Tony winner Mandy Patinkin, who was recently announced to step into the role of Pierre in the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 beginning August 15, will no longer join the production as previously planned.
On July 26, Great Comet producers announced that the Emmy- and Tony-winning actor would play a three-week run in the production through September 3. The show’s current star, Hamilton alum Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, would be leaving the production at the Imperial Theatre earlier than expected.
The news caused uproar on social media, with theatregoers and members of the Broadway community expressing outrage that an African American actor was asked to step aside for a white actor.
“My understanding of the show’s request that I step into the show is not as it has been portrayed and I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor,” Patinkin told The New York Times in a statement. “I hear what members of the community have said and I agree with them. I am a huge fan of Oak and I will, therefore, not be appearing in the show.”
In a statement issued Wednesday announcing Patinkin’s casting, Great Comet producer Howard Kagan said he was hopeful Onaodowan would return to the production in September.
It was not to be the case, however. Onaodowan took to social media July 28, stating that August 13 would be his final performance as Pierre and that he would not return to the production.
His post reads: “I always try to speak from my heart with love after listening. I have listened. I'm more than grateful for all the love and support 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 your 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 make the Imperial Theater a sacred place every night. ... AUGUST 13th WILL BE MY LAST SHOW! I will not be returning....”
Dave Malloy, the show’s creator and original Pierre Off-Broadway, tweeted July 28 that The Great Comet was “in desperate shape” at the box office after Josh Groban’s departure on July 2. Groban created the role of Pierre on Broadway and kept the musical in robust health at the box office. Onaodowan’s casting was announced in February.
In an effort to keep the large-scale musical open, the show’s producers enlisted singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson to join the cast for a limited July 3–August 15 run, stepping in temporarily for original cast member Brittain Ashford.
Malloy tweeted that the show’s box office advance after August 15 were “catastrophically low,” and that the show would have closed without the addition of a major star to draw audiences.
hey all. bit of a devastating last 24 hours. so sorry for how everything went down. nothing but love and artistic awe for @OakSmash 1/— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
the show was in desperate shape; sales after ingrid leaving Aug 13 were catastrophically low. show would have closed 2/— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
it’s apparently a weird show. turns out it needs a name to sell it. 3/— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
mandy is a beautiful legend. had no idea. he didn’t ask to out oak, the show asked him to come asap because we were on brink of closing 4/— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
so sorry to have missed the racial optics of it. we had to do same thing with dear beloved brittain so in my head it was no different. 5/— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
please don’t give mandy grief, he’s devastated.— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
i am not sure that the show has a future now. 6/
signing off now. going for ice cream or whiskey or likely both. so sorry. thank you for the love. 7/— dave malloy (@dave_malloy) July 28, 2017
The show’s producers released a statement in response to the controversy. It reads: “As part of our sincere efforts to keep Comet running for the benefit of its cast, creative team, crew, investors and everyone else involved, we arranged for Mandy Patinkin to play Pierre. However, we had the wrong impression of how Oak felt about the casting announcement and how it would be received by members of the theater community, which we appreciate is deeply invested in the success of actors of color – as are we – and to whom we are grateful for bringing this to our attention. We regret our mistake deeply, and wish to express our apologies to everyone who felt hurt and betrayed by these actions.”