As Broadway Returns, Shows Rethink and Restage Depictions of Race


“The Lehman Trilogy,” about the rise and fall of a financial family, added new references to the businessmen’s relationship to slavery after earlier versions of the play were criticized for playing down that connection. “Everything that was built here was built on a crime,” a character now warns.

Broadway is addressing concerns about race in a variety of ways as it reopens — the current season features a record number of plays by Black writers; many shows are creating new diversity-related staff positions; and industry leaders have pledged to create more opportunities for artists of color. But race, although the primary focus of the protests last year, is not the only subject being reconsidered.

“Jagged Little Pill,” a musical adapted from the blockbuster Alanis Morissette album, has simultaneously tried to deepen its discussion of race (the show centers on a white family with an adopted Black daughter) and gender identity. The show had been criticized when a character who appeared to some to be nonbinary before “Jagged” reached Broadway was more clearly portrayed as female once it arrived. In response, the producers said last month that they had hired a new dramaturgical team, including nonbinary and transgender members, “to revisit and deepen the script.”

The writer of the musical’s book, Diablo Cody, said that she welcomed the opportunity to take another look at the material: She works primarily as a screenwriter, and of course once a movie is done, it’s done. But during the shutdown, she was able to update the musical’s family argument about transracial adoption. “When I wrote this, it was 2017 to 2018,” Ms. Cody said, “and it just feels like there has been such a cultural sea change since then.”

Are the changes enough? Maybe not — although “Lehman” opened this month to raves, some critics once again faulted the play’s treatment of slavery.

And are the alterations finished? Again, maybe not, at least for long-running shows.

“We used to say a show was frozen, but the show is never frozen now,” said Mr. Iglehart, the “Hamilton” actor. “The shows are evolving, and they will evolve as the world evolves.”



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