Celebrity

The Color Purple & Shuffle Along Deepen Broadway’s Diversity in the Age of Hamilton

History is happening in Manhattan at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, as Hamilton continues to take the theatre world—and pop culture—by storm.  On Sunday, June 13, Tony history was made when all four musical acting awards went to performers of color (Hamilton and The Color Purple). Hamilton’s unprecedented popularity is partially thanks to its commitment to diversity, with actors of color taking the stage to depict the Founding Fathers. But Hamilton isn’t the only musical making diversity a priority. In the age of #OscarsSoWhite, how do diverse Broadway musicals fare when they don’t have Alexander Hamilton at the helm?

In recent years, diversity has been a tough sell on Broadway. Will Smith and Jay Z were among the high-profile backers of Fela!, the 2009 bio-musical about Nigerian singer Fela Kuti, yet the musical still struggled to find an audience. The show never recouped its investment during its year-long run, and resale tickets went for as low as $80, with tickets averaging $178, according to ticket aggregator TiqIQ. 2010’s The Scottsboro Boys fared even worse. Despite a slew of rave reviews, the musical closed after only two months of performances.

The 2012 revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the Cotton Club revue After Midnight (2013-14) enjoyed higher demand, with ticket resales going for an average of $255 and $235, respectively. This was thanks to some smart casting: Porgy and Bess starred Broadway royalty Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, and After Midnight showcased such guest stars as Vanessa Williams and Patti LaBelle. But even this wasn’t a recipe for Broadway success—both shows closed at a loss after fewer than 300 performances.

When it comes to the current Broadway season, though, the tides might be beginning to change. Allegiance, admittedly, was an early casualty of 2016, despite an Asian-American cast led by George Takei and Lea Salonga. Ticket resale prices started for as low as $60, and the musical shuttered after just three months.

But other productions show much more encouraging signs. On Your Feet!, whose cast is entirely Hispanic, has been averaging $232 in resale tickets throughout its eight-month run (and counting). The current revival of The Color Purple is also doing strong business, with resale tickets averaging $227, with the cheapest ticket going for a steep $115.   To compare, tickets directly through the box office are considerably cheaper, where ticket prices for The Color Purple range from just $59-$145.

Broadway’s commitment to diversity this season even goes beyond racial lines. The recent revival of Spring Awakening, which starred deaf and disabled actors and incorporated American Sign Language, proved that there’s a place for greater accessibility in Broadway casting. Tickets to most performances resold for no lower than $115-$130 each (average $202).

Also packing in audiences this season is Shuffle Along, whose resale tickets average $217, with $105 being the cheapest price. Tickets for Shuffle Along are the cheapest, however, directly from the box office, where ticket prices range from just $69-$169.  The show, which is led by an all-star cast that includes Tony winners Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, and Brian Stokes Mitchell, focuses on the creation of the groundbreaking 1921 musical by the same name, the first Broadway show to feature an African-American cast. The current production’s updated book by George C. Wolfe ensures the legacy of the original show’s cast and creators, making the case for why these artists of color should be remembered for what they achieved. With this season’s successes, even more diverse artists will hopefully soon be joining them in the Broadway history books.

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