It might seem that the Great White Way was more involved in politics than ever before, but that’s not exaclty so.
“I think that the Broadway community has been involved in politics since the AIDS crisis – since our president would not say the word ‘AIDS.’ Meanwhile, everyone was dying, and a lot of members of the Broadway community were dying,” Tony Award-winning Broadway star Laura Benanti recently told Business Insider at a promotional event for the special theatrical release of her most recent musical “She Loves Me.”
The fact that “Hamilton” managed to coincide with an election year and other social movements is “destiny” to Zachary Levi, star of “Chuck” and Benanti’s costar in “She Loves Me.”
“You can’t script that,” Levi told Business Insider in a Facebook Live video before the same promotional event from BroadwayHD.
In coming to terms with politics – and Donald Trump’s upset win over Clinton for president -Levi says people need to find their own answers and, if they feel so inclined, express them through the arts.
“I think art is the expression of oneself as they are seeing the world,” he said. “Does that then inadvertently influence politics or do you make somebody start asking questions about that? Then yes, great… Let’s have conversations. I think that’s what we’re missing in the world. Nobody’s talking and we need to talk… I hope the arts can do that. I hope that politics gets fixed.”
For those who might feel marginalized by the rhetoric surrounding Trump’s campaign and impending presidency, Benanti says look to the Broadway artists and their “huge hearts.”
“For me, when I imagine a 16-year-old boy who is gay, who is bullied in his small town, if he is a fan of Broadway and he sees these people who’ve grown up to do what they love in the city that they love but that they haven’t forgotten him or her or whoever it may be, that they’re not going to stop using their voices to lift up people – beyond rich white men – I think it is incredibly important.”
Broadway has also gained recognition for achieving where film and TV have lagged behind: diversity.
The 2015-2016 Broadway season featured several majority nonwhite casts in “Hamilton,” “On Your Feet! The Musical,” “The Color Purple,” “Shuffle Along,” and the short-lived “Allegiance.”
It also saw the inclusion of a minority not often featured in entertainment: persons with disabilities. Deaf West Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening” saw both deaf and hearing actors perform and sign in American Sign Language simultaneously. It also featured Ali Stroker, the first actress to use a wheelchair onstage.
While this season brought rapture, the question is if this highly diversified look will stay. Upon first glance, the next season isn’t exactly following in this past year’s groundbreaking footsteps.
Yet Levi is hopeful.
“I don’t think there’s any shortage of incredible ideas and vision from all types of people,” he said. “It’s convincing these people [on Broadway] that that’s the vision that they should make and also figuring out if that’s the vision people want to see.”
If art truly is a window or a mirror, Benanti says, then it must be diversified and include minorities.
“I recognize my privilege as a white person, and I am happy when I see the door being opened to a deeper humanity,” she said. “And I think that is something that Broadway does probably better than anybody else.”
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