United Colors of Broadway
NEW YORK—In last Sunday’s New York Times, on the cover of the Arts and Leisure section was a photograph of three women of color to illustrate the diversity of this Broadway season: Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson (starring as Shug in the revival of “The Color Purple”), Grammy winner Gloria Estefan (on whose life story the new Broadway musical “On Your Feet” is based), and yours truly (currently in rehearsals for the Broadway premiere of “Allegiance”). The photo session for this was one I was really looking forward to.
I had spent much of my teenage years with multiple-Grammy winner Gloria’s voice, the hits “Conga,” “I Don’t Wanna Lose You Now” and “Anything for You,” among many others playing in my head. So to know that a Broadway musical with a lot of her hit songs providing the soundtrack to that story, plus one original song written by her and her daughter Emily, makes me so excited.
As for Jennifer, hers is a familiar face thanks to the talent tilt “American Idol” and the film “Dreamgirls,” for which she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress. Perhaps she is the one Idol contestant who did better than many of the TV show’s winners, due to her powerful pipes, acting talent and sheer determination.
And you know what? The two of them are incredibly lovely ladies.
Our photographer for the session, Jesse Dittmar, created an atmosphere that was light and fun. Our setting was the bar at the McKittrick Hotel (the setting for “Sleep No More”), where we were first assembled on the stage: Jennifer at the mic, Gloria seated at the piano (no, she doesn’t really play, but she was game to fake it), and me standing by the piano. Jesse played a bunch of Stevie Wonder songs, to which we all sang along, whether it was melody, harmonies, or ad-libs. I think the little fangirly self that resides in my brain totally exploded in whoops and hollers.
My mother was far more obvious in her admiration, openly asking for her photos to be taken with both Gloria and Jennifer. “Hoy, you have to take my picture with Hudson,” she said. And Jennifer was so sweet to oblige, as was Gloria. Accompanying Gloria that morning was Ana Villafañe, the actress playing Gloria’s younger self.
The 2015-2016 season is shaping up to be incredibly diverse. Shows like “Hamilton” (by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the same man behind “In the Heights”), “Shuffle Along” (currently being prepped for a spring 2016 opening, starring Tony winners Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell), “Amazing Grace” (currently playing at the Nederlander Theater), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “School of Rock” (with Alex Brightman in Jack Black’s role), “The Color Purple” (slated for a Dec. 3 opening, starring Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson making their Broadway debuts), and “Allegiance” (opening on Nov. 8, based on the life experiences of our star, George Takei of “Star Trek”) are painting the scene in a rainbow of colors that I jokingly refer to it as the United Colors of Broadway. Actors of every race, color and creed are front and center, telling stories that make the fabric of America incredibly rich and varied.
What makes this season so exciting is that, by all accounts, the previous season was … well … to put it kindly, not quite as diverse (the Great White Way took on another meaning besides its traditional one). So to see these kinds of stories, whether brand-new or new takes on the old, is very exciting.
America as a country was built on the backs of immigrants, whether from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Now, their stories are being told on these great stages.
It’s a very exciting time to be on Broadway. And our fingers and toes are crossed that all these shows enjoy long and healthy runs.