Tough Acts to Follow: 5 African-Americans Who’ve Made Broadway Their Business

May 5, 2011  |  

The Tony nominations are in and while the black theater community celebrates the recognition of The Scottsboro Boys and Whoopi Goldberg’s production of Sister Act, some are undoubtedly chafing over the  failure to recognize James Earl Jones for his role in Driving Miss Daisy or Chris Rock’s Broadway debut in The Motherf**ker With the Hat.  Such is the nature of awards.  But beyond the stars and the backstage artists, a host of other talent is needed to bring Broadway to life.  The Atlanta Post takes a look at five African-Americans who approach the theater on business terms.  The first, Stephen Byrd, made his money on Wall Street before heading to New York’s other famous thoroughfare.  We learn about how he and his colleague Alia Jones shook up assumptions about Broadway patrons.  We also look at three women who have staked their careers on attracting an audience for the stage.


Stephen Byrd

Stephen Byrd’s education in theater as an enterprise started with a trip to the bookstore. It wasn’t long after devouring a stack of guides on the subject that he established Front Row Productions and set about bringing the famed Tennessee Williams play, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof to Broadway with an all-black cast.  Despite having James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan and Debbie Allen on board, theaters were skittish about signing on.  Would people come?  A former investment banker for Goldman Sachs and co-founder of private equity firm, StoneHedge Capital, Byrd knew this was a money-maker.  When they finally secured a venue, black people turned out in droves, parties recouped their investments within twelve weeks, and when it was all said and done, Cat was the highest-grossing show of the 2008 season.

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