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    Myles Frost Stars as Michael Jackson in ‘MJ’ on Broadway

    Just five years after he performed as Michael Jackson at a high school talent show, Myles Frost is making his debut in a Broadway musical about the King of Pop.Myles Frost was a college junior in Maryland, studying audio engineering, when he got the call that would change his life. Five years earlier, he had performed “Billie Jean” at a high school talent show, and his mom had filmed the performance on her iPad. Now an embryonic Broadway musical about Michael Jackson had lost its star, and Frost’s new acting coach, who had stumbled across the video on YouTube, wanted to know: Could the 21-year-old still sing and dance like the King of Pop?The truth was, Frost hadn’t revisited the material since he was 16. His only stage experience was in a trio of high school musicals. But he’d wanted to be a star since he was a little boy, and he’s not a believer in self-doubt. “Why say I can’t?” he thought. “Maybe I can.”Frost pleaded for a day to prepare, and then he taped a video to send to the show’s producers. It was good enough that they asked him to come to New York so they could see him in person. They liked what they saw.Now Frost, at 22, is on Broadway, drawing ovations nightly in the title role of “MJ,” a biomusical exploring Jackson’s creative process by imagining the final days of rehearsals for the “Dangerous” concert tour. The effect is uncanny: Although Frost insists he is not doing an impersonation, audiences describe feeling as if they are at a Michael Jackson concert.“You feel the excitement of discovery — one of the reasons we go to the theater — as you watch the electrifying Broadway debut by Myles Frost as Jackson,” Don Aucoin, the Boston Globe critic, wrote.Adrienne Warren, who won a Tony last year for playing Tina Turner, said on Instagram, “I have never seen anything like that on a Broadway stage … and I know the COST of THAT performance.”That performance made Frost a Tony nominee this month in the best leading actor in a musical category. He’ll face off against a pair of megawatt stars, Hugh Jackman (“The Music Man”) and Billy Crystal (“Mr. Saturday Night”), as well as Rob McClure (“Mrs. Doubtfire”) and Jaquel Spivey (“A Strange Loop”). “It’s beyond insane,” Frost said, still marveling a few days after learning of his nomination.“Billie Jean” performed by Myles FrostListen to Myles Frost, the Tony-nominated star of the Broadway musical “MJ,” sing one of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits. Audio from “MJ the Musical Original Broadway Cast Recording” (Sony Music).The history of Broadway is replete with stories of stars who seem to appear out of nowhere. Still, Frost’s arrival is remarkable, given that Broadway wasn’t on his radar screen: He had never been in a professional stage production. He had only ever seen one Broadway show (“Cinderella,” when Keke Palmer and NeNe Leakes cycled in to the cast). And he was not aware that a Michael Jackson musical was in development.In a stroke of luck, or fate, or divine providence — choose your adventure — during the pandemic he signed up for online acting classes with Lelund Durond Thompson, who happens to be the life partner of Jason Michael Webb, the musical director for “MJ.” Thompson found the “Billie Jean” video, and urged Webb to take a look. “It was meant to be,” Thompson said.The 2022 Tony AwardsThis year’s awards, which will be given out on June 12, are the first to recognize shows that opened following the long pandemic shutdown of Broadway’s theaters. Season in Review: Thirty-four productions braved the pandemic to open under the most onerous conditions. Game of Survival: During a time unlike any other, productions showed their resourcefulness while learning how to live with Covid. A Tony Nominee: The actress LaChanze received her first nomination for best leading actress for her portrayal of Wiletta Mayer in “Trouble in Mind.” The Missing Category: This Covid-stalked Broadway season has made clear that a prize for best ensemble should be added, our critic writes.It was the spring of 2021, and the production was in a bind: Ephraim Sykes, the experienced actor who had led the cast through much of the grueling development process, had departed for a film opportunity.“After Ephraim left us, we were in a bit of a spiral, to be perfectly honest, because it was quite late, and casting a Michael Jackson is not a particularly easy gig,” said Christopher Wheeldon, the musical’s director and choreographer. “We were all a bit panicked, and we saw a few people, and no one was working out.”Then came Frost, invited to audition as the production widened its search. “He very sweetly walked up to the table and said, ‘My name is Myles Frost, and I’m auditioning for the role of Michael Jackson,’ which was so endearing because it seemed like something he wasn’t used to doing,” Wheeldon said. “And his résumé was very, very short. When you see that on the page, you don’t want to discount someone, but this was going to be a project, for sure.”Myles Frost, foreground, stars as Michael Jackson in “MJ,” a biomusical that imagines the final days of rehearsals for the “Dangerous” concert tour.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesFrost slipped on a fedora — yes, he brought a fedora — to dance “Billie Jean,” and when the production accidentally started playing the wrong song (“Beat It”), Wheeldon watched as Frost waited, frozen, in the back of the studio.“He stayed absolutely still — didn’t move a muscle — and I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting. This kid’s in the zone,’” Wheeldon said. “Then we found the right music, and he started to dance. It was very baggy — it wasn’t crisp — but you could see that he had an innate groove, and a natural understanding of the Michael vocabulary. And then when he sang ‘Stranger in Moscow,’ there was so much pain and power and grit in his voice that we all, instantly, sat forward.”Frost remembers that day, too, mostly because it was shaping up badly. The day before, he had cut short a practice session with Thompson, citing an allergic reaction to dust in the studio; he took a Benadryl, a Zyrtec and a shower, and fell asleep. When he arrived for the audition, he let instinct take over.“I closed my eyes, got into myself a little bit more, and when the music started, I did the thing,” he said. “My body felt like it had done it before. That feeling — this is deeper than music, this is deeper than acting itself, this is deeper than the show. This is a type of energy and a type of magic that comes over you.”Wheeldon viewed Frost as a godsend but also a gamble. “There was so much raw gift — more gift than I’ve maybe ever seen in one human being in a first audition,” Wheeldon said. But, also, “along with that came all of our fears: What if he doesn’t put in the work? What if he can’t put in the work?”The production offered Frost the role. He accepted.“It’s one of those things where it just kind of feels like the stars align a little bit,” Frost said, “and you get that call and it’s in the palm of your hands to either take and embrace or to drop, and I decided to take it and embrace it.”“MJ,” of course, is not just any jukebox musical. It’s about one of the biggest pop artists in American history, but one whose legacy has been tarnished by allegations that he sexually abused children. The show, with a book by Lynn Nottage, the two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright, is set in 1992, before the allegations became public, and does not address that issue, which has prompted criticism from leading theater reviewers. But thus far, the show’s box office is healthy — in recent weeks “MJ” has been among the top-grossing productions on Broadway. It picked up 10 Tony nominations, including one for best musical, and its producers, who include the Michael Jackson Estate, are planning to add a North American tour next year.Frost, during a pair of conversations about the show, was patient with questions about the allegations, but also chose his words carefully — taking a deep breath before answering, pausing often between thoughts — and made it clear that he would not be baited or badgered into expressing a position on whether Jackson was an abuser.“I believe everybody is entitled to their truth and to what they believe,” he said. “I don’t judge.”He said he believes the best thing he can do is focus on delivering the performance envisioned by the show’s creators. And what is that vision? “This show is about drive, this show is about understanding, this show is about faith,” he said, “and it’s about clinging on to the light at the end of the tunnel despite the darkness that’s surrounding you.”“I’m seeing the fruits of my labor, people saying, ‘I felt like I was watching Michael Jackson,’” Frost said. “That’s all I can ask for as an artist — that people leave with something warm and magical.”Donavon Smallwood for The New York Times“My responsibility, and my job, is to focus on the creative process of Michael,” he added. “People come here every day with different opinions and different feelings about Michael. It’s not my job to persuade or convince them of anything, but what I do want them to do is have a better understanding of the things that he had to go through — whether it’s financial or emotional — to put this tour together, because nobody can deny, and this is the bottom line, the impact that he has had on culture and on music.”In conversation, Frost is warm and gracious (he loves the words “humbled” and “blessed”), but also soft-spoken and measured, with a relentless positivity and an all-things-are-possible way of talking about his career. (“I want to be bigger than Michael Jackson,” he said. “Why not? Why would I limit myself?”)Tony Awards: The Best New Musical NomineesCard 1 of 7The 2022 nominees. More

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    Review: In ‘Exception to the Rule,’ Detention Is Sinister

    Teenagers bond after school in a sort of classroom purgatory. And, where is the teacher?Detention is a drag. For the students in “Exception to the Rule,” it’s also emblematic. Whatever landed them in the after-school slammer, these teenagers were already trapped by forces far beyond their control.They barrel in one after another, their voices ricocheting around the Black Box Theater, where the Roundabout Underground production opened on Wednesday night. In a space no bigger than a classroom, the audience, sitting on three sides, is spitball distance from the bickering, the posturing and revelations of what lies beneath.There’s Mikayla (Amandla Jahava), who balks at her reputation as a bad girl while relishing the attention; the goofball Tommy (Malik Childs), who claims he’s “not tryna holla” at Mikayla while very obviously taking his shot; Abdul (Mister Fitzgerald), who appears guarded and pensive, preferring to keep his head down; Dayrin (Toney Goins), who is quick-tempered but eager for a laugh; and the sweet but tart Dasani (Claudia Logan), whom Dayrin mockingly calls Aquafina (as in the other bottled water brand).Then there’s Erika (MaYaa Boateng), otherwise known as “college-bound Erika,” whose late entrance comes as a shock to the bunch. Upwardly mobile and buttoned-up, she’s what Dayrin calls “the whitest person in a room full of Black people.” What could she have done wrong? And where is the teacher, anyway? They can’t go home until he signs them out.As for the show’s conceit, the playwright, Dave Harris, borrows from both “Waiting for Godot” and John Hughes’s classic portrait of detained and misunderstood youth, “The Breakfast Club.” It’s doubtful that the students’ savior will ever come, and discovering what they’re in for, and what that says about their stations in life, propels the story forward. Throw in a few romantic sparks between opposites, and it’s all a bit too familiar.But what appears at first like a mundane exercise in remedial discipline sours into something more sinister. The P.A. system starts to glitch, no one can tell the time, and bars slide over the window as the school goes into after-hours lockdown (sound is by Lee Kinney). Take away the desks, and the scuffed floors and cinder-block walls could just as easily be the setting of a prison (the set is by Reid Thompson and Kamil James). And the flicker of fluorescents and red glow of the hall suggest a kind of purgatory (lighting is by Cha See).As the kids clash and open up to one another, surreal elements creep up, appearing to represent the systems and obstacles — poverty, redlining, over policing — that can entrap many Black people in rooms like this, and worse. And the students’ back stories illustrate how they try to maneuver against such repression: Dasani has stolen food because she’s hungry; Mikayla made her own too-short skirt out of necessity. (“You think I got money for all that extra fabric? I look sexy on a budget.”)Under the direction of Miranda Haymon, the performances have an exaggerated quality that keeps the characters at a distance, despite the action being in your face. Each one has subtler, more grounded moments, but there’s a heightened sense to their personas that hints they’re stand-ins for broader ideas. Even as the even-keeled Erika, Boateng has an almost mechanical, doll-like carriage that evokes the concept of what it takes to escape social constraints rather than someone with one foot out the door.As in his previous work “Tambo & Bones,” Harris toys with stereotypes about Blackness in order to turn them inside out, pointing to the history, circumstances and motivations behind ways of thinking and behavior. It’s an exercise performed for the benefit of audiences presumed to be in need of instruction, and for some it will no doubt be an eye-opening lesson.But there’s a restlessness inherent to every schoolroom timeout, and to theatergoers being positioned as pupils. What happens once we can see people for who they are and then dig deeper into their contradictions? Understanding how lives are shaped by their limitations, as Harris details here with an ultimately pat sort of logic, is foundational to social justice. But in order to see that there’s more to people than what keeps them in margins, first we may have to set them free.Exception to the RuleThrough June 26 at the Black Box Theater at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, Manhattan; roundabouttheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. More

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    Rosmarie Trapp of the ‘Sound of Music’ Family Dies at 93

    She was the last surviving daughter of the baron and the would-be nun depicted in the stage musical and 1965 film.Rosmarie Trapp, a member of the singing family made famous by the stage musical and film “The Sound of Music” and the last surviving daughter of Baron Georg Johannes von Trapp, the family patriarch, died on May 13 at a nursing home in Morrisville, Vt. She was 93.The Trapp Family Lodge, the family business in Stowe, Vt., announced her death on Tuesday.Ms. Trapp (who dropped the “von” from her name years ago) was the daughter of Georg and Maria Augusta (Kutschera) von Trapp, the would-be nun who became a governess with the family and ultimately married the baron.Rosmarie is not depicted in “The Sound of Music,” which focused on the seven children Georg von Trapp had with his first wife, although she was in fact almost 10 when the family fled Austria in 1938 after that country came under Nazi rule. Among the many liberties “The Sound of Music” took with the family’s story was the timeline — Georg and Maria actually married in 1927, not a decade later.In any case, Rosmarie did travel and perform with the Trapp Family Singers for years and was a presence at the lodge in Stowe, where she would hold singalongs for the guests. She acknowledged, though, that it took her some time to embrace the fame that the musical thrust upon her after it debuted on Broadway in 1959, beginning a three-year run, and then was adapted into a 1965 movie, which won the best picture Oscar.“I used to think I was a museum,” she told The Chicago Tribune in 1997, when she was evangelizing on behalf of the Community of the Crucified One, a Pennsylvania-based church, “but I can’t escape it.”“Now I’m using it as a tool,” she added. “I’m not a victim of it anymore.”Some of the children of Baron Georg von Trapp singing during a Mass in his honor in 1997 in Stowe, Vt., where the family runs a lodge. From left, Maria von Trapp, Eleonore Campbell, Werner von Trapp, Rosmarie Trapp and Agathe von TrappAssociated PressRosmarie Barbara von Trapp was born on Feb. 8, 1929, in Aigen, a village outside Salzburg, Austria. The family began singing publicly in the 1930s in Europe, but the baron had no interest in cooperating with Hitler once the Nazis took control, and so the family left Austria, taking a train to Italy. (The “Sound of Music” depiction of the departure was fictionalized.)The family gave its first New York concert, at Town Hall, in December 1938 and soon settled in the United States, first in Pennsylvania, then in Vermont.“We chose America because it was the furthest away from Hitler,” Ms. Trapp told The Palm Beach Post of Florida in 2007, when she spoke to students from the musical theater program and Holocaust studies classes at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens.The family singing group continued to perform into the 1950s. Late in the decade, Ms. Trapp and other family members went to New Guinea to do missionary work for several years. Ms. Trapp’s father died in 1947, and her mother died in 1987.Ms. Trapp’s brother, Johannes von Trapp, is the last living member of the original family singers and her only immediate survivor.The Trapp Family Singers repertory, of course, included none of the songs later composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for “The Sound of Music,” but when Ms. Trapp gave talks like the one at the Florida high school, she would gladly take requests for a number or two from the musical. What did she think of the film?“It was a nice movie,” she told The Post in 2007. “But it wasn’t like my life.” More

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    Broadway Deal Over Rudin Shows Will Limit Nondisclosure Agreements

    Performers and stage managers were released from agreements they signed to work on four shows that were produced by Scott Rudin after their union, Actors’ Equity, filed complaints.Performers and stage managers will be released from the nondisclosure agreements they signed to work on four Broadway shows connected to the producer Scott Rudin under a settlement between the Broadway League and Actors’ Equity Association.The union said that the two parties had agreed that, going forward, producers would no longer require actors or stage managers to sign such agreements unless approved by the union, which might sign off on them in limited circumstances to protect things such as intellectual property or financial information. The League declined to comment.The settlement arises from a labor dispute that began last year, when Rudin, long one of the most powerful producers on Broadway, was facing accusations that he had behaved tyrannically toward a variety of people who worked with him, prompting an Equity stage manager to alert the union to the nondisclosure agreements required by some Rudin shows.Last spring, the union asked Rudin to release employees from the nondisclosure agreements, and in January, the union filed a pair of unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board regarding “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “West Side Story,” both of which were at the time produced by Rudin.The union argued that nondisclosure agreements illegally restricted worker rights. Its complaints were initially filed against Rudin and his general manager; in recognition of the fact that Rudin is not currently actively producing on Broadway or in Hollywood, and last year resigned as a member of the Broadway League, the complaints were expanded to include the Broadway League, which is a trade association representing producers.The union said it has since learned that nondisclosure agreements were being used by four recent Broadway productions, including not only “Mockingbird” and “West Side Story,” but also “The Iceman Cometh,” on which Rudin was a lead producer, and “The Lehman Trilogy,” on which Rudin was among the lead producers.The union withdrew the National Labor Relations Board complaints earlier this month, after reaching a settlement agreement with the League. According to a copy of the settlement agreement, the League has agreed to release from confidentiality, nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements any actor or stage manager who signed such an agreement with the four recent productions. (The agreement does not affect workers in Rudin’s office, many of whom were required to sign detailed nondisclosure agreements as part of their employment contracts.)The settlement comes at a time when nondisclosure agreements in many workplaces have come under increasing scrutiny.“Exploitation feeds off of isolation,” said Andrea Hoeschen, the union’s general counsel. “There is no stronger tool for an abuser or a harasser, no matter the setting, than silence.”It is not clear how frequently nondisclosure agreements are used on Broadway.“We intend to tell our members broadly about this settlement, and if they are asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, we are going to push back on those as violative of our members’ rights,” Hoeschen said. More

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    A Neil Diamond Musical Is Coming to Broadway, After a Stop in Boston

    “A Beautiful Noise” will start at Emerson Colonial Theater in Boston next month and transfer to Broadway’s Broadhurst Theater in November.A new musical about the life and career of Neil Diamond is coming to Broadway late this year.“A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical” will start previews on Nov. 2 and open on Dec. 4 at the Broadhurst Theater, the show’s producers said Wednesday. The Broadway production will be preceded by a six-week run starting June 21 at the Emerson Colonial Theater in Boston.Diamond, an 81-year-old Brooklyn native who was one of the most successful songwriters of the rock era, retired from touring in 2018, citing a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, and this year he sold his catalog to Universal Music Group. He wrote and performed “Sweet Caroline,” which has become a sports stadium favorite, especially at Fenway Park; won a Grammy for best original film score (“Jonathan Livingston Seagull”); and in 2011 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.The stage musical will feature a score made up of Diamond’s songs, with a book by Anthony McCarten, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter behind “The Two Popes” and “The Theory of Everything.” The show is being directed by Michael Mayer, the Tony-winning director of “Spring Awakening” and a veteran of several adventurous jukebox musicals, including “Swept Away” (featuring songs from the Avett Brothers), “Head Over Heels” (the Go-Go’s) and “American Idiot” (Green Day). Steven Hoggett (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) will choreograph.The lead producers are Ken Davenport, a Broadway veteran (his credits include the Tony-winning revival of “Once on This Island”) and Bob Gaudio, a musician who was the producer of several of Diamond’s albums. The musical is being capitalized for up to $20 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission; a spokesman said the producers are hoping to keep the budget to $19 million.The actor Will Swenson will star as Diamond in the Boston run of the show. Casting for Broadway has not yet been announced. More

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    LaChanze, a Tony Nominee, Is Casting Herself in New Roles

    The veteran actress, nominated for her work in “Trouble in Mind,” is championing Black artists, producing on Broadway and relishing being cast as the love interest.A Tony Award-winning actress walked into a bar, and before long, she was talking about racism.“I have noticed in my career,” the actress, LaChanze, said, “that roles that I’ve gotten are roles of women who have experienced trauma. Major, major trauma. People feel comfortable making me, as a dark-skinned Black woman, a victim of some kind of violence, a victim of trauma. A victim.”The subject of racism — and the various ways it can manifest in the theater industry — came up repeatedly during a lively conversation on a recent rainy Friday afternoon in an Upper West Side wine bar.But don’t get it twisted. LaChanze is thankful — for her career and for the opportunities she’s had over the years.She just received her fourth Tony nomination — her first for best leading actress in a play — for her portrayal of Wiletta Mayer in the Broadway debut of Alice Childress’s 1955 play “Trouble in Mind.”LaChanze, who uses a mononym but was born Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, received glowing reviews. The Times’s theater critic, Jesse Green, wrote that she got the character’s “arc just right in a wonderfully rangy compelling performance.” LaChanze “dazzles,” embodying Wiletta with “breathless ease,” Lovia Gyarkye wrote in her review for The Hollywood Reporter.Every aspect of “Trouble in Mind” seems to comment on racism in some way. There were plans to take it to Broadway in the mid-1950s after a successful run in Greenwich Village, yet the show didn’t make it there until 2021. As a Black writer intending to highlight the unfairness in the theater industry, Childress, who died in 1994, ran headlong into it.“She is finally getting her day in the sun,” LaChanze said of Childress after the show was nominated for four Tony Awards, including best revival of a play.Childress’s comedy-drama is centered on a group of mostly Black actors, with an all-white creative team, rehearsing a Broadway-bound play about the events leading up to a lynching. Wiletta, the main character, is a proud veteran musical-theater actor, excited to be in her first play. She just has a few notes about the script. But the white director is not receptive to Wiletta’s suggestions and feedback. And as she summons the courage to be more forceful, pointing out that some of the dialogue and actions in the script are not authentic to what Black people would actually do and say, the resulting conflict has dire consequences.LaChanze knows the feeling.“I remember having an argument with a director once, saying, ‘A Black woman would never say this about herself.’ And he said, ‘I think she would.’ And he was a white man.” There was an “organic” connection for her with the character of Wiletta: “I have literally lived it in my 40 years of being in this business.”LaChanze as Wiletta Mayer with Michael Zegen as the director Al Manners and Danielle Campbell as the ingénue Judy Sears in “Trouble in Mind,” which ran last fall at the American Airlines Theater.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThat changed with “Trouble in Mind,” whose director, Charles Randolph-Wright, was “the first Black director that I have had as a leading actress on Broadway,” LaChanze said.Describing LaChanze as a “goddess,” Randolph-Wright praised not only her acting (“I knew what she would do with this, but it was even beyond my imagination”) but also her spirit (“She led that company with grace, with humor — it was brilliant”).And the two of them had a “symbiotic” relationship while working on the show, he said, adding: “It would be late at night and I would have an idea about something, and I would go to dial her number — and my phone would be ringing. She would call me at the exact same moment.”Over a glass of wine, LaChanze was straightforward. Matter-of-fact. She was also luminous, quick to laugh and her eyes shone when she talked about her daughters. Her eldest, Celia Rose Gooding, is now starring in the TV series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” after starring in the Broadway musical “Jagged Little Pill.” Her youngest, Zaya Gooding, is a linguistics major in college. Coincidentally, Celia’s “Star Trek” character, Nyota Uhura, specializes in linguistics, giving the younger daughter a chance to show off a bit for her older sibling. (“She calls her sister and she advises her on certain things,” LaChanze beamed. “How cool is that?”)Performing started early for LaChanze. As a child, one of her brothers played trombone; the other played drums. “We would make our own songs, and we sort of fashioned ourselves after being like the Jackson 5,” she said. Hers was a military family, so they moved a lot, but her mother always made sure LaChanze was in some sort of dance class or performing arts program. “I thrived there. It’s where I felt the most comfortable to be an outgoing, expressive child with this extra energy.”After attending Morgan State University in Baltimore for two years and then studying theater and dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, LaChanze landed in New York “so broke” in the mid-1980s.“I had decided I wasn’t going to go back to school. I was going to stay in New York and do this Broadway show ‘Uptown … It’s Hot!’” she said. Her character was, in her words, “third girl from the left.” Alas, her Broadway debut was brief: “It closed in four days.” (Technically the show closed after 24 performances, but it’s safe to say it was absolutely not a smash hit.)LaChanze ended up sleeping on an ex-boyfriend’s aunt’s couch.“He wasn’t even my boyfriend anymore. But his aunt and I were so tight,” LaChanze recalled. “She gave me a ring to pawn. And it was, like, $600 I got for the ring. And she said, ‘When you get your job, you’re going to go back and get my ring for me.’” In just under a month, LaChanze said, “I was able to get her ring back for her.”A few years later, LaChanze landed the role of the peasant girl Ti Moune in the 1990 Broadway musical “Once on This Island.” Although the Caribbean-set fairy tale with a predominantly Black cast was based on a novel by the Trinidad-born Black writer Rosa Guy, Black people were not involved in writing the lyrics and music, nor in directing or choreographing the show.It was a hit, and in 1991, “Once on This Island” was nominated for eight Tony Awards, including best musical. LaChanze was nominated for best featured actress in a musical and won a Drama Desk Award. She went on to play Marta in the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical “Company.” And three years later, she stepped into a production of “Ragtime,” a stage adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel exploring the lives of three families at the turn of the 20th century. It was another production with a lot of Black cast members but a white creative team, including the same music and lyrics writers as “Once on This Island,” and Terrence McNally, who wrote the show’s book.At the time, LaChanze was thrilled with the role. But now she views some aspects of the show with a more critical eye. “Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful,” she said. Still: “It was for me the first time that I realized that — aha — here we have white people deciding, culturally, what Black people are doing.”Tony Awards: The Best New Musical NomineesCard 1 of 7The 2022 nominees. More

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    ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ to Close on Broadway, After Reopening

    The musical, which shuttered temporarily in January as the Omicron variant spread, has struggled with the slow return of tourists to the theater.“Mrs. Doubtfire,” the Broadway musical adapted from the popular 1993 film, announced that it will close later this month after a bumpy run that was interrupted by the pandemic closure in March 2020, and included a return amid the tumultuous current Broadway season.The show’s producer said late Thursday night that the musical’s final performance, at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, would be May 29, just over a month after it reopened after a three-month hiatus.The news comes days after the show’s star, Rob McClure, scored a Tony nomination for his comedic and chameleonic performance in the title role, but the musical failed to garner nominations in any other category.The closing reflects the challenges of this Broadway season — the first since the pandemic shutdown — when tourism remains down, coronavirus cases are a constant complication, and a large number of new shows opened around the same time in April, making it difficult for a returning “Mrs. Doubtfire” to break out.“Even though New York City is getting stronger every day and ticket sales are slowly improving, theatergoing tourists and, especially for our show, family audiences have not returned as soon as we anticipated,” Kevin McCollum, the show’s producer, said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to run the show without those sales, especially when capitalizing with Broadway economics on three separate occasions.”Other Broadway productions have also struggled in this new landscape. A much-praised revival of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” which had struggled at the box office, announced last week that it would close May 22, just a month after opening and three months earlier than planned. But on Thursday, after receiving seven Tony Award nominations and a social media campaign to sponsor female-identifying people of color with a pair of gifted tickets, it announced it will now play an additional two weeks, through June 5.Last week “Mrs. Doubtfire” grossed $477,132, and the audience was just 69 percent full. Still, the show is moving forward with a British engagement, which McCollum said is scheduled to play for a month starting Sept. 2 in Manchester, England; a U.S. tour is also scheduled to kick off in October 2023.In development for years and capitalized for $17 million, the production had gotten through just three preview performances in March 2020 when Broadway shut down. After a 19-month hiatus, “Mrs. Doubtfire” resumed previews last October and opened on Dec. 5, bolstered by a nearly $10 million grant from the Small Business Administration. It opened to tepid reviews — and a pan in The New York Times — just as Omicron began causing cases to spike again.Then, in a startling example of the financial damage caused by the pandemic shutdown, McCollum decided to close his production for several months, saying he saw no other way to save it. The musical comedy temporarily closed Jan. 10, and had planned to reopen on March 14, but later postponed its reopening until April 14. The closure cost 115 people their jobs for that period.In the statement on Thursday, McCollum expressed admiration “for our extraordinary Broadway cast, crew, orchestra, creative team and entire company who brought the show to the stage.” And he said, “They have risen to every challenge thrown at them over the last two years with a remarkable amount of resilience, good humor, passion and love for one another.”“Mrs. Doubtfire,” which had a five-week pre-Broadway run at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater, is about a struggling, out-of-work actor who loses custody of his children in a divorce. The father (memorably portrayed in the 1993 film by Robin Williams) is so determined to spend time with his children that he pretends to be a woman to land a job as the housekeeper.The brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick wrote the music and lyrics for the show, directed by Jerry Zaks; the book is by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. More

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    Susan Nussbaum, 68, Who Pressed for Disability Rights in Her Plays, Dies

    In a wheelchair after being hit by a car in her 20s, she became an advocate for people with disabilities in her writing for the stage and as a novelist.Susan Nussbaum, a playwright and novelist whose work reflected her concern for the rights of people with disabilities, died on April 28 at her home in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. She was 68.Her sister, Karen Nussbaum, said the cause was complications of pneumonia.Ms. Nussbaum began using a wheelchair after being hit by a car at age 24 and soon became an integral part of Chicago’s burgeoning disability-rights scene.Incensed by a lack of accessibility in the city for theater people with disabilities, she wrote her own plays, starring herself and other disabled actors.“If the dominant culture was saturated with backward concepts of who we were, I would answer back with my own collection of disabled characters,” she wrote in a 2012 essay published in The Huffington Post.Ms. Nussbaum began her playwriting career with “Staring Back,” which was performed on the Second City’s E.T.C. stage in 1983. She then collaborated with Mike Ervin, a disability activist who writes a column for Progressive.org, on a series of satirical sketches about disability. Titled “The Plucky and Spunky Show,” it was presented at the Remains Theater.The first reading of her acerbic comic play “Mishuganismo” was in 1992 in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune, in an article about that reading, called it “a mad-sad-glad whirl of politics, activism, love, need, sex and other items.”Directed by her father, Mike Nussbaum, an actor, and based on her own letters, the play took its title from a term that one of Ms. Nussbaum’s friends coined, meaning “a syndrome when a Jewish woman goes crazy for a Latin guy.” The play was later published in the 1997 anthology “Staring Back: The Disability Experience From the Inside Out.”Her last major play, “No One as Nasty,” which documented the relationship between a disabled woman and her paid caretaker, was performed in 2000 at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.As a member of the Chicago-based disability rights organization Access Living, Ms. Nussbaum campaigned to make theaters more accessible to wheelchair users and participated in other protests, including efforts to make public transit in the city accessible.After decades of work in theater, she turned to fiction. Her novel “Good Kings Bad Kings,” which follows workers and residents in a Chicago care institution for people with disabilities, earned acclaim for its candor and sensitivity and won the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.The book’s title came from reporting in The New York Times about Jonathan Carey, an autistic boy who was killed by an employee of the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center, near Albany, where Jonathan was living. “I could be a good king or a bad king,” the man told the boy as he asphyxiated him, according to court documents.That line stuck with Ms. Nussbaum, she said in a 2013 interview with the website Bitch Media. “It became the title because it reminded me how, when it comes to kids, the adults have all the power. And when the adult in question has no emotional connection to the child, and the child’s welfare is turned over to that adult — as is the case in institutions — terrible things can happen.”She continued: “The disabled characters we’re presented with usually fit one or more of the following stereotypes: victim, villain, saint, monster. The fate of the disabled character is usually miraculous cure, death or institutionalization.”In writing the novel, as in her other work, Ms. Nussbaum said, “It was really important to me to give disabled characters — more than one — their own voices, and the agency to represent themselves and their own perspective on what happens.”Susan Ruth Nussbaum was born on Dec. 2, 1953, in Chicago to Mike and Annette (Brenner) Nussbaum. Her mother worked in public relations. She grew up in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, and attended Highland Park High School, graduating in 1972.Interested in theater from a young age after running lines with her father, she began writing plays in high school. After graduating, she took drama classes at the Goodman School of Drama (now The Theatre School at DePaul University) in Chicago.She was on her way to an acting class when she was struck by a car. She spent seven months in the hospital.She then navigated through life as a wheelchair user, becoming angry at the lack of accessibility. At one job, as she recounted in a 2013 Psychology Today article, the workplace did not have accessible bathrooms. Finding no ramps on public transportation, she and other wheelchair users began taking an ambulance to and from work. These experiences galvanized her to join Access Living and begin writing plays.Her activism extended outside Chicago as well. A longtime leftist, Ms. Nussbaum visited Nicaragua and Cuba as a member of coalitions on disability rights. Later in life she founded Empowered Fe Fes, a Chicago organization for disabled young women seeking to explore their sexuality.In addition to her sister, she is survived by her father; a brother, Jacob Nussbaum; and a daughter, Taina Rodriguez. More