Some Twin Cities performing arts venues have come in for severe criticism in recent years over issues involving inclusion, diversity and casting — issues that confront the field nationally.
The Children’s Theatre came into the cross-hairs for its casting of “Disney’s Mulan, Jr.” The Guthrie was critiqued for lack of gender and racial diversity for its celebratory 50th-anniversary season. And the Ordway was upbraided for booking “Miss Saigon,” perhaps the biggest theater tour in terms of employment for Asian or Asian-American actors but one whose characters are deemed to be problematic.
Yet at this moment, this last week of March, 2014, the offerings of major stages in the Twin Cities have never been more diverse. (And all the shows are commendable.)
Over at the Ordway, which has made conscious strides to address historical disparities, there is a sterling Broadway tour production of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.” That staging, directed by Diane Paulus and starring Nathaniel Stampley and Alicia Hall Moran (above, photo courtesy of the Ordway), harmonizes operatic, gospel and musical theater voices in a spectacular show.
The Guthrie Theater is a veritable festival of diversity. All shows on its three stages look like a mosaic of America. Director Marion McClinton’s “Othello,” playing on the Wurtele Thrust, stars Peter Macon as the title character and includes Regina Marie Williams, Sun Mee Chomet and Kurt Kwan, among others. (Macon is pictured, left, opposite Stephen Yoakam's Iago in a photo by Joan Marcus.)
Director Lou Bellamy’s excellent production of Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” which stars Erika LaVonn and James T. Alfred, opened Friday in the McGuire Proscenium.
Upstairs in the Dowling Studio, Caryle Brown has written, directed and produced “Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House,” a fanciful and engaging one-act in which the fictional character urges the 16th president to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. James A. Williams plays a magisterial Uncle Tom while Steve Hendrickson delivers a spot-on portrayal of Lincoln.
For its part, the Children’s Theatre has “The Scarecrow and His Servant,” which has a diverse cast that includes new company member Traci Allen Shannon and two performing apprentices. (The show stars Dean Holt and Brandon Brooks as the title characters.)
Walker Art Center just hosted Campanhia Urbana de Danca, from Brazil, in its McGuire Theater. The company, whose members live in Brazil's favelas, offer hip hop dance from a global perspective.
At the History Theatre, Austene Van has directed a diverse cast in Helen Benedict's "Lonely Soldiers." The ensemble includes Jamecia Bennett (right, photo by Scott Pakudaitis), Hope Cervantes, Yiana Rhazzie and Santino Craven.
Last week, Threads Dance Company performed with Sweet Honey in the Rock at Cowles Center, a venue that regularly showcases diverse talent.
No one moment is representative of an ecology. Still, this one is worth noting.