23 Times Black Hollywood Took On Broadway

Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira are coming to Broadway in 2016. They join a long and impressive list of Hollywood stars who took a shot at The Great White Way—from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis to Angela Bassett and David Oyelowo.

Yolanda Sangweni Mar, 25, 2015

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Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira are coming to Broadway in 2016—February 23 to be exact. Gurira (The Walking Dead) is the playwright behind Eclipsed, a play about women held captive by rebel soldiers during the Liberian War. Nyong'o plays The Girl, one of the woman being held captive.

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'Selma' star David Oyelowo is headed back to the stage for an off-Broadway production of Shakespeare's "Othello." The production, set to play at the New York Theater Workshop will also feature James bond star Daniel Craig in the role of Iago. Oyelowo, whose theater career began in 1999,  will take on the lead role as the Othello the moor of Venice in the theater's first Shakespeare production since 1990. "Othello" is set to hit the New York Theater Workshop in Fall 2016.

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With an Academy Award under his belt, Forest Whitaker has already conquered the big screen. Next up: Broadway! The actor has signed on to star in the upcoming revival of the 1941 production of Hughie in which he will play Erie Smith, a hotel guest who reminisces on his tumultuous past with a night clerk. The play was briefly revived in 1996—Al Pacino played the lead role. We can't wait to see what Forest brings to the part! 

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Taye Diggs got his Broadway groove back. The actor recently starred in the hit Broadway show Hedwig and the Angry Inch, where he stepped into the shoes of Hedwig, a gay man who undergoes a sex reassignment surgery in order to marry his boyfriend. Other famous faces have played the role, including Glee's Darren Criss and Dexter's Michael C. Hall, but Diggs is the first Black man to land the role. 

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Taystee is trading in her jumpsuit for Broadway. Starting in November, Orange is the New Black's Danielle Brooks will star alongside Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo in the Oprah-produced Broadway show, The Color Purple, where she will play Sofia.

Brooks, who trained at Julliard, said that she has dreamt of starring in the show since she first saw it 10 years ago and that she hopes that the audience will see themselves in her character. "What I love about the theater is that it's such a transformational place," she told ESSENCE.com. "It's almost like there are mirrors within the whole theater, and I hope that people see themselves within Sofia." Previews begin November 9, and the show opens December 10. We can't wait! 

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Musical legend Brandy has scored the leading role in one of the most popular shows to land on Broadway—Chicago. The 90s songstress will play Roxie Hart, a murderess on death row who is desperately seeking fame and stardom. She's only the third Black actress to play Mrs. Hart; Michelle Williams landed the role in 2010, four years after Robin Givens graced the stage in 2006. Keep an eye out for her debut next month.

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Hudson will make her Broadway debut in 2015, playing the role of lounge singer and longtime mistress Shug Avery in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple. Could she be on her way to a Tony? "I got a dog and named it Oscar, and then I won my Oscar," she told People last year. And then I got a dog and named it Grammy, and then I wont my Grammy. So I think I should get some dogs and name them Emmy and Tony, and it'll give me good luck and I'll win." We think that sounds like a good plan!

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Fantasia made her long-awaited return to Broadway in 2014, singing the music of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington in After Midnight. She had previously starred in the stage adaptation of The Color Purple in 2007. Her favorite part about her sting on Broadway, she said, was opening the audience's eyes. "When these young people come into the building, the music begins to play and from the very first number to the very last number they're introduced to a whole other music that they probably never would pick up or would never go and see," she said to ABC 7 New York in 2013.

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In 2014, Palmer made history when she became the first Black Cinderella, starring in the Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic. She didn't let the pressure weigh her down, though. "There is a bit of of intimidation," she said in the January issue of ESSENCE. "You think about Denzel, Viola Davis, and you think, 'Only great people can do Broadway.' That was the scariest thing about it, but I'm the type who thrives on pressure." 

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Bassett and Jackson earned rave reviews for their run in The Mountaintop, a reimaginging of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last night, by African-American playwright Katori Hall. Bassett admitted that her favorite part about playing her character, Camae, was the lack of restrictions. "It was just freeing, just freeing to play this character," she said in the playbill. I knew she could just be whoever she wanted to be."

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Davis and Washington both earned Tony Awards for “Best Actress” and “Best Actor” in 2010 for their roles in Fences, written by August Wilson. Even though the duo scored Tonys, Washington said that they never considered themselves the stars. "We were never singled out as two leads," he said at a press conference in 2010. "The entire cast gets together in a circle before each show, and we end the day as one unit. No one of us is better than the other." 

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Lathan, Diddy and Phylicia Rashad joined Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald (center) in the 2004 revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Both Rashad and McDonald won Tony Awards: Best Actress in a Play (Rashad) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (McDonald). Lathan, who once told the New York Times that Hansberry was "ahead of her time," was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play.

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The cast of the 2014 adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's iconic play, A Raisin In The Sun, included Anika Noni Rose, LaTanya Richardson, Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo. Richardson was nominated for Best Actress in a Play while her co-stars Rose and Okonedo were both nominated for Best Actress for a Featured Role.

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Tyson won a Tony Award in 2013 for her role in The Trip to Bountiful, co-starring Williams with Leon Addison Brown. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. later joined the cast. Tyson admitted that her return to Broadway following a 30-year hiatus proved difficult. "I didn't know upstage from downstage!" she said to the Los Angeles Times last year. "I had been so involved in television and movies, that's where my focus was. And so I was really hesitant." 

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Winfrey and her theatrical business partner Scott Sanders first brought the musical adapatation of Alice Walker's (pictured) Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to Broadway in 2005. Though the Broadway run ended in 2008, the musical has continued touring the U.S. and the world. This year, Winfrey and Sanders plan to bring The Color Purple back to Broadway, starring Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery.

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Keys made her Broadway debut in 2011 by producing African-American playwright Lydia R. Diamond’s play, ”Stick Fly." The singer said that one of her favorite parts about the role was its relatability. "I know it will touch audineces who will find a piece of themselves somewhere inside this house," she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012.

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Grier returned to the theater in 2012 to star in Suzan-Lori Parks’ Tony Award-winning adaptation of Porgy and Bess, alongside stage veterans Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis. Grier told NPR in 2012 he fell in love with stage acting when he was a student at the University of Michigan. "For the first time in my life, I felt, 'This is a career. This is a life that I think I can grow old doing," he said to the radio station. "It was love at first sight. I loved being on stage and reading these plays." 

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All That Jazz! In 2014, Williams returned to Broadway to star in After Midnight. The Grammy nominee had previously starred in Broadway musicals and plays, inlcuding The Trip to Bountiful and Into the Woods.

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The singing stars also joined the cast of After Midnight in 2014. Braxton had previously starred on Broadway's Aida, and in 1998, became the first African-American to star as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Babyface commended the play's honesty last year and said that he hoped the pair could convey that through song.

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Williams made her Broadway stage debut in the Tony-winning revival of Chicago in 2013, playing Matron Mama Morton. But what was her favorite part about the stage? The quirky community of actors and actresses, of course! "We are a kitschy, weird bunch. And I mean weird in a good way," she told Broadway.com. "It's just about the craft and the love of the game."

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NeNe made her Broadway debut as the wicked stepmother in The Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2014. It was an emotional road for the Real Housewives of Atlanta star, who admitted that she got teary-eyed while being fitted for her costume. "I'm not a crybaby," she told the New York Daily News, "but this is my fairytale." Awww...

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Sherri Shepherd starred in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella in 2014. The former View host told the New York Daily News that as a child, she was inspired by Stephanie Mills in The Wiz. "That was the firs time I saw someone who looks like me on stage," she said. "It played a seed. I thought, 'I want to do this.'" 

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Williams led Holler If Ya Hear Me, a musical inspired by and set to the music of late rapper, Tupac Shakur. The cast included seasoned Broadway actors and newcomers, including Tonya Pinkins, John Jelks, and Motown: The Musical star Saycon Sengbloh.