#Goshen Lives Matter
I already had my plans for the August 13 free event in Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor, a village near the end of Long Island, a part of the Hamptons. A concert was going to be staged of the currently planned songs for a Broadway-bound musical based on the 1998 film, The Prince of Egypt, a story of Moses and the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt and Goshen.
The outdoor concert was expected to feature Casey Cott as Moses; Stark Bunker Sands as Ramses; Tony Award winner Shuler Hensley as Pharaoh Seti; Marin Mazzie as Queen Tuya; Solea Pfeiffer as Tzipporah; J.C. Montgomery as Jethro; Ryan Knowles as High Priest Hotep; John Cariani as Aaron; Julia Motyka as Miriam; Joanna Howard as Nefertari; Desi Oakley as Yocheved; and Dakota Quackenbush as Young Miriam.
But a controversy over too many people of whiteness in the cast has led to the cancellation of the event.
Scott Schwartz is the artistic director of Bay Street Theatre and the driving force behind the production. He is a son of Stephen Schwartz who contributed to the music for The Prince of Egypt, Godspell, Pippin, Wicked, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more.
The root of the cancellation?
Some in the theatre community questioned the lack of non white actors in lead roles. Shouldn’t Moses, Pharaoh, Miriam, Aaron, and the Hebrews be browner? And once online, the bullying by netizens commenced.
(According to Bay Street Theatre, a third of the fifteen Actors Equity union cast members for the one-night no-costume reading, including two of the six principals, are actors of color.)
Among the critics were Cynthia Erivo – a Nigerian-born 2016 Tony recipient for The Color Purple; Denée Benton; and Jose Llana. Llana tweeted, “Talented cast but, @BayStTheater_ You do know that Egypt is in Africa, right? Not one WHITE person in that story.” Erivo tweeted, “It saddens me that after such a wonderful multicultural season on Broadway a piece set in AFRICA has not one POC.” After being alerted that the cast has some diversity, she said, “The piece is set in ancient EGYPT, i.e. AFRICA where people darker than I resided. That is my point.”
Schwartz invited Erivo to a conversation on this important topic of diversity in casting, even if it is for a one night concert and not a full production. Erivo tweeted back that she was satisfied with how her conversation with Schwartz transpired and that “to be able to have a conversation is a wonderful positive step for art, and learning for all.”
After the cancellation, Scott Schwartz wrote on Facebook last week to clarify the decision process: “Bay Street was excited to present this free opportunity for our community, to give a peek at the development of a new musical in progress. Over the past three years, Bay Street has made a strong commitment to the development and production of new works, having produced four world premiere productions in three years and also having started the now thriving Bay Street New Works Festival that we present every spring. The partnership with DreamWorks Theatricals to present a concert reading of The Prince of Egypt was born out of our ongoing commitment to helping develop new works for the stage, and Bay Street as an organization had no ongoing involvement with the project beyond this concert. The casting for the concert and now also the decision to cancel the event was made by the creative team, including composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, book writer Philip LaZebnik, and me as director, and also by our producers Bill Damaschke and Dori Berinstein. Bay Street Theater supports the team in their decision to cancel this event, though we deeply regret any disappointment or inconvenience that this cancellation has caused to our loyal supporters and audience… All of the team working on The Prince of Egypt strongly feels the discussion that arose around the casting of this concert is an important one and we appreciate the constructive feedback we have received from many of our friends and colleagues. While we have had diverse casts in each and every step of our process so far, we will continue these discussions and consider them fully as we develop specific approaches to casting as we move forward. But, there were also personal attacks and comments online and in social media against our actors and creative team that were unproductive. This is the specific reason why the creative team and the producers are canceling the concert and will continue the development of this new musical in private for now. The team feels strongly that social media harassment and bullying of artists is not acceptable nor is it a positive or constructive way to continue this important discussion about diversity and racial authenticity in casting. The talented actors who were to be involved in this concert were being paid very little and were only committed to helping develop this show for one night, for free, in our local park. The creative and producing team certainly could not ask them to endure online harassment for a one-night concert reading. Finally, the creative team and producers at DreamWorks Theatricals all believe that the story of Moses is one that is embraced and owned by millions and millions of people from every country, race and culture—and we hope that the project we are developing will honor the passion of those who love it. It has always been our aim to create the piece in a way that people of all races and cultures can one day tell the story.”
So I guess you are wondering… are any of the cast POC/MOT? Well, Julia Motyka is married to Scott Schwartz. Julia, who is Polish, has a Jewish mother (and Scott’s father is Jewish)
And in Hebrew…