Two words: Soul Train. They instantaneously conjure joyful images of music, dance, and Black culture. Richard Gay plans to deliver on that brand—a brand he’s been managing for years—when he brings Soul Train to the Broadway stage as a lead producer.
“Producer” is a term that can mean many things. Typically, a lead producer is not only a primary investor or moneyraiser but the creative lead on the show. They put together the creative team for a production, often pairing writers with composer-lyricists or composer-lyricist teams and directors. Most importantly, a lead producer controls the message—how to market and advertise, final approvals on anything to do with the show. Producers at a lower level have varying degrees of creative input and varying degrees of financial commitment, depending on the show. The current demand for more Black (and Indigenous and POC) producers is a rallying cry for inclusion at every level.
Though, there are not enough producers of color on Broadway, there are a select few who have broken down barriers. This interview with Gay is part of a series Spotlight on Black Broadway Producers. Of course, there are other marginalized communities that also need more representation in leadership positions; the Black community is a place to start. In this series, read these producers’ personal stories, hopes for what theatre looks like upon its post-COVID return, and individual approaches to producing for the stage. Here is Richard Gay.
The Up-and-Comer Bringing a Well-Known Brand to the Stage
Richard Gay doesn’t have a Broadway credit to his name—yet. A graduate of Stanford Business School, the executive has been a part of the entertainment industry for over a decade, working at consulting firms and then at Viacom with clients including CMT, Logo, MTV, and VH1. He was a major player in presenting televised events like the VMAs on MTV and VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors, priming him for the sparkle and pizzazz of the theatre industry.
Now, he’s helping bring Soul Train to life on stage with the Tony nominated producer Matthew Weaver (Rock of Ages) and Jeffrey Tick (former owner of the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway), having managed the Soul Train brand (such as the infamous Soul Train Awards, merchandise, etc.) for a few years. “I was so blown away by the brand’s strength,” says Gay, who is now COO of Superfly. When it came time to discuss rights for a stage musical, the producer felt like an outsider but instantly found himself welcome to be a part of the creative process—including who would write the book, direct, and choreograph: Dominique Morisseau, Kamilah Forbes, and Camille A. Brown, respectively.
They mark the first all-Black female creative team on a Broadway musical. “I was like, this can’t be true,” says Gay of his reaction when he found out. “It’s accidentally history—we never set out to do that. We said ‘Who’s the best person to write?’ and then we put together the best people for this team.”
In addition to Weaver and Tick, the team includes Questlove as executive producer with Tony Cornelius, Anthony E. Zuiker, Live Nation’s Shawn Gee and Bespoke Theatricals’ Devin Keudell, who is also general manager.
While Gay waits for theatres to return, the producer looks for investors. “I share that it’s very important that it’s great to do a diverse show... but it’s also important to me that my investor base reflects that,” says Gay. “Investing in Broadway is traditionally not a place for BIPOC, they’re people who like Broadway and it's one of my missions to reflect that with Soul Train.”
Before the COVID-era, Gay’s mentor, Simons, helped develop recruiting and investing strategies. “It’s one thing when it’s a great idea—and then you have to get the check.”
More Profiles in the Spotlight Series
Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, Front Row Productions