Diversity Takes Center Stage on and Off-Broadway in 2013

By Karu F. Daniels
31 Dec 2013

Billy Porter in <i>Kinky Boots</i>.
Billy Porter in Kinky Boots.
Photo by Matthew Murphy

From the Broadway and Off-Broadway revivals of Romeo and Juliet, to The Trip to Bountiful, Fun Home, Here Lies Love, Kinky Boots and Awake and Sing!, 2013 was a year of diversity in song and story on the New York stage. 

New York City — boasting to be a cultural melting pot — wouldn't be the epicenter of theatrical arts without a diverse range of shows on and off The Great White Way.

The 2013 calendar year saw what could be some of the most ambitious offerings of diversity to ever tread the boards; from a Cicely Tyson-fronted version of Horton Foote's classic The Trip to Bountiful and a nod to traditional Hebrew culture and its brief dalliance with rock music (Soul Doctor), to the "theatre event" Here Lies Love that was David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's surprising hit and an all-female take on Othello. There seems to have been something for just about everyone.

Broadway, with its glitzy star power and limitless marketing reach, saw a splash of color — the rainbow flag kind — when Harvey Fierstein's latest tuner Kinky Boots, arrived in the spring. Based on the 2006 indie drama, which helped launch the career of 2014 Oscar hopeful Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years A Slave"), the musical adaptation featured the direction and choreography of Jerry Mitchell, the songs of Grammy Award-winning pop music veteran Cyndi Lauper and the big return of underrated dynamo Billy Porter, making a triumphant comeback to The Great White Way after nearly 15 years.

The story, about how a black drag queen saves the day for a British shoemaker, translated into box-office gold at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, and Pittsburgh native Porter won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical — an honor many thought was long overdue.

"Things happen in exactly the way they're supposed to happen," Porter said in an interview, also noting that show's leading character being outwardly gay is "a move in the right direction because it makes the process of the storytelling and how the story is told resonate a little bit differently."

Gay themes were also central throughout the storylines of other works including Tarell Alvin McCraney's provocative play Choir Boy, produced by Manhattan Theatre Club and starring Jeremy Pope as Pharus, a gay teen grappling with acceptance and bigotry at a historically black prep school for boys. Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper portrayed the headmaster at the school of pupils who included Wallace Smith (who will be seen in Rocky in 2014) and Grantham Coleman (last seen in Charles Fuller's short-lived One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre).

Fun Home, the musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir about her sexual discovery as a youth, was referred to by New York Magazine as "one of the first mainstream musical productions to feature a young, lesbian protagonist." And uptown at Harlem's School of the Arts, The Movement Theatre Company presented Harrison David Rivers' latest play, Look Upon Our Lowliness: a spoken word elegy for a chorus of male voices. The touching work centered around a group of young gay men of color in the big city dealing with the tragic loss of one of their closest friends. The Curio Theatre Company's production of a lesbian version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which played in Philadelphia, truly turned "The City of Brotherly Love" to "The City of Sisterly Affection."


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