The Business of Broadway

Alicia Keys, Kenny Leon, Lydia Diamond and others represent the new look of Broadway

The pool of hands-on black producers of Broadway shows remains shallow. But among them is actress and ABC’s The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg, who has produced the Broadway musicals Sister Act and Thoroughly Modern Millie, and August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

While more African Americans behind the scenes translates into more diverse material and casting, it also represents potentially boffo box office sales by attracting multicultural audiences and generating increased revenues.

Stephen Byrd is one producer who’s been able to develop such productions. Byrd, a former investment banker, and his producing partner, Alia Jones, has carved out a niche on Broadway by casting classic Tennessee Williams plays with African American actors. Their 2008 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starred James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, and Terrence Howard. Their latest production, A Streetcar Named Desire, features Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker.

George C. Wolfe is the only African American writer-director-producer to dominate Broadway over the past two decades. His portfolio includes Angels In America; Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk; Topdog/Underdog; Caroline, or Change; and The Wild Party.

It was Kenny Leon, the African American director of Stick Fly who distinguished himself through his work in regional theater and on Broadway, that brought Keys in as a producer.
Leon also stage-directed Keys’ “As I Am” concert tour. Besides directing regional productions of Stick Fly, Leon has directed the revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun starring Sean “Diddy” Combs and Phylicia Rashad, and three of August Wilson’s plays on Broadway: Gem of the Ocean, Radio Golf, and Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Leon also directed Katori Hall’s much talked-about The Mountaintop.

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