Forty years ago, a play by Charles Fuller premiered off Broadway as produced by The Negro Ensemble Company and won a Pulitzer for Best Drama. The play, light years ahead of it’s time has opened a much-needed dialogue on race and relations in the USA and the world, finally made it Broadway. The current production, directed by Kenny Leon, and starring David Alan Grier, Blair Underwood, Jerry O’Connell and Nnamdi Asmougha ran at The American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. The fact that it took over forty years for a Pulitzer Prize winning drama to travel the few short blocks from off Broadway to Broadway speaks volumes as to where we as a nation still stand on issues of equality.
The play was suppose to run through this Sunday and is hands down my absolute favorite, best, most concerning, compiling production, I have seen all season. This deserves a Tony, plain and simple. The performance by former Tony nominee David Alan Grier, (Sergeant Vernon C. Waters) should most certainly earn him another nod. Just a slight aside here; I first met Mr. Grier back on Feb. 10, 2010 during a blizzard in Times Square in New York City as he and co-stars Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas held a stage door for about 20 die hard Broadway supporters that had ventured out in the epic snow storm to see the play Race. I stood by and overheard a passer bye asking for an autograph exclaim, “I know you from In Living Color” and I though, wow, this actor has a MFA from Yale and he is out here in a Blizzard signing autographs and taking selfies. See for yourself. I thanked all three actors out in a Blizzard that evening and thanked me back for coming out in Blizzard to support them. Humble. Oh and John Boy and I bonded over the fact that we both come from large families, although mine was larger than the Walton’s.
Speaking of Selfies, and again, I digress, Follow Jerry O’Connell, (Captain Charles Taylor) on his Instagram @mrjerryoc, and he promises to take a selfie with anyone that asks him. So if you see him on the streets of NYC or walking down Broadway or at the Stage Door ask for your selfie, tell him Broadway Brian told you it was ok. If you think I’m joking take a look at his IG.
Blair Underwood, (Captain Richard Davenport) and Jerry O’Connell are stellar here as well as are the entire supporting cast. Underwood draws the audience in with his stage presence such that you feel he may actually be a Black US Army Officer in 1940’s in the south. By that I mean, he carries himself with such swagger and faces the relationships and interactions with lower ranking US Army personal that are white as to own his rank regardless of skin color and to make them respect it as well. The play itself looks so much deeper into race relations than that, as it takes steps further to examine the role that race plays with each race itself.
Also impressive is the performance by Nnamdi Asomugha, (Private First-Class Melvin Peterson). A multi award winning actor and producer Mr. Asomugha spent 11 seasons in the NFL prior to coming to Broadway and was a former All-Pro player. I only highlight the NFL as all too often the media like to highlight any negative activity or incident involving current of former players and I like to highlight some of the amazing, positive, inspirational activities of NFL Players, past and present. Grid Iron Legend, Icon Thespian of His Day, I’m thinking like Rutgers own Paul Roberson. Look for Mr. Asomugha to take home All Pro status awards in the Theatre as well. I’m thinking future 30 for 30 on ESPN? Hey why not a good former player story? Call me crazy.
There are ups and downs for the plot that carry the story along while allowing the audience to feel the aspects of race upon the characters as if they were family. The black soldiers, are at the base because the can play baseball, just want their chance to go into combat for their country, but they aren’t allowed due to segregated Armed Forced of WWII. The supporting cast does an incredible job and in his Broadway debut Rob Demery stood out as Corporal Bernard Cobb.
There was a scene I wasn’t sure at first belonged in the play, not hating here, but Blair Underwood walks out front and center stage while getting dressed, innocently enough, until the house get a look at the abs and everyone goes crazy with ooohh and ahhhhs. At first, I thought, hmmm, wow, and, did that go there? But as I settled back in my seat and watched the rest of the show, I realized it had an important relief value that drew us back into the 1940’s.
This play should get a nomination for Best Play, if not Best Revival? Not sure what category as the original production was not on Broadway. Someone help me out here? Sadly like all of Broadway, the show will not have it’s final performance on Sunday due to the recent coronavirus outbreak.