THE GREAT COMET's Sumayya Ali Shares Thoughts on Show's Untimely Closing, Diversity and Controversy
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 closed on Broadway back on September 3rd, but discussions and articles about the show's untimely closure have not stopped since then. The twelve-time Tony nominated new musical concluded its run just weeks after the controversy of replacing Okieriete Onaodowan with Mandy Patinkin - who withdrew from the production following public outcry.
Today on social media, cast member Sumayya Ali shared her thoughts, writing "I cannot BELIEVE articles are still being published about our show. At this point, I feel obligated to add my voice. Here it goes....."
SEEKING TRUTH AND THE AFTERLIFE OF THE GREAT COMET
I don't believe in death in its literal sense. Things are not always as they appear. A flower may appear dead; but we may still benefit from its fragrance in perfumes and potpourri or from the medicinal properties of its herbs. In its 'death;' it may bring us healing and more life. Humans pass out of this realm; but the organs may still give life to others and the spirit transcends. Like this, I believe the post Broadway afterlife of Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 is urgent and essential medicine for the world. It is necessary to wash the legacy of our show with the truth because so many false narratives continue to contaminate our sacred space. It is equally as important to learn from the circumstances that lead to the premature closing of our beloved show. I pray that not only The Great Comet has an afterlife on a massive scale; but that the controversy that surrounded it becomes an impetus for self reflection, forward movement and open, honest conversations about race, casting and growth in America.
We are living in a crucial time in a country where racial tensions are high, mass shootings are gaining a sense of normalcy and civil liberties are in jeopardy. Risk is essential to changing the status quo. We must do everything in our power to change attitudes and shift beliefs that will lead to the changing of our laws. Unlike most Broadway musicals, The Great Comet was not created with the intention of making a lot of money on Broadway (although it definitely had the potential to.) Its creation led to an opening of the heart and subsequently shifting of the cognitive frame and changing of the status quo in a little non profit theatre called Ars Nova. In this world created by Dave Malloy, Rachel Chavkin, and Mimi Lien, actors and audience are able to sit together in the stillness of the dark, open their hearts and reflect upon light. Intimate, sacred moments between strangers are created and it is easy to see the face of humanity in everyone in the room. Characters of different races are of the same family. Lines are blurred, barriers are broken and genuine relationships are created. This show shifts the cognitive frame of race through having an Asian Russian Princess or a Black Russian princess with a white cousin. It normalizes strong powerful women making lionhearted decisions on their own and actors and audiences are given the chance to look at each other and see themselves and truth within each other. This is spiritual and social medicine that our world desperately needs.
Amidst the casting controversy, our cast took the high road. As a whole, we chose not to metastasize the toxicity on social media by engaging in the discourse. We waited hopefully for the whole truth to come out; but it didn't. I have no desire to shame anyone or expose anyone's faults. The saint and sinner live within all of us and we are all in this life journey trying to find our way. However, I cannot allow our show to continue to be plagued with confusion and falsehood. We as a whole have taken the high road and have chosen not to expose the faults of others; but that doesn't always work out for the best. Look where the high road took Hillary Clinton. Planned trickery, blackmail and manipulation led to our controversy. Our cast, creative team, and producers were blindsided. I feel it's important to acknowledge this because Howard Kagan was used as a scapegoat in this particular incident. He was a victim of lies and his name deserves to be cleared. In these days of arts funding cuts, We need more people to take risks with Avant garde new works. Mandy Patinkin was also a victim of this fake controversy and we ALL lost big time in not seeing him take on the role. It is my ardent prayer that there is a sit down in LA or a West End production that stars Mandy Patinkin as Pierre.
I pray that our premature closing was not in vane. I pray that this situation will reveal the ills of society so we may cure ourselves. In regard to the Great Comet, we must question and analyze the irresponsible, false, manipulative use of social media that fed off of the heightened racial tension of our country; yet we must also acknowledge the reality of racism as a disease deeply embedded in the fabric of America. We must investigate the sexist lens that would have the audacity to label our show racist or question the value of black actors when the original, barrier breaking, titular, leading lady of the show is black. To question the show's diversity is to make her and all of her accomplishments invisible. The fact that the temporary contract of one male actor that ended a couple of weeks early could negate the forward movement, awards and Tony Award nomination of Denee Benton is unfathomable- not to mention the seven additional cast members of African descent, three Asian Americans and five Latinos. To question the diversity and casting of the show is to assume we are all invisible. As a person/actor of color, it is very frustrating to see our struggle trivialized. We must become complex, deep thinkers. We must listen to each other and we must always seek out and fight for truth. If we as a community learn to examine race and its impediments in theatre and America as a whole- if we begin to think deeply with nuance, if we begin to see with spiritual eyes and listen with the ears of the heart- if we follow through with the uncomfortable dialogue; our premature closing will have been worth it. So in our death; please receive our organs to give life to social activism. We give our spirit to the ingenuity of the future productions of The Great Comet and our heart will forever belong to the best fans a cast and crew could ever imagine. If you have the time, please watch the video below to understand our ineffable, unique bond. Ars longa, vita brevis.
I cannot BELIEVE articles are still being published about our show. At this point, I feel obligated to add my voice. Here it goes..... pic.twitter.com/X7dDVo0Mdu- Sumayya Ali (@SumayyaSings) October 7, 2017
Prior to appearing in THE GREAT COMET, Ali's previous Broadway credits include the 2012 revival of THE GERSHWIN'S PORGY AND BESS, and the 2010 RAGTIME. Created by Dave Malloy (Ghost Quartet, Preludes) and directed by Rachel Chavkin, NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 began previews on October 18, and officially opened Monday, November 14, 2016.
THE GREAT COMET starred multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban in his Broadway debut. Inspired by a 70-page slice of War and Peace, this "vibrant, thrillingly imagined new musical" (The New York Times) is "stunning and blazingly original" (Entertainment Weekly) and brings us just inches from Tolstoy's brash young lovers as they light up Moscow in a "heaven-sent fireball" (The New York Times) of romance and passion.