Black culture lights up Broadway's Great White Way

Sun Jul 12, 2009 9:12am EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When U.S. President Barack Obama took his wife, Michelle, to a Broadway play by African American playwright August Wilson about a black father's search for freedom, ticket sales for the production spiked.

As the presidential visit cast a spotlight on Wilson's revival, playwrights and theater observers say both Obama's election and more open theaters and audiences have helped bring more stories of black culture to the New York stage this year.

Both on Broadway and off-Broadway, plays and musicals about black culture or issues of race are being praised and more productions are in the works.

"Now is the time to strike," said playwright Tracey Scott Wilson, whose play "The Good Negro" about the civil rights movement had a successful off-Broadway run this year.

The election of the first black U.S. president is having an enormous influence on culture and theater, Wilson said. "Obama is everywhere," she said. "This is a seismic event."

Some plays shown off-Broadway include "Ruined" by New York playwright Lynn Nottage, about rape in a Congolese brothel; "Inked Baby" by Christina Anderson about environmental racism; and Carlyle Brown's "Pure Confidence," a drama set in the world of Civil War-era horse racing.

On Broadway, Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," sold well; a musical revival of "Dreamgirls" about a group of black musicians opens in November; and a new musical, "Memphis," that opens in October looks at the roots of rock 'n' roll set against the segregation polices of the 1950s U.S. South.

And, in one of the most anticipated events, American playwright David Mamet premieres a new play in the fall called "Race." Mamet, whose plays often address themes of masculinity, has not said what the play is about, but a producer told The New York Times, "I think the title speaks for itself."   Continued...

<p>Restaurant patrons try to catch sight of US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama leaving the theater during a personal visit for dinner and a Broadway play in New York, May 30, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst</p>