“I don’t know how to solve the diversity issue on Broadway,” Bioh said, “other than calling attention to it, and cultivating a generation of producers who are not afraid.”
The three jukebox musicals with Black writers already expected next year include two that opened in 2019 and were paused by the pandemic: “Ain’t Too Proud,” about the Temptations, with a book by Dominique Morisseau, and “Tina,” about Tina Turner, with a book by Katori Hall. The newcomer is “MJ,” about Michael Jackson, which has a book by Nottage and is aiming to open next April.
Each of those musicals is, to a degree, presold based on a popular song catalog. But for plays in today’s Broadway economy, marquee casting often calls the shots.
For example: The producer Robyn Goodman is looking to bring Cheryl L. West’s “Jar the Floor,” a 1991 play about four generations of Black women, to Broadway, but said, “for Broadway you have to have a star or two, and we were close to that, but now nobody knows their schedule, and we just have to wait a couple months until people start planning.”
“Blue,” a 2000 play by Charles Randolph-Wright about a successful family of funeral home operators, is being produced by Brian Moreland, who is also producing “Thoughts of a Colored Man.”
Moreland tried to get a Broadway theater for “Blue,” directed by Phylicia Rashad, co-produced by John Legend, and starring Leslie Uggams and Lynn Whitfield, before the pandemic. When he couldn’t, he booked it into the Apollo Theater in Harlem, which is not a Broadway venue (although there is discussion about reconsidering that).
Sensing that the climate is shifting, he is again hopeful. “If they could shake loose a Broadway house,” he said, “we would take it.”