2021 was not only a time that this country went through a reckoning due to the murder of George Floyd, it was a time that the theater community had a reckoning as well. It was a time to acknowledge the inequality that Black people have endured in the theater community for always. With Floyd’s murder Black members of the theater community formed groups to demand equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility for Blacks in theater. One group was Black Theatre United (BTU); others included Black

Theatre Coalition (BTC) and Broadway Advocacy Coalition (BAC). BTU took six months from March to August, met with theater writers, directors, producers, owners, unions, creatives, casting directors and created a New Deal For Broadway to address equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility and a feeling of belonging for Blacks on Broadway. The New Deal addressed every facet of what goes on with doing a Broadway show! It is an amazing document to read and is on BTU’s website.

The 74th annual Tony Awards hosted by Audra McDonald and Leslie Odom Jr. honored Woodie King Jr., press agent Irene Gandy and Beverly Jenkins, a 30-year stage manager with Excellence in Theatre Awards. Also a special Tony went to the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which advocates for equity and inclusion for Blacks on Broadway and works on criminal justice reform, education reform and immigration. David Alan Grier won the Tony for actor in a featured role in a play for “A Soldier’s Play,” and the play by Charles Fuller won best revival of a play. Adrienne Warren won best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical for her portrayal of Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”

September found me at the first Broadway play staged since the pandemic shutdown, “Pass Over.” It was one of seven plays created by Black writers this season. Black playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu made her Broadway debut with this scorching, visceral drama. Her two main characters were Moses and Kitch and they lived on a street corner in a ghetto neighborhood. They were terrified of racist, abusive white cops and hoped to get to the Promised Land, where they would have hope and respect. They encountered a white man who is referred to as Master and Ossifer. Both of his characters gave them a run for their money. Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood were riveting as Moses and Kitch. Gabriel Ebert was incredible in his dual roles. The play had stunning direction by Danya Taymor.

2021 was a year that saw seven plays from Black writers and it was briefly beautiful. In addition to “Pass Over,” which played a limited run, there was “Chicken & Biscuits” by Douglas Lyons—making his Broadway debut (shutdown early due to COVID), “Thoughts of a Colored Man” by Keenan Scott II, making his Broadway debut (shutdown early due to COVID), “Lackawanna Blues” written, performed and directed by Rubin Santiago-Hudson, “Trouble In Mind” by the late Alice Childress (currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre through Jan. 10, 2022), “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morrisseau (which recently began performances as the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre), and “Clyde’s” by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage (currently playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre).

In October I went to the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street and I was profoundly moved by the likes of something I had never seen on a Broadway stage—a play that demonstrated the deep levels of a Black man in “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” written by Keenan Scott II, directed by Steve Broadnax III and featuring seven phenomenal actors. Scott used monologues, slam poetry, singing and conversations to demonstrate the importance and complexity of Black men. His seven characters—Love, Lust, Depression, Passion, Anger, Happiness and Wisdom—reminded one of a father, uncle, brother, cousin. The actors were incredible and featured Dyllon Burnside, Bryan Terrell Clark, Da’Vinchi, Forrest McClendon, Esau Pritchett and making their moving Broadway debuts—Luke James and Tristan Mack Wilds. This play also proclaimed a great love and respect for Black women. Though it was set to run through March 2022, COVID issues caused it to end in late December—that was a tragedy!

October-November also saw Broadway embracing Rubin Santiago-Hudson in “Lackawanna Blues.” His autobiographical story of being raised in a rooming house in Lackawanna, New York by Nanny. During his powerhouse performance he portrayed 24 characters brilliantly!

October also saw “Caroline, Or Change” on Broadway at Studio 54. The Tony Kushner musical tells the story of Caroline, a maid in Louisiana in 1963, who has a hard life. She works for a white, Jewish family and she struggles to take care of her three children as a single mom. This Broadway musical has a splendid cast, most of which are African Americans. Sharon D. Clarke made her Broadway debut and she is extraordinary as Caroline. Other Black talent includes Nasia Thomas, Nya, Harper Miles,
Kevin S. McAllister, N’Kenge, Samantha Williams, Tamika Lawrence, Alexander Bello and Jayden Theophile.

More October fare included “Chicken & Biscuits,” which played at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Playwright Douglas Lyons made an impressive debut with this comedy. It focused on the Jenkins family funeral for the patriarch. The play featured a magnificent cast of mainly Blacks, which included Norm Lewis, Cleo King, Ebony Marshall Oliver, Aigner Mizzelle, Devera Rogers, Alana Raquel Bowers and Natasha Yvette Williams, along with Michael Urie. The comedy was directed by Black director Zhailon Levingston, also making his Broadway debut.

November marked when the late Alice Childress’ play “Trouble in Mind” finally made it to Broadway, 60 years after it was supposed to be there. This play tells the story of the racism faced by Black actors on Broadway in the 1950s. This play is still showing at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street. It has a powerful cast which includes Tony Award winners LaChanze and Chuck Cooper, along with Jessica Frances Dukes, and Brandon Michael Hill. Additional cast include Danielle Campbell, Don Stephenson, Alex Mickiewicz and Simon Jones. The play has splendid direction by Charles Randolph Wright.

The end of the year saw a remounting of “Black Love” at Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens and it was fantastic! The play, written by Carl Clay, looked at the issue of Black Love in our communities—relationships between men and women, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters and brothers and brothers. This play was quite interesting and engaging. The ensemble was wonderful and included Fulton Hodges, Gil Tucker, Douglas Wade, Ria Alexander, Kenya Wilson, Aaron Watkins, Ashley Versher, Jared Davidson, Brian Anthony Simmons, Tuquan Smith, Zori Job, Mel’Lahnee Blackwell, Robin Hemmings and Jade Mason. This year also marked Black Spectrum’s 50 anniversary. Carl Clay has created a treasure in Queens!

A play that was much anticipated from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright—the one and only Lynn Nottage—“Clyde’s” hit the Broadway stage at the Helen Hayes Theatre running and it is tremendous. Nottage made a profound comedy/drama on the difficult, unfair treatment that ex-cons go through when trying to get back into society. The deck is so stacked against them, they have to take abuse and cruelty from a woman named Clyde, an ex-con herself who runs a truck-stop restaurant. She berates, sexually harasses and is deliberately cruel to her kitchen staff every opportunity she gets. The stupendous cast of this production includes Uzo Aduba, Kara Young, Reza Salazar, Edmund Donovan and the incomparable Ron Cephas Jones! It has splendid direction by Kate Whoriskey!

After Thanksgiving, the 49th annual AUDELCO Awards decided to take a different approach. Since there wasn’t theater as we normally know it, due to the pandemic, it was decided to honor Black Theater Excellence through a retrospective approach. Twenty-seven theater companies were acknowledged for their work of the past 49 years. Companies had the titles and years of six to seven productions listed to be voted on by members of AUDELCO. Held in the Dwyer Cultural Center, there were displays of original cast photos from these vast productions—it was history! The evening was hosted by Phyllis Stickney, Jrome Andre and theater legend Vinnie Burrows with music by the Phil Young Experience and performances by Tina Fabrique. AUDELCO also honored our people by bestowing Legacy Awards on Mary B. Davis, J.e. Franklin and Lawrence Holder. Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Marjorie Moon—the Billie Holiday Theatre and Carl Clay—Black Spectrum Theatre. Pioneer Awards were given to Lynda Gravatt, Ebony Jo-Ann, Ron Cephas Jones and Shirley Faison. Outstanding Achievement Awards went to Jackie Alexander and Lawrence Evans—National Black Theatre Festival. Special Achievement went to Sade Lythcott—National Black Theatre and Ty Jones—Classical Theatre of Harlem. Board of Director Awards were given to Don Hayden, Charles White and Linda Stewart. Woodie King Jr. received a bust of himself!

2021 was filled with ups and downs for theater and for everyone due to COVID and now with the Delta and Omicron variants, who knows what the future holds? COVID is shutting Broadway shows down temporarily and sometimes permanently. I hope that we can get through this trying time and enjoy the entertainment at our avail. God bless theater and help us to get back to normal. Dominique Morrisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” recently began performances—see whatever you can on and off Broadway!

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