As Broadway Returns, Shows Rethink and Restage Depictions of Race - The New York Times
Oct 23, 2021 2 mins, 42 secs
“The Book of Mormon,” “The Lion King” and “Hamilton” are among those making changes as theaters reopen following the lengthy pandemic shutdown.

In “The Lion King,” a pair of longstanding references to the shamanic Rafiki as a monkey — taxonomically correct, since the character is a mandrill — have been excised because of potential racial overtones, given that the role is played by a Black woman.

The show, about two wide-eyed white missionaries trying to save souls in a Ugandan village contending with AIDS and a warlord, faced calls from Black members of its own cast to take a fresh look, and wound up making a series of alterations that elevate the main Black female character and clarify the satire.

“To me this feels like nothing ever before in theater,” said Diane Paulus, the director of “Jagged Little Pill,” which just last month won the Tony Award for best book and has revisited its book to refine the references to race.

Some of the changes are readily apparent, and others subtle, likely to be noticed only by the most detail-oriented audience members.

So this summer, after a year of quiet conversations by phone and video, the original creative team gathered with the current cast — some meeting for the first time — and, for two straight weeks, went through the show scene by scene, clarifying their intent as they reviewed the plot, the comedy and the staging.

Throughout the show, which will resume performances next month, moments were tweaked to sharpen the satire of Mormonism (already cringe-inducing for many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and to give the Ugandan villagers more agency.

Disney, which reopened “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” last month, not only replaced the references to Rafiki as a monkey (first used in the 1994 animated movie, when the character was not depicted by a live actor) but also made a few changes to “Aladdin.” Among them: the word “barbaric” has been deleted from the opening song, “Arabian Nights,” and replaced with “chaotic,” reflecting a change previously made for the 2019 live-action film.

“The 18-month hiatus gave us a chance to take a fresh look at ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’ and make surgical changes to the books,” Disney Theatrical Productions said in a statement for this story, “informed by all that’s occurred since we’d last performed these shows.”.

Jefferson has become an increasingly controversial figure — the New York City Council earlier this month voted to remove his statue from its chambers — and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail said the cast and creative team concentrated its revisions on Jefferson’s big number because of “the shameful distance between the liberty he wrote about, and the life he lived as a slaveholder.”.

“The gloves automatically put you in a servant place, in a minstrel show sort of place, and the more we dug deeper, the more we asked why we need that weight on the story,” said Shonica Gooden, a member of the show’s ensemble?

In response, the producers said last month that they had hired a new dramaturgical team, including nonbinary and transgender members, “to revisit and deepen the script.”

Cody said, “and it just feels like there has been such a cultural sea change since then.”


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