuitsBway.com for information.
On 7th Avenue, an Audible truck displayed the names of upcoming Broadway productions, Playbill had merchandise for sale, and there was just a warm sense of community felt by all.
Believe me when I tell you, Broadway is back and better! Go see a show!