The Tony Award nominees were announced last week, and one of the productions to garner multiple nods was Motown: The Musical. The Broadway newcomer received four nominations in categories including Sound Design and Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
But these accolades aren't what makes the show stand out for author and political analyst Keli Goff. Instead, it's that the musical has a black producer, Motown Records founder, Berry Gordy. According to a new article by Goff in The Root, black producers are “Halley's Comet rare” on Broadway.
"I was shocked at how low the numbers are,” Goff tells Soundcheck host John Schaefer. "Literally, Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones are the only two African American lead producers working on Broadway."
Keli Goff, on why there are so few black producers on Broadway:
The reasons are often complicated and nuanced with topics like this. This is certainly not a piece accusing Broadway of racism and being some place that applauds discrimination. It's certainly not like that. But it is very much a who-you-know business. It is very much a networking and clubby business, even more so than a lot of people on Broadway realize or like to admit. I’m really going to get in trouble for saying this more than probably anything else I say in my piece, but it’s really not that different from corporate America in a lot of ways.
On the benefits of diversity on Broadway:
When you have diverse black producers, they tend to diversify the content you see on stage, and that tends to diversify the audience — with amazing results. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was the most successful Broadway production of 2008. Motown is very much — if it continues at this pace — going to possibly be the most successful Broadway show of 2013. So there is an actual incentive there when people are willing to think outside the box.
On the difficulties of working without access to solid Broadway relationships:
All of the stars have to align in terms of cast, in terms of timing, in terms of finance, in terms of the theaters, and in terms of the relationships. You could have Denzel Washington lined up to direct, George C. Wolfe lined up to direct, and you’re like. “Yes! We’re golden. We have all the money we need.” And then the theater’s not available. If you don’t have those relationships, then you’re not in the game.