The Fairy Princess is sad today because there is Broadway infighting over the status of the role of Pierre, in The GREAT COMET, which opened November 14, 2016. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the show was nominated for 12 TONY Awards for the 2016 -2017 season. Of those twelve, they won two –  Mimi Lien for Best Scenic Design for a Musical and Bradley King for Best Lighting Design of a Musical,

If you have not heard of THE GREAT COMET – which wound up going against the juggernaut that is DEAR EVAN HANSEN, here is an official video that they put out of one of their songs, Charming, by the frankly, awe-inspiring Amber Grey :

According to all sources – Broadwayworld, The Hollywood Reporter, NY Times, Variety, etc – what happened was this – one of the supporting leads from the Original Broadway Cast of HAMILTONOkieriete Onaodowan, who played Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, was cast as Pierre in The Great Comet.

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He was supposed to be there for nine weeks. (It was never forever).

In the meantime, during those nine, sorry, eight weeks, while his performance was meeting the demands of the fans –  ticket sales fell. They always fall during this time, unless they have a superstar in them because…people go on vacation. Not everyone vacations in New York City.

That they fell is not a surprise – the show had been pulling in a million in ticket sales per week because they had international vocal superstar, Josh Groban and his millions of fans from all over the world. This was Mr. Groban‘s first Broadway role, for which he received a TONY nomination.

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Mr. Groban departed.

Mr. Onaodowan was cast. He was supposed to go into the show on July 3rd.

Singer/Songwriter Ingrid Michaelson went in on July 3rd. Brittain Ashford was announced to be taking a temporary leave to facilitate that. The Producers had 2 ‘names’ going in at the same time, to try and bump sales after Mr. Groban left.

Mr.Onaodowan went in July 11th.

Ms. Michaelson is scheduled to leave on August 15th.

At this point, ticket sales are in the August/September danger zone. Producers start to panic.

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Mr. Onaodowan was asked to cut short his run by three weeks, with a possibility of returning to the role at a later date, due the schedule of TONY Winner, Mandy Patinkin, who agreed to come in during the time he was on vacation from his television show.

Mandy Patinkin had a limited window he could perform, and still do his television show – those were the ONLY three weeks he was available, and they were not up for debate because his vacation had already been set by the television studio.

If they wanted Mandy Patinkin, it was those three weeks or nothing.

Now, TFP has read some of the comments on social media with a lot of people, who are under the age of 30, saying “Who is Mandy Patinkin?”

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SIDEBAR:

KITTENS –

Listen, here are the optics of being a grown ass person – if you do not know someone’s resume, do yourself a favor and look it up. Search Engines are your friend. No one has time to school your ignorance on who Mandy Patinkin is.

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That being said, he is a TONY and EMMY winning actor who has hit television shows, been in movies like The Princess Bride and Yentl, and is an all round actors actor badass.  Went to Julliard. Just like Philippa Soo, who originated Natasha in this show at Ars Nova.

The other thing that gives him a connection to this material in THE GREAT COMET is, that he is by heritage, descended from Russian Jews.

The karma that a people who allowed pogroms to happen in Russia are now having a segment of one of the greatest novels of their country being told by a Russian Jewish descendant is frankly, one of the great cosmic revenges of the theater.

If you don’t know what a Pogrom was – two words – search engine.

Also, go see INDECENT before it closes, it is magical.

SIDEBAR ENDED

Now, the optics on this are bad – from the Producer’s end, it was bungled. This, by the way, is fully acknowledged by the Producers themselves, who released this statement::

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This was not only in response to the social media backlash about Patinkin going in before Onaodowan, it was in response to an email that Onaodowan had sent the cast and the statement about his leaving that he made on Instagram.

Here is the text from Mr. Onaodowan‘s Instagram:

I always try to speak from my heart with love after listening. I have listened. I am more than grateful for all the love and support from the community and fans have shown me. It makes what we do and deal with as artists easier when you know many people do indeed have your back and that you are valued for their work. In spite of everything, I am grateful to have had the time to bring this character to life with a remarkable cast that truly makes the Imperial Theater a sacred space every night. My Pops would always tell me to be aware of the company you keep. I’m fully aware of the remarkable talents this cast holds, with Denee at the helm. My work is just a reflection of what they bring, have brought, and will continue to bring, be it me, Mandy, whomever is co-pilot to Denee. AUGUST 13th WILL BE MY LAST SHOW. I will not be returning. So make room in your schedule between now and Aug 13th. Come through, have a drink, and let’s celebrate the time we have because as always, that is all we are guaranteed. We make the most of the gifts we are given and I’m driven to deliver a defining moment in time, with every line I let loose on stage.

It is safe to say that people went a crazy once they did the math and realized that “Oak’ would be leaving before his announced time was up.

His time from July 11th.

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All sorts of people weighed in – TONY Winners, regular civilians, Hamilfans – they all railed away – as many of us do, when a casting situation based on skin tone seems to be happening. They Tweeted, they “Insta’d”, they wrote comments and blasted people on Social media.

So much so, that Mr. Patinkin dropped out.

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Those who were particularly loud on the social media did not do, however, the one thing that the show needed, which was to purchase a ticket to see the show starring Mr. Onaodowan.

The show currently has no star in the role of Pierre once August 13th comes about – and that puts an entire company in very real danger of closing. Not just the actors – the House Staff, the Dressers, the Wig Dept, the Costume Dept, the Teamsters, the Lighting Crew…the list goes on… – this is the one of the two most diverse shows on Broadway at the current time – and this is a big deal.

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Social media backlash is a weapon, and yes, TFP has been known to deploy it. She does not apologize for having done so in the past, she does not apologize for possibly needing to do it in the future – it is what it is. For PoC, of which TFP is one, it is sometimes our only means to answer social issues.

However if you are going to charge racism, you have to look not just at this one act, but at the pattern of the Creative Team of GREAT COMET.

What have they done in the past?

The Cast is meant to represent a time in Russia during the novel of WAR AND PEACE by Tolstoy. It is a segment of the novel – which is huge – that tells the story of “Natasha” – the nickname for Countess Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova and how she was targeted and fell for Prince Anatole Vasilyevich Kuragin, who was already married when he began pursuing her. She was engaged to a Prince – that pretty much does not work out once she meets his family and they are cold to her. “Pierre” is a family friend, who is the Brother in Law of Prince Anatole, as well as being a scholar and a man dissatisfied with his wife and life.

Now, in 1869, when the novel was published, Russian nobility looked like this:

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This is Grand Duchess Olga, when she was Princess of Wurtemberg.  Most of the Russian aristocrats looked similar. Varieties in hair color aside.

Originally, Natasha was played by TONY Nominee from HAMILTON, Philippa Soo, who left COMET to do HAMILTON.  After which they cast their own TONY Nominee, Denee Benton and understudying Ms. Benton, they cast Shoba Narayan. (Who TFP saw, and who was fabulous)

You can see that there was not just one attempt, but several successes to make the story of Russian aristocrats – who were (as written) selfish and extravagant and fairly white, though passionate people – come alive through more than just reasonable facsimiles. In short, Natasha was never cast as a white woman, though in truth, she would have been one.

The choice was deliberate. The choice was outstanding. The choice has given us three new leading ladies who are also People of Color – thus going head to head with the argument of ‘we cannot find any’, which is often used to negate progress of People of Color in lead roles.

Likewise the ensemble.

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Out of a cast of 35, hired to tell the story of Imperial Russia -there are 15 People of Color – there are women in lead roles, there are people who are instrumentalists and dancers, some are both – this is, an inclusive cast – one of the best TFP has seen. As they whirl around creating chaotic and beautiful madness, you cannot help but be astounded by the variety of people portraying a variety of people.

It is glorious, and again, it is deliberate. Many people in the show are making their Broadway debuts. Again, this goes against the grain of Broadway, to have so many people getting their first break in such great number. However, again – it is a deliberate attempt to advance the narrative that Broadway does not have to look a certain kind of way for people to buy tickets or buy a story line.

Diversity means dollars.

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The Producers invested in Rachel Chavkin’s vision. She and Dave Molloy had developed this show over 5 years. First at Ars Nova, then in a friggin TENT…anywhere and everywhere to give their Little Show That Could a voice and a space.

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How many female directors of musicals are there who have directed Broadway shows? Get out your fingers, kids, you may need at least seven of them.

The budget for this show is high. Officially it is $12 million dollars, though when that was given out, Michael Reidel went through the investment papers in 2016 and he wrote that he thought by the time GREAT COMET opened it would be closer to $14 million.

So to the question, does The Fairy Princess think the Producers made a decision (which they bungled completely) intentionally out of racism?

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She does not.

She does think that they felt desperate, and she thinks they were looking avidly for a ‘solution’ to the Aug/Sept Broadway slump, which, by the way, no one has ever been able to solve but Lin-Manuel Miranda, the second time.

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Even current members of the Company do not think this was based on race – as evidenced by this impassioned statement from ensemble member, Azudi Onyejekwe.

That it did not occur to them that replacing a Person of Color with a Person of Religious Minority but Caucasian features would be considered awkward is both a slight indictment of their privilege and also, an indication, that that was not their first or even second thought.

Their first thought was “let’s keep our diverse cast open and representing”.

They f**ked up.

These Producers have, by the diversity of their cast, by investing in the talent of Rachel Chavkin and Dave Molloy- they have demonstrated that they have seen what they can do for Broadway’s future by committing to inclusiveness, and they have stuck to it.

They made mistakes and the optics look terrible.

TERRIBLE!

Society is of course, absolutely racist and sexist.

No feelings are invalidated here, everyone should feel exactly as they are feeling.

All the feels. ALL OF THEM.

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TFP does not believe in attacking a show and a cast that shows inclusion in such an extreme way because of mistakes from panicking producers, who – just as they did with Ms. Brittain Ashford (who is white), asked Mr. Onaodowan to step down temporarily for a ‘bigger name’. That they asked that of Ms. Ashford, and she complied (however she felt about it we do not know) made them think that asking was not a big deal.

It was a stupidly big deal.

Both times.

They got caught the second time.

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So who to ask to come in that has a International reputation, has done the 8 show grind, and possibly an award nomination or two? In short – let’s get over the blame game and suggest some alternates.

What is done, is done.

There is no ‘winner’ here – Oak is out, Mandy is out – absolutely no winners here.

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TFP is going to throw some names out there – some are in a show currently, but, so what? Some possibly out of the country?

So what?

Make the calls.

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 RICKY MARTIN.

Beard. Has done Broadway – EVITA revival, LES MIS. International recording star with huge fanbase. Pop voice is flawless. Can play other instruments. Age appropriate.

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BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL.

Has beard. Sings his face off. An Actor of grativas and forbearance – his Coalhouse Walker is still something that can stop TFP in her tracks. Also – TONY WINNER!

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RAMIN KARIMLOO

Beard. Amazing voice. International appeal – he is Persian from Canada. Broadway debut he got a TONY NOMINATION for playing Jean ValJean in LES MISERABLES.

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NORM LEWIS

Currently doing SWEENEY TODD off Broadway, but Hugh Panaro was announced to replace him, so…he could leave early?

Beard. Vocal chops for days. Tons of Broadway credits including a TONY NOMINATION for PORGY & BESS.

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HAYDEN TEE.

Native New Zelander of Maori Descent (Oh didn’t know that did you? Mixed race Polynesians-  they get the job done too).

Been doing LES MISERABLES all over the world. Singing STARS.

Singing his face off. Saw it. Amazing.

And… has beard.

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There are five.

Five suggestions.

From TFP – and if any of them wind up happening, she wants –

NOT A GODDAMN THING JUST DO NOT CLOSE THIS SHOW IT IS GORGEOUS!

 

TFP out.