Open Forum

Subject: Musicals for a leading lady of color

1.  Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 9 days ago
I have a wonderful young woman who is the shining star of my program and who will be a senior next year. She is African American and a musical theater triple threat. Most of the school however, and a majority of my theater program, is white. Can anyone think of any musicals with a black leading lady, but where the rest of the cast does not also have to be black? 

I am fully aware of course that she can play any lead role in any musical. She has done so many many times. She has already played Julie in Carousel,  Marion the Librarian in The Music Man, Hope Cladwell in Urinetown and Ariel in Footloose.  I'm trying to address the fact that in her entire career in both high school and local community theater she has never once had the opportunity to play a role actually written for a black actress.

I would like for her to have that opportunity before she graduates if I can, but I don't have the actors to pull off the rest of the cast of Dreamgirls or Once On This Island. Her leading man for example will almost definitely be white. I'm looking seriously at Aida, but I don't love the show and so far it's the only option I've found. 

I'm not sure this is something I need to worry about (and if you think otherwise please let me know) but it seems like it would be a valuable addition to her resume as a serious young actress looking at top musical theater programs next year. 

Thoughts?

John D. Monteverde
PHS - Drama Teacher
jmonteverde@pittsfield.net


2.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 9 days ago
I don't know how easy it is to afford and get the rights to, but Sarah in Ragtime fits that description, as long as you also have a Coalhouse (and hopefully a few minority ensemble members).

------------------------------
Josh Kauffman
Teacher
Winfield AL
------------------------------



3.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
I'd go with AIDA, too. Strong role. Need a strong rock male in addition.

------------------------------
Michael McDonough
TRW Director of Amateur Licensing
New York
------------------------------



4.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 9 days ago
I did Aida several years ago with a completely color blind cast and my audience bought into it with no trouble. I had every look for the Nubians from African American to a little redheaded girl. It's written by Tim Rice and Elton John, so it was easy to get an audience even though most had not heard of the show beforehand. It also has some great numbers for Aida

------------------------------
Shira Schwartz
Chandler Unified School District
Chandler AZ
------------------------------



5.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 9 days ago
Aida- Tim Rice and Elton John-
EXCELLENT show!

------------------------------
Joshua Sinyard
Director of Theatre
Glynn Academy
Brunswick, GA.
------------------------------



6.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 9 days ago
I have not seen or heard the stage adaptation, but Sister Act?

------------------------------
Christopher Hamilton
Drama Teacher
Kennewick WA
------------------------------



7.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 9 days ago
If you can wrangle up two more African-American girls (and some small children), Caroline, or Change. An absolutely incredible role for a powerhouse actress. One of our students starred in this show at her high school a few years ago and ended up winning the Jimmy Award. (You can watch her sing "Lot's Wife" here.) While Caroline, Emmie, and Dottie are women of color, the majority of the cast is white or doesn't have a specified ethnicity (like the Washing Machine and Radio).

------------------------------
Victoria Chatfield
Executive Director
National Theatre for Student Artists
www.nationalstudenttheatre.org
vchatfield@nationalstudenttheatre.org
------------------------------



8.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
I love this question! Thank you so much for considering not the significance of her getting to play a person of color, AND her future! You're a great teacher!

So, I'm taking a poll amongst the cast of The Book of Mormon and here's what we've come up with. Some are not specifically AAmore Latina than African American, but here's a good starting list. :

Sister Act (she will definitely audition for this professionally! Great to have in her book)
Pippin (if she's a true triple threat)
Children of Eden
Joseph
Fame
Beauty and the Beast
Rent
Jekyll and Hyde
Brooklyn
Thoroughly Modern Millie

We hope that helps!!

------------------------------
Cessalee Stovall
Director
Music Dance Theatre Workshops
Indianapolis IN
------------------------------



9.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
Give Aida a chance.  I wasn't sure I liked it when I did it, but it is absolutely one of my top 3 favorites now!  It is an incredibly moving show and everyone it in loved it - cast and crew!

------------------------------
Sheryl Gibson
Glen Allen VA
------------------------------



10.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
  |   view attached
Hello.

I also recommend Aida. It remains one of my favorite musicals as far as directing goes. I have attached our trailer. The orchestra was all student musicians. We loved the experience.

------------------------------
Donnie Bryan
Department Chair for Visual and Performing Arts
Nashville TN
------------------------------

Attachment(s)



11.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
"All Shook Up" worked nicely for us in a somewhat similar situation a few years ago.  Loads of fun too.  A Black Senior girl at our school wasn't pre-cast in the role... but made a certain part - and the girl who played her daughter was as redheaded and pale as you can get... :) but we made it work and the audience was willing to go there with us... which was very cool!

Also, that is such a fun show in general!  We also had some interesting conversations re: white people 'stealing' rock and roll music from black folks -(you know Elvis and all...) - Which I personally feel was very illuminating for many of our kids/me.

Kudos on the whole...  take a step back and take a risk!!!  It can be really healthy for the whole group to be apart of something like that.

After all where is there a better place to have experiences and conversations about race and living in s/o else's shoes than in THEATRE, yeah!  goooooooo us!

------------------------------
[Drama] [Dan] []
[Drama Teacher/Director]
[Dublin Coffman HS]
[Dublin] [Ohio]
------------------------------



12.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
Not to beat a dead horse, but I choose Aida too.  It would be a wonderful reward for an actress who has served your program well.  It's famous, it's dramatic, it has great songs, and it DEFINITELY features the lead!

------------------------------
Janette Clark
Drama Teacher
Minneapolis KS
------------------------------



13.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 8 days ago
Another vote for AIDA - and we don't even rep that show!  ;)

ALL SHOOK UP (mentioned above) is another good choice. If she was an underclassman, I'd say keep THE BODYGUARD on tap for her senior year. But, alas, too soon for 18/19.

And for triple threat of any race: FLASHDANCE might be a good choice; generally available (certain regions blacked out due to professional activity) 18/19.

------------------------------
Michael McDonough
TRW Director of Amateur Licensing
New York
------------------------------



14.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 6 days ago

This is being very helpful everyone thanks. 

PIPPIN is definitely on the short list because I love the play, although I don't know that The Lead Player qualifies as a role "written for a black actress."  I think it's just famously gender and racially neutral. I'm having the same thoughts about INTO THE WOODS (which is what the kids are pushing for, and yes, Vanessa Williams was wonderful in the revival as The Witch.) CAROLINE, OR CHANGE is also a great idea but might be too challenging for us. Ditto RAGTIME (also I don't have a Colehouse). 

I'm definitely trying to steer away from any show, like HAIRSPRAY, ALL SHOOK UP, GHOST or THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, where race might relegate my actress to a supporting role or secondary lead. (Motermouth, Sylvia, Oda Mae and Muzzie are all great roles, but they aren't the actual leads in those shows). |

I will definitely give AIDA another look. I wasn't enamored of the music the first time I heard it, but it's getting a lot of support and a big cheering section on this post. I'll grant it is an amazing role for a leading actress and I definitely have the actors to fill the other roles, including a handsome leading man rock tenor. So I probably need to give it another chance. 

Someone also suggested THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELION SKIN which is apparently actually about a young black woman growing up in a very homogenous white community. Interesting title (!) and certainly one I will check out. 

Thanks all!  Keep those ideas coming!



------------------------------
John Monteverde
Drama Teacher
Pittsfield High School
Pittsfield, MA
------------------------------



15.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 5 days ago
I've done Ragtime with a predominantly white cast.  Only 2 African-Americans in the cast.  Immigrants, WASPS, and African-Americans differentiated through color of lighting and costumes.  One of the African-Americans played Sarah

------------------------------
David Kramer
Mt Sinai NY
------------------------------



16.  RE: Musicals for a leading lady of color

Posted 4 days ago
John,

Have you thought about The Wiz? Its not my favorite show but can definitely be played with a multiracial cast. I did it some years ago with an African-American Dorothy, Adda-Pearl, a few ensemble members, and the rest of the cast was multiracial. It was a star vehicle for my Dorothy who was in her senior year at the time.

------------------------------
Jennifer Jordan
Director of Theater and Dance
Miss Hall's School
Pittsfield MA
------------------------------