The cast of James Ijames' Pulitzer-winning play Fat Ham are all about bringing Black, queer joy to the audience every performance—and in return, the show has given them the same. On the April 12 opening night red carpet at the American Airlines Theatre, the show's company talks about what it means to be turning Shakespeare's Hamlet on its head every night.
Marcel Spears shares that the production excites him because "it feels cool to do something a little rebellious, something different. It feels cool to subvert people's expectations of what a Shakespeare adaptation should be, and to do it in such a fun, Black-ass way is just food for the soul. "
Spears stars as Juicy, the leading character of Ijames' take on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Telling the story his way, Ijames takes it from the state of Denmark and puts it in the backyard barbecue of a Black family in the American South. Juicy, a queer college kid, is faced with identity questions, the death of his father, and a supernatural demand for vengeance. And he must decided if he'll continue the cycle of trauma and violence—or break it. Read the reviews for the Broadway bow, which began its 14-week engagement March 21, here.
In red carpet interviews with Playbill, the cast picked which Shakespeare characters they'd like to bring as a guest to a cookout and delivered some surprising answers. Check it out in the video below.
The show arrived on the Main Stem from Off-Broadway's The Public Theater where Fat Ham had an award-winning run. Its transfer to Broadway included the entire company reprising their roles with director Saheem Ali continuing to helm the show. That transition led to some tweaks in the production according to Ali (who is making his Broadway debut.) "We're in a bigger space, it's a different stage arrangement. So, we try to make it feel as spontaneous and alive as we did at The Public, but I think the spirit of the show remains the same," he shares. Ijames agrees, saying "It's bigger. I think the proscenium offers the audience a singular view, and I think that sort of makes the humor more potent. It's funnier for some reason."
Nikki Crawford, who plays Juicy's mother Tedra, talks about the show's humor, too. "It's so fast paced, and the comedy is so sharp. You just got to stay on your toes and be present," she explains. Part of the joy with the comedy for Spears is breaking the fourth wall. "The audience is actually a part of the show, they're part of the cast. Their sighs and laughs feed us in such a beautiful way. I think that has been the most fun, secretly," he says.
Calvin Leon Smith shared one such moment that he looks forward to every night: "We have this wonderful assistant stage manager named Fatimah," he says. "She picks me up from my dressing room and we do this long walk all the way to my entrance. And it's a special moment for us to connect and be more than just colleagues. We're friends, so I am obsessed with that moment." Smith plays Larry, and it's the moments between Larry and Juicy that are some of Benja Kay Thomas' favorites every night. "I'm backstage and I'm listening. And it's so beautiful," she says. Thomas stars as Rabby, Larry's mother. She adds, "I look forward to the end, but I don't want to say what it is." Billy Eugene Jones, playing both Pap and Rev (who parallel the ghost of Hamlet's father and King Claudius), agrees, "I look forward to people realizing that you're in for something really special, and you're in for dance and some glitter."
The whole journey since the show began Off-Broadway has been a special time for Adrianna Mitchell, who plays Opal (Ophelia). She was pregnant during the run at The Public and gave birth between runs. "To be here as a mom, as a Black mom, to be living my dreams, to really feel my identity as an actress, but also feel my identity as a family woman... I couldn't have planned it like this, but it came out perfectly. And I'm grateful."
Chris Herbie Holland, who plays Tio, similarly reflects on the joy Fat Ham has brought him. "It's been a blessing to play a character that affirms joy, gratitude, Afrofuturism, and a different way of encountering the world that isn't based on trauma, but it's based on healing," he says. "It's based on listening and empathy and being present."
See some of the red carpet arrivals in the gallery below.
The creative team features the return of scenic designer Maruti Evans, costume designer Dominique Fawn Hill, sound designer Mikaal Sulaiman, choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, hair and wig designer Earon Chew Nealey, and illusions designer Skylar Fox. They are joined by lighting designer Bradley King, fight director Lisa Kopitsky, and singing coach Deborah Lapidus. Casting is by Kate Murray.
Fat Ham is produced on Broadway by the recently announced Cynthia Erivo, Rashad V. Chambers, No Guarantees and Public Theater Productions, while Andy Jones and Dylan Pager serve as executive producers. Tony nominee Colman Domingo serves as a co-producer.
General management is by Baseline Theatrical.