Bay Street Theatre and DreamWorks Theatricals’ recent casting announcement for the premiere concert reading of the new stage musical The Prince of Egypt has caused a stir among the theatre community regarding its lack of diversity.
Tony winner Cynthia Erivo was among those taking to social media to express her disappointment at the casting, along with Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812's Denée Benton and Jose Llana.
It saddens me that after such a wonderful multicultural season on Broadway a piece set in AFRICA has not one POC. #PrinceOfEgypt 😔— Cynthia Erivo (@CynthiaEriVo) July 23, 2016
Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the show’s director, Bay Street artistic director Scott Schwartz, declined to comment further on the casting controversy, but was able to confirm with Playbill that no further readings or plans for the musical are currently in the works.
Schwartz, however, was quick to respond to the outcries, calling Erivo personally and releasing an official statement via the theatre’s website. “[This] is a conversation that is both timely and of great importance. I want to take a moment to join this dialogue,” read the director’s statement.
“The upcoming presentation of The Prince of Egypt is a one night, free concert reading. It will have an extremely limited rehearsal period and it is NOT a full production. There will be no costuming, makeup, or design of any sort, and the music will be performed on just one piano. This show is early in its development, and the focus of the team has been on the script and score, working to make this new musical the best it can be in its writing.”
“Your concern about the need for diversity and authenticity in this project is something we hear and take seriously,“ the posting continued. “All of us on the creative and producing team hope to continue this conversation.“
Erivo tweeted that she was satisfied with how her conversation with Schwartz transpired and that “to be able to have a conversation is a wonderful positive step for art, and learning for all.”
The director assured me that it will indeed develop and change and grow xx https://t.co/vrPYSKxPUi— Cynthia Erivo (@CynthiaEriVo) July 25, 2016
2016 has sparked numerous conversations concerning the lack of diversity on major stages and movie screens. Both Atlanta’s Lyric Theatre and Chicago’s Marriott Theatre recently came under fire for their casting of West Side Story and Evita, respectively. The Academy Awards were also heavily criticized for their failure to adequately recognize diverse artists in the acting categories, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage used her Susan Smith Blackburn Prize win to highlight the lack of diversity onstage. Nottage described theatre as “the last bastion of segregation.”
Bay Street Theater and DreamWorks Theatricals will present The Prince of Egypt August 13 in Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor, NY. The outdoor concert will star Tony winner Shuler Hensley, Marin Mazzie, John Cariani and Stark Sands, among others, and will be free to the public.
The performance marks the musical's first full presentation, following a concert staging of the first act at Bay Street last summer. The Prince of Egypt, based on the film in which an Egyptian prince learns of his true identity, features a book by Philip LaZebnik and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.