The Diversity of "Groundhog Day" and Why It's Everything We've Hoped For
- OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
A couple of weeks ago, while I was thoroughly enjoying the musical, Groundhog Day, a thought crept into my mind - just how diverse this cast was. It wasn't just because it was a multi-racial cast, this was a cast that featured people of all shapes and sizes. More importantly these people were playing roles that made no mention of the type of person that was portraying them. What I realized walking out of the theatre was that I had just witnessed a rarity on Broadway stages and the type of casting diversity that we've been fighting, striving and hoping for.
Given that it is an adaptation from a movie, it would have been very easy for the creative and casting team to mirror how these characters were portrayed. However, given that the films' cast is practically all white(seriously, only two performers of color have lines in the entire movie and one of them is a 3 word sentence), this would have been somewhat problematic for the diversity demands of 2017 Broadway.
So instead, the creative and casting team(Jim Carnahan, CSA) of Groundhog Day cast a colorful company with actors from various racial backgrounds. They also cast fuller figured performers, tall and short. The typical "white sample size", we've grown accustomed to seeing on Broadway stages, can hardly be found in this show.
But beyond just giving this diverse company a job, the creative team went a step further and cast them in roles that: 1. Anyone could have played. 2. Make no mention of their race, size or height.
There have been countless times where an Asian performer has been cast to play a role filled with stereotypes. There are many times where fuller figured performers are cast in a roles directly related to their size. But in Groundhog Day, you don't have that.
As an Asian man, I can't tell your how much it warms my heart to see a fellow Asian performer, Raymond Lee, play a variety of roles that have nothing to do with him being Asian. To see Vishal Vaiyda play a role that was originally played by a white man in the movie version is a joy. To see a performer of color, Barrett Doss, in the lead romantic role, which Andi McDowell played in the movie, is the type of casting that doesn't happen often.
Last week I wrote a column of how Broadway needs to address how it casts fuller figured performers and in Groundhog Day there fuller figured performers such as Katy Geraghty and Josh Lamon, playing roles whose comedy comes from their dialogue not their image. Not to mention Ms. Geraghty gets quite the moment with Mr. Karl(no spoilers). But both are defying those who say fuller figured performers can't "keep up" with Broadway ensemble fitness.
Groundhog Day brought me plenty of smiles but it was hard not to feel how special this was. During intermission and after the show, I was hoping to hear someone mention the revelation I too had witnessed. Not one conversation around me mentioned it.
At first I was disappointed, but then I realized, this is how it should be. This is how smart, creative, diverse casting works. The audience accepts, believes and enjoys the performances of this cast, no matter what size or racial make up.
So to anyone who is wondering why Performers of Color and those who aren't "sample size" are feeling the way they do, please go see Groundhog Day. Because it's everything we could want and everything Broadway needs to be.