Theater Talk: Hedwig/Black Broadway

>>ANNOUNCER: Coming up on “Theater Talk”…>>LEON: As artists we have to go a long way to say, “Why should I come to the theater? Why should I leave my dormitory and go out and come to this versus I can go to a basketball game? Why should I go to this play this night instead of doing anything else?”>>ANNOUNCER: “Theater Talk” is made possible in part by…>>HASKINS: From New York City, this is “Theater Talk.” I’m Susan Haskins.>>RIEDEL: And I’m Michael Riedel of the New York Post. Now, Susan, one of our favorite musicals of all time is “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which, I think, is going into its second year on Broadway. John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Task — Trask?>>HASKINS: Trask.>>RIEDEL: Trask — Great, great show about a kind of beaten-down transvestite sort of on her/his last legs, trying still to reach for fame and the spotlight.>>HASKINS: [ Chuckles ]>>RIEDEL: It has a brand-new cast, and we are delighted to be joined by Taye Diggs, who is stepping into the — not really high heels would you say? It’s not kinky boots. What are the shoes…?>>DIGGS: Those heels are high. High and platformed.>>RIEDEL: That’s right. They are.>>HASKINS: Are you in training for those now?>>DIGGS: I will be. I will be very soon.>>RIEDEL: Stepping into those high heels with his/her boyfriend/girlfriend from Berlin being played by Rebecca Naomi Jones, who’s actually been in the show for a little bit.>>JONES: I have. I’ve been in it for two months now.>>RIEDEL: What’s the character again you play?>>JONES: Yitzhak.>>RIEDEL: Yitzhak. Right, right, right. Welcome, both, to “Theater Talk.”>>HASKINS: I have it in my notes that Yitzhak is to be referred to as “he.”>>JONES: Yes, Yitzhak is Hedwig’s husband.>>HASKINS: And that Hedwig is “she.”>>DIGGS: She. Yes. Thank you.>>RIEDEL: Excuse me for not being up on my transgenderisms, Susan.>>DIGGS: That’s all right. We’re all learning.>>JONES: Hey, it’s the time. Get with it.>>RIEDEL: [ Chuckling ] I know. I’m so behind.>>DIGGS: We’ll be patient with you.>>RIEDEL: All right. So, Taye, you’re jumping into high heels. Does drag come naturally to you?>>DIGGS: Uh, drag? I don’t know. I don’t know so much about drag. I never made a habit of trying on my mom’s clothes, or…>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>DIGGS: No, I mean, ’cause, you know, some people have, or…>>RIEDEL: Also kids who want to be actors when they’re growing up play dress-up all the time.>>DIGGS: Never did that. But I do have a flaming homosexual somewhere inside of me because, you know, you play the right song, and it can be the right time of night…>>RIEDEL: ♪ Hello, Dolly ♪>>DIGGS: …right amount of alcohol…>>HASKINS: Yes, the alcohol, I would think.>>DIGGS: …it can be fun.>>RIEDEL: You can hit Marie’s Crisis at 4:00 in the morning.>>DIGGS: You know what I mean? I like to turn it up a little bit.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>DIGGS: So I’ll be using some of those moves hopefully in a couple of weeks.>>RIEDEL: Now, Naomi, did you dress up as a little boy when you were a cute little girl?>>JONES: Oh, no. I did not. I loved dresses, yeah.>>RIEDEL: You were a little mermaid, a little princess.>>JONES: Oh, sure. I mean, I just — Yeah, all little princessy things you could possibly find, and, like, any, like, Halloween or — you know, I was the kid who wanted to go to tennis lessons so that I could wear the tennis skirt, you know? Like, one year, it was like, “Mom, I want to be in figure skating.” I just wanted to wear the outfit.>>HASKINS: So what did they do to audition you for Yitzhak?>>RIEDEL: Do you have to lower your voice?>>JONES: Yeah, you definitely have to lower your voice. When I was called in — I had done “American Idiot” with Michael Mayer, the director, and so — And I wasn’t originally called in for the auditions because I’m black, and Yitzhak is from Croatia, and I think they were trying to go more traditional for the original cast for Broadway ’cause it’s already a sort of wild and wacky show…>>HASKINS: Well, and they had Neil Patrick Harris, and they wanted that Middle European reality.>>JONES: Exactly, so… But Michael called me just right like a couple of days before the final callbacks and was just like, “You know, we weren’t gonna see you, but I just keep feeling curious about what you would bring to this role, so would you mind coming in?” And I was like, “Of course I wouldn’t mind. I love this musical so much.” So I was like, “Great. I already know the material,” and he was like, “You have to come in as a man.” So I –>>RIEDEL: Cut your hair off and put on a pair of pants.>>JONES: I actually used the bobby pin like a frickin’ pro, and I did this sort of, like, mushroom-top situation, and I bobby-pinned the hell out of my hair so it just looked like sort of a ’90s’ curly, short, you know, Seattle dude, like alternative rock dude…>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>JONES: ..and just like, you know, borrowed — the guy I was dating, I borrowed some big, old jeans from him and a big, old T-shirt and a big, old flannel and just, you know — Oh, and I got some facial hair from a Halloween store.>>RIEDEL: Lowered your voice.>>HASKINS: And now you have cornrows for the production.>>JONES: Yes. So, yeah. So what I love is that now that I’ve replaced Lena Hall, who had a really cool sort of greaser look.>>HASKINS: James Dean.>>JONES: James Dean-type of wig for her look, I love that when I walked into the theater, nobody was under the assumption that I should just do like a plug-and-play situation and just be Lena’s replacement. You know, they were like, “Let’s work with this actor,” and so our amazing hair designer, Mike Potter, was like, “I think we should give you cornrows,” and sort of modeled me after that character Leroy from “Fame.” Wasn’t that a great idea?>>DIGGS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.>>JONES: And so I’ve got this great…>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>HASKINS: Now that you are the first African-American coupling in “Hedwig” –>>JONES: Team.>>HASKINS: …team, and this –>>DIGGS: Pshh!>>JONES: Brown!>>DIGGS: All right.>>HASKINS: And John Cameron Mitchell is writing you new material. I’m cutting you off, and you’re the star.>>DIGGS: I’m cutting you off. Excuse me.>>RIEDEL: Yeah, stop talking. No one wants to look at you. They want to look at them.>>JONES: We can all look at each other.>>HASKINS: And may I go on to say — Now I’m gonna put you on the spot, Taye. As you plumb the soul of this character…>>DIGGS: Mm-hmm.>>HASKINS: …what is Hedwig’s problem? Why is Hedwig such an unhappy soul?>>DIGGS: It has something to do with identity, self-love. I think the core is right there, you know, and once — If that area, you know, of your development is stunted, it can affect a whole bunch of other areas, which, I think, is what you see.>>RIEDEL: You know what Harvey Fierstein says. “If you found the shoes, you found the character.” [ Chuckling ] So once you get those on…>>DIGGS: I mean, yeah — I can be pretty external. Yeah, once I — Literally. Once I walk in those heels…>>HASKINS: Here’s a tip. Stretch out your calves.>>DIGGS: Yeah, yeah.>>JONES: Yeah.>>DIGGS: I got to ice my knees, and… ‘Cause I like to move, so…>>RIEDEL: You’re onstage, I think, almost –>>DIGGS: The entire show.>>RIEDEL: …the entire time. And I know John Cameron Mitchell, when he stepped into it…>>DIGGS: Yes.>>RIEDEL: I saw him the other night at the Tony Awards, and he’s been doing nothing since he left the show except sleeping and resting.>>DIGGS: Yeah. He said that show, when he originally did it, caused him — I hope I’m saying this correctly — to not — He stopped acting for a while after the show. He said it was so draining.>>RIEDEL: Did you guys see the original production and were you fans of the show from the beginning when it was done in the ’90s?>>DIGGS: You probably weren’t born yet.>>RIEDEL: Oh, yeah, right.>>JONES: I was born. I was born.>>DIGGS: She was 7.>>RIEDEL: Your parents would not have let you anywhere near that show when you were 7.>>JONES: Oh, no. Oh, no. My parents were artists. They were cool. I think I just was like –>>DIGGS: The jungle gym.>>JONES: No. It was like — I think I was a senior in high school.>>DIGGS: Oh, for real?>>JONES: Yes.>>DIGGS: Oh, that’s legit.>>JONES: Yeah. And I just — I think — I was totally aware of it. I remember, like, seeing the poster, seeing the program from it and being like, “This looks like something I would love so much,” but somehow I missed it. You know, I was hanging out with my friends.>>HASKINS: I saw Tony winner Michael Cerveris in that part.>>RIEDEL: Did you see it when it was down at — the original production?>>DIGGS: Yes.>>RIEDEL: I mean, I always thought that was a great theater for it because you really felt this broken-down performer –>>DIGGS: Sure.>>HASKINS: In a broken-down theater.>>RIEDEL: In a broken-down theater.>>HASKINS: When you saw it then, did you think –>>DIGGS: I was freaked out.>>HASKINS: But did you ever think you could do that?>>DIGGS: No. I didn’t even consider it.>>HASKINS: So when did you consider it?>>DIGGS: When I saw Neil Patrick Harris. That was when I thought, “Hmm. This could be something that I could, you know, sink my teeth in,” but I never once thought that they would — that they would, you know, have that foresight or be that liberal in their casting.>>HASKINS: They’re rewriting it for you, re-conceiving it for you?>>DIGGS: I don’t know. We’ll see.>>RIEDEL: Well, John Cameron, he’s always adding topical jokes and references and all that kind of stuff.>>DIGGS: I know that they’re… You know, they’re very open to, you know, each Hedwig adding, you know, her own kind of stink on it, so…>>RIEDEL: Are the tattoos yours or are they for Hedwig?>>DIGGS: These are, uh — These aren’t real. I just did these for pen. With pen just, uh…>>RIEDEL: Oh.>>DIGGS: No, these are real. These are Taye Diggs’. [ Laughter ] These are Taye Diggs’ tattoos.>>RIEDEL: But they’ll be Hedwig’s, right, in the show?>>DIGGS: I don’t know. Man, you keep on asking me. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. [ Laughter ] I got like a month and like –>>RIEDEL: Exactly.>>DIGGS: Cool. Let me just feel it out. [ Laughter ]>>RIEDEL: Yeah, Susan! Stop pressuring the poor guy. He hasn’t even gotten in the heels or the big wigs yet. Give him a break.>>HASKINS: I’m sorry, Taye Diggs.>>RIEDEL: “Oh, will you please bare your soul, Taye?”>>HASKINS: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.>>DIGGS: I would imagine that they would — I would imagine that they would let me keep these. I think it would be cool.>>HASKINS: I like the “I love daddy” one that I’m seeing. Your kids are good artists.>>JONES: That’s gonna have a nice, different meaning in the show.>>DIGGS: Exactly. Exactly.>>RIEDEL: All right, so “Hedwig” begins with Taye Diggs July 22nd.>>HASKINS: And Rebecca Naomi Jones is in it.>>RIEDEL: At the Belasco Theater, and one thing you will notice — be aware of this. The Belasco Theater is allegedly haunted…>>JONES: It is.>>RIEDEL: …by the ghost…>>DIGGS: We talk — Can I give that — yeah.>>RIEDEL: Yeah, tell us. I’m fascinated by that.>>DIGGS: We talk about it in the show.>>JONES: Yeah.>>RIEDEL: Oh, right.>>JONES: Well, in the version that Darren’s doing, we don’t talk about it, but maybe in your version you’ll bring that back.>>DIGGS: The funny thing is, in the version that Darren’s doing, they don’t talk about it.>>RIEDEL: Ahh.>>DIGGS: But…>>RIEDEL: All right. Rebecca Naomi Jones, Taye Diggs, both brilliant performers, both going to be terrific in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” We’ll see you in the heels.>>DIGGS: Yes.>>RIEDEL: We’ll see you all butched up.>>JONES: That’s right.>>HASKINS: And we want to see Taye on his big hit TV show “Murder in the First” on TNT.>>DIGGS: Oh, right. That thing. Right.>>JONES: I want to see that.>>DIGGS: Exactly.>>RIEDEL: Yeah, can you tell us, Taye, have you found your character that you’re playing in the TV show?>>DIGGS: I certainly have, that one.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>DIGGS: You know what I mean?>>RIEDEL: [ Laughing ] And that’s it. [ Laughter ] All right, kids, it’s been fun.>>DIGGS: Thank you so much.>>JONES: Thank you.>>RIEDEL: Susan, there’s a fine new book out called “Black Broadway: African-Americans on The Great White Way.” It’s an illustrated history of African-American struggles and triumphs on the theatrical stage written by an old friend of mine. I got to say, Stewart, you are an old friend. I’ve known you a long, long time.>>LANE: Getting older by the minute, too.>>RIEDEL: My good friend Stewart Lane, who is a Broadway producer and co-owner of the Palace Theatre and a theater historian.>>LANE: Yeah. Who knew?>>RIEDEL: Welcome, Stewart. And we are also delighted to be joined by two of our finest director and performer on Broadway, Melba Moore — famous, of course, for “Hair,” one of the early cast members of that show.>>HASKINS: And Tony winner for “Purlie.”>>MOORE: Yeah.>>RIEDEL: A Tony winner for “Purlie,” and, if I’m not mistaken, “Timbuktu!” with Eartha Kitt?>>MOORE: And Fantine in “Les Misérables,” yes.>>RIEDEL: That’s right. Welcome to “Theater Talk,” Melba Moore. And a friend of ours who’s been on the show a number of times, Kenny Leon — a great, great director of — got Denzel Washington in “Fences” and also Denzel in that wonderful production last year of “A Raisin in the Sun.”>>LEON: Absolutely.>>RIEDEL: Welcome to “Theater Talk.”>>LEON: Thank you so much. It’s good to see you.>>RIEDEL: Good to see you, too. So, Stewart, this is really an extensive book. I mean, you take us back to very, very early African-American theater.>>LANE: I didn’t know that.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>LANE: I didn’t know that till I started getting involved with it. I thought it would be more like — I’ve written a book called “Jews on Broadway,” which was the Jewish contribution to the American theater in the 20th Century. So, yeah, it led a little bit into the 1880s and on, but I never realized that — We’re talking 1823 was like the first Shakespeare theater downtown, the African Grove Theatre — “Richard III.” I mean, amazing history there.>>RIEDEL: Melba, what was your early experience when you were growing up with African-American theater?>>MOORE: There was not an awful lot. I had no idea that I would have anything to do with theater ’cause we didn’t see any black people there, and black people didn’t go to theater ’cause there were no stories about us, but when I started to try to be an “R” and “B” singer…>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>MOORE: I wound up being a backup singer on the recording for Galt MacDermot’s performance of the music that he had performed for “Hair,” and he and Jerry Ragni and Jim Rado — you know, a couple of hippie freaks.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>MOORE: But we had interesting personalities with Valerie Simpson, myself, and –>>RIEDEL: Oh, yeah. I know Valerie very well. I love Valerie.>>MOORE: So he invited us to come down and au– not audition, ’cause we had been singing the songs. They were still casting for some strong personalities and strong singers, and I said, “Oh, yeah. You teach me how to act while I do it onstage?”>>RIEDEL: So acting was not something that you were pursuing. You were gonna be in the music business.>>MOORE: I was trying to be in the music business, yes.>>HASKINS: But then you became this pioneer on Broadway in the sense that you were the first African-American — Sheila’s the character, the lead character in “Hair,” and then you went on to be the first Fantine in “Les Mis.” So at the time, this wasn’t something — I mean, the fact that this wasn’t thought of before, and then suddenly they were going, “Now Melba Moore is breaking these barriers.” Did you think of yourself as a barrier breaker at that time stepping into those roles?>>MOORE: Things were so exciting and so mind-boggling, I really didn’t understand what it was. It was just so exciting.>>RIEDEL: Now, Kenny, when you were growing up — ’cause Melba said she didn’t see black people in the theater. They didn’t go to the theater.>>MOORE: Right. And we were interested in music, too.>>RIEDEL: But you’re a different generation, and when you were growing up in Florida, I think…>>LEON: I grew up in Florida. I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and storytelling was always a part of my life, but it wasn’t — I hadn’t even heard of Broadway much less thought of it, but it was like growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, you know what I mean? So we always had plays, and then when I went on with my mother in St. Petersburg, Florida, and we were in a program called Upward Bound that sort of prepared you for college, and me and Angela Bassett were in this program together. So since nine grade, every Saturday we would, like, do these plays, you know, and see the power of theater. Then I went to college in Atlanta, Georgia, and ran into people like Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee, and, you know, it was almost like a pre-Harlem renaissance, you know, or a post-Harlem renaissance because, you know, they didn’t know 10, 15 years from then that they would be famous and great and doing stories, and… I was a Political Science major, so I had no idea that I was gonna end up, you know, doing 11 Broadway shows now, but the idea was I love storytelling. You know, I find that there’s still challenges to getting everybody’s story onstage, getting everybody’s story on The Great White Way, but, you know, we keep doing it because you want to be in that army of soldiers, you know. It’s like August Wilson used to say. August — you know, August did his plays all over the country, but the fact that when he had his plays in New York on Broadway, it was like he could stand next to Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill and –>>RIEDEL: And be a great American playwright, not just an African-American playwright.>>MOORE: Absolutely.>>LEON: So that’s what I love about Stewart’s book. It’s like people forget sometimes who was a part of that history, so when you read about the history of Broadway, you want to read about all the plays that happened, you know?>>RIEDEL: Speaking of which, can you give us a couple of the key figures very early on in this book, the major black performers or playwrights who maybe we have forgotten about now who helped establish the African-American presence on Broadway?>>LANE: Well, before I say that, I do want to add that Kenny wrote a terrific forward for the book.>>RIEDEL: Yeah.>>LANE: I went back to him and said, “This is great piece you’ve written. Can you make it a little more personal?” And, boy, he came back with a terrific rewrite that was just amazing.>>LEON: It’s just called the truth.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>LANE: Welcome to the theater. That’s what we try to do.>>RIEDEL: But, yeah, some of the early African-American writers, directors, performers who we may have forgotten who were central in this book?>>LANE: Well, Gilpin, who did “The Emperor Jones,” was like his milk and butter. Like “The Count of Monte Cristo” was James Tyrone’s — something that he would do, this was for Gilpin. It was a world, you know, thing. Robeson — Paul Robeson…>>RIEDEL: Yeah.>>LANE: …doing his “Showboat.”>>HASKINS: Who was driven out of the country and driven out of — I mean, you know, that it was not an easy birth.>>LANE: Josephine Baker found her audience outside of New York.>>HASKINS: Yeah, and not an easy birth for a lot of these people.>>LEON: It’s called America.>>HASKINS: Yeah.>>LANE: And that’s something that comes across in the book. It’s a young country, and we’re still growing, we’re still finding ourselves, and this is the trajectory. We have to make it the right one.>>RIEDEL: When did things begin, though, to get integrated, because in the other part of the book, you’re talking about the black theaters. There were specific theaters where black performers were for black audiences. When do black actors, performers begin to mix with white performers? Is it in Vaudeville? Is it before then? Is it…?>>LANE: Well, Vaudeville was certainly a spot because — It goes back into the minstrel shows. The minstrel shows were originally white men putting on a black face. When they all got drafted into the Civil War, black performers actually took over those roles onstage and was able to make a living at that. But I think in the ’20s was the biggest transition — this kind of combination of a sleepy country, backwards nation America…>>MOORE: [ Speaking indistinctly ]>>LANE: Yes, exactly. You know, getting on the world stage in World War I, and so –>>MOORE: That’ll do it.>>LANE: And our stories became less provincial and more global, more universal, and then there was the whole push north from the African-American community from the South. They were trying to escape the Jim Crow Laws that were going on, and they settled into Harlem, and we get the golden age of Harlem, and this is an amazing period where blacks and whites are working together. There’s Duke Ellington and Eubie. That started the movement, and then it gets better in the late ’50s and ’60s when Broadway really starts to open up to interracial casting, Joe Papp.>>RIEDEL: Yeah, Joe Papp is a key figure because Joe Papp was colorblind before they were even talking about being colorblind, I think.>>LEON: Well, I wouldn’t call Joe Papp colorblind. I would call him a genius, a visionary, and he saw everybody and embraced and included everybody. That’s what I like with Oskar Eustis is still continuing to do that, you know what I mean? That brand that Joe put there.>>RIEDEL: Melba, when you were just beginning as an actress, were there a lot of African-Americans trying to make it on Broadway?>>MOORE: There were a lot trying to make it. We didn’t see them ’cause there was nothing for them.>>RIEDEL: When the League puts out its annual figures, it still seems to be — everyone always uses the phrase — The Great White Way. I mean, it is still predominantly white people.>>LANE: And there’s some concerted effort within the community. The Broadway League, for instance, makes an effort to get not only a more interracial audience onstage, as well as backstage.>>LEON: I love being in the Broadway community. I love my fellow directors. I love the producers. I love being in this community, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves that we’re doing — that we’re doing great on all levels. I think that the kind of stories we tell and the stories that we include, I think we can go further in terms of our diversity and what we do. I mean, for instance, I mean, years ago there were way more plays than there were musicals. Now there are more musicals, and also there are more plays coming from England now intact.>>LANE: [ Laughs ]>>RIEDEL: Yes.>>LEON: And less plays created –>>RIEDEL: Not homegrown.>>LEON: …in America on the American stage, you know? So you got all that, so I think we got all those challenges, and I think we can do all of that and still make all the money, but still explore what does it take to get a more diverse audience? What does it really take to get more plays by other Americans?>>HASKINS: Well, a more diverse audience can’t pay for the seats. That’s the thing that’s…>>LEON: No, but — but — okay.>>HASKINS: Go ahead.>>LEON: But, but…>>MOORE: Hurry up!>>LEON: I think we have to — With the way America’s moving, it’s not about — I know folks are gonna say it is about the money, but not entirely, because every night you can only get 1,300, 1,400 people in those seats anyway, and most producers make an effort to get, you know, Student Rush tickets or some kind of group tickets early on. I know parents who would pay $200 for kids’ sneakers.>>RIEDEL: Exactly.>>HASKINS: Yes.>>LEON: And they’re gonna outgrow those shoes, so it’s really about the value and what you think is important. So as artists, we have to go a long way to say, “Why should I come to the theater? Why should I leave my dormitory and go out and come to this versus I can go to a basketball game? Why should I go to this play this night instead of doing anything else?”>>RIEDEL: Well, I mean, look-it. We’ve got a show coming — “Hamilton” — which is…>>LEON: Great show.>>RIEDEL: Great show, blending of all sorts of ethnicities, and if that doesn’t attract a multicultural audience, I don’t know what is going to on Broadway.>>LEON: But, Michael, it’s also who we invite.>>RIEDEL: Mm.>>LEON: You can do that show, and it’s representative of the entire population, but if you don’t make an effort to invite everybody and to go to where everybody receives information.>>MOORE: Yeah, go out to them.>>LEON: The black community receives information in a different way than a Latino community, than a Native American, than the gay community, so make more of a concerted effort — not just to get the easy money or the quick money or the money that’s been –>>RIEDEL: The premium-priced seats.>>LEON: Or the money that’s been going here for 300 years, but the people who haven’t been invited.>>HASKINS: But how can they do that?>>LEON: You got to change your marketing strategy. You have to go out there — If that means like there is a group — I mean, people may not want to do this, but there are groups in Alabama from black churches who want to come here every year, but sometimes they find out about it, the show is over or done or the seats are gone.>>LANE: Your “Raisin in the Sun,” it was a sold-out show, it was a terrific performance, and because of the new way of thinking of theater in terms of creativity and interracial, “The Trip to Bountiful.” What an amazing production.>>LEON: But we can go further.>>MOORE: It’s going to go further. I think it is. You have to have theater. You got to have it like water and air, so it’s gonna go.>>LEON: But we can get more creative in what we do. “Hamilton” is a good example of that’s being creative. I mean, what Lin-Manuel — That’s great. But there are people like Lynn Nottage — incredible writer.>>RIEDEL: Yeah.>>LEON: Not one play on Broadway yet. “Ruined.” There’s amazing writers in this country who we’re not really supporting.>>RIEDEL: You know what’s gonna be good for Broadway is your live production in December of “The Wiz.”>>LEON: Yes.>>RIEDEL: ‘Cause you’re gonna have a great cast. It’s gonna be seen by millions of people, and it will probably turn a whole generation of not only African-American kids, but all sorts of kids, on to doing musicals.>>LEON: I think about those people, what, in 1974, who created that…>>RIEDEL: Wonderful Geoffrey Holder.>>LEON: …who gave life to that. So I honor those artists, and what I want to do is, like, I want to take that a step farther, and I want to introduce it to a new generation of theatergoers, and then after we’re on television, I want to take that audience and say — ‘Cause they can only see it one time on NBC — and then say, “Okay, but I want to go into the theater. I want to go to the theater.”>>RIEDEL: Right.>>LEON: So if we connect –>>RIEDEL: You’re gonna bring “The Wiz” to Broadway.>>LEON: Yeah. So if we connect the marketing and the communication from television to stage, then maybe we can take another step to help do what I’m talking about in Broadway. I want to do my part.>>RIEDEL: All right, we got to wrap it up, but I can’t let you go, Melba, without asking you a question about one of my favorite performers of all-time, ’cause you worked with her in “Timbuktu!,” Eartha Kitt.>>MOORE: [ Sighing ] Eartha. [ Laughter ]>>RIEDEL: I just want to hear a little bit about Eartha, working with Eartha. [ Laughing ]>>MOORE: Well…>>RIEDEL: [ Laughing continues ] She always struck me to be a pretty tough lady.>>MOORE: Tough is not the word.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ] What would the word –>>MOORE: R-R-R-Rough! [ Laughter ]>>RIEDEL: Was she intimidating? Was she scary?>>MOORE: Absolutely. I stayed in my little corner of the sky.>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>MOORE: But, uh, she was amazing, to me, to watch because just a consummate artist and so strong and just come from that era of like — we call them — Cougar’s different, huh? That’s for a younger man. No. She was a tiger. [ Laughter ] But amazing, amazing.>>RIEDEL: Yeah. There’s a wonderful picture of her. During “Timbuktu!,” they did it for a publicity stunt. She rode a camel through Times Square.>>LEON: Wow. I love talking about Eartha Kitt, James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier. I remember when we did “Raisin,” Denzel and I went to Sidney’s house just to talk to him about us taking on that play. We got the greatest inspiration from Sidney.>>MOORE: I’m sure you did.>>LEON: He’s like, “Denzel is the only guy that can do what I did.” [ Laughter ] But he’s such a beautiful man, 89 years old now, and a great friend now. They make it possible for us to do. That’s why that history that you put out is so important.>>RIEDEL: All right, the book is “Black Broadway: African-Americans on The Great White Way” by Stewart Lane. Thank you for being our guest on “Theater Talk,” Stewart. Melba Moore, it’s a great pleasure having you on. You’re a tiger, I suppose, in your own right just like –>>MOORE: Yeah, not a cougar.>>RIEDEL: If you survived Eartha, you can survive anything. And terrific director Kenny Leon. Thank you very much for being our guest tonight on “Theater Talk.”>>ANNOUNCER: Our thanks to the Friends of “Theater Talk” for their significant contribution to this production. Plus public funds from… and…>>ANNOUNCER: We welcome your questions or comments for “Theater Talk.” Thank you, and good night.


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