Broadway is seeing an increase in black audiences thanks to the success of such Broadway plays as A Raisin in the Sun and The Color Purple.
“Cat,” which stars James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose, has a large audience, all right; last week it sold nearly $700,000 in tickets, an outstanding number for a nonmusical. Stephen C. Byrd, the rookie producer of “Cat,” estimates the audience to be between 70 percent and 80 percent African-American.
Mr. Byrd now has plans for a multiracial version of “A Streetcar Named Desire”; a stage adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1956 novel, “Giovanni’s Room”; and a new production of “Death of a Salesman.” He has even had informal talks with Je’Caryous Johnson, a young playwright who works on the increasingly sophisticated urban play circuit — derisively called the chitlin circuit — about bringing Mr. Johnson’s original work to Broadway.
The agenda is ambitious considering that just five years ago there were questions about whether black audiences would come to a Broadway show in significant numbers. But now, said Marcia Pendleton, the founder of Walk Tall Girl Productions, a marketing and group-sales company that reaches out to nontraditional theatergoers, “we have hard facts that this is a viable audience that can sustain a production.”
The first life of this “Cat” goes back to the middle 1990s, when, after years as an investment banker, Mr. Byrd wanted to do something different. He was frustrated by Hollywood and decided to try the stage, heading to Coliseum Books on West 57th Street to buy a stack of books on how to be a Broadway producer.
There was little evidence then that an all-black play would have much success. Even the 1987 production of “Fences,” the only August Wilson play that was a box office hit, had trouble drawing an African-American crowd.
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