Month: July 2017

Diversity or Celebrity? Cast Change at ‘Great Comet’ Prompts Outrage

In February, the producers of the Broadway musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” proudly announced that Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, a member of the original “Hamilton” cast, would step into the show’s lead male role after the departure of Josh Groban. But this week, the producers abruptly cut short Mr. Onaodowan’s expected nine-week tenure, saying that during his final three weeks, he would be replaced by a major Broadway star, Mandy Patinkin, who became famous with “The Princess Bride,” won a Tony Award for “Evita,” and is now featured in television’s “Homeland.”

Although producers periodically replace lesser-known performers with big-name actors in the hopes of selling more tickets, the move at “The Great Comet” is prompting outrage among some black actors, who have turned to social media to express their concern that Mr. Onaodowan, who is African-American, was not given sufficient opportunity to succeed before being replaced by a white actor. There are multiple complicating factors. Mr. Onaodowan’s tenure was always going to be short — it just got shorter. Mr. Patinkin is unquestionably better known on Broadway, which could boost publicity for the show and ticket sales during a traditionally slow end-of-summer period. (On Thursday, for example, he was interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show.) And the show is among the most diverse on Broadway, with an African-American actress, Denée Benton, playing Natasha, and multiple other nonwhite actors in the company. But some performers are arguing that the casting change reflects a larger problem in the entertainment business. The move “raises questions about how Black actors are valued and supported within Broadway,” declared the website BroadwayBlack.“It’s like the integration of baseball, where a player has to be twice as good,” Mr. Casal said in a phone interview.

Mr. Onaodowan, who spent months preparing for the role, including learning to play the accordion, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The show’s grosses have, to no one’s surprise, dropped since Mr. Groban’s departure. The show had been bringing in about $1.2 million a week with Mr. Groban in the role of Pierre; it brought in $923,571 last week, with Mr. Onaodowan as Pierre. That’s still higher than for most Broadway shows, and still more than the show’s running costs, but not as much as the show is likely to bring in with Mr. Patinkin in the role. Mr. Patinkin is scheduled to play Pierre from Aug. 15 to Sept. 3.

The producers have not said who will play Pierre after Labor Day, but they appear to be considering the occasional use of well-known performers in key roles to excite interest — a strategy many other shows use. This summer, in addition to Mr. Onaodowan, the show has brought in the singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson to play a key role (Natasha’s cousin Sonya). The most prominent performer to express concern is the actress Cynthia Erivo, who won a Tony Award last year for her performance in a revival of “The Color Purple.” Ms. Erivo posted a series of seven messages on Twitter on Wednesday, suggesting the changeover was unfair to both Mr. Onaodowan and Mr. Patinkin.

“I honestly am flabbergasted,” she posted. She added, “The disrespect of both actors is highly concerning.”

How Microsoft Has Become the Surprise Innovator in PCs

27STATE1-superJumboWhen Microsoft unveiled the first Surface tablet five years ago, it was a spectacular failure. At the time, the Apple iPhone was well on its way to conquering the technology industry, and the iPad appeared set to lead an even more devastating invasion of Microsoft’s office-worker kingdom. Microsoft conceived of Surface, an innovative laptop-tablet hybrid, as a way to show off the versatility of its software. Windows machines, it argued, could work as phones, personal computers and tablets. And didn’t everyone love Windows?

Nope. Microsoft soon took a $900 million write-off for unsold Surfaces. Another effort to break into the hardware business, its acquisition of the limping phone-maker Nokia, dug a deeper river of red ink — a $7.6 billion write-off. By the summer of 2015, Microsoft’s hardware dreams looked crushed. Even today, the Xbox One, Microsoft’s latest gaming console, is losing to the Sony PlayStation 4.

Still, Microsoft persisted — and today, the company is making the most visionary computers in the industry, if not the best machines, period. In the last two years, while Apple has focused mainly on mobile devices, Microsoft has put out a series of computers that reimagine the future of PCs in thrilling ways.

Yes, Apple loyalists, that’s just my subjective view. And yes, Microsoft’s latest financial results aren’t exactly on my side here — the company announced last week that though its cloud software business is growing rapidly, revenue for its Surface division declined by 2 percent over the last year (because of changes it made in its launch schedule).

Microsoft, of course, makes most of its money from the PC business by licensing Windows to other computer makers, and it says that part of its goal in building hardware is to inspire and guide those companies’ designs. But it also wants the Surface line to sell — and although the division has grown enormously in the last few years, becoming a critical part of Microsoft’s overall business, Surface is still far smaller than Apple’s Mac or iPad line.

July/August Cover Issue Exclusive: ‘Queen Sugar’s’ Vibrant Legacy

Arguably, Hollywood is becoming more diverse, but we still have a long way to go. When it comes to depicting African-American stories authentically, there’s still a bit of a gap between perception and reality. The OWN-housed television series not only contributes to bridging that gap but offers a refreshingly authentic look at BlacQueenSugarcover-584x377k life in the Southand beyond. Last fall, when prolific filmmaker and series executive producer Ava DuVernay brought Natalie Baszile’s iconic 2014 novel of the same name to life, she presented viewers with a work of art filled with themes of love, strife, family, and legacy.

Over the course of its first season, the world was introduced to the Bordelon siblings. We met them along with their pain, their struggle and their desire to be meaningful contributors to the world. Most importantly, we were presented with characters that placed family above everything. In the midst of the entertainment, we also received a much-needed glimpse of Black America. “I pull from my experiences as a Black man in America and all my brothers,” Kofi Siriboe, who plays Ralph Angel on the series told EBONY. “I see Ralph Angel in everybody.” What Siriboe said was critical. He sees Ralph Angel in everybody. That identity …that intangible ability to see characters who possess the embodiment of what and who we are is what’s been missing in Hollywood all of this time. For this month’s cover, EBONY traveled to New Orleans to speak with some of the cast and crew of the iconic series. “That’s the thing I love about Nova; there hasn’t been a character quite like her,” Rutina Wesley, who plays Nova, the eldest Bordelon sibling states. “I love that she’s really pretty unusual, and I think she’s flawed and very human. I love that I never quite know where she’s going. And I also love that anything is possible with Nova.”

Like the typical African-American family, Nova isn’t the only one dealing with conflict. Here sister, Charley Bordelon West is constantly attempting to whether her own storm. “Charley’s strength is a little superheroic,” Dawn-Lyen Gardner, who plays the character said. “She is really one of the most resilient characters I [believe] I’ve ever played.” Each character is complex and multi-layered. Through them, DuVernay has managed to bring the intricacies of Black familial life to 21st-century television. From the characters to the gorgeous setting, every choice feels like a return home.