Great Comet and the Shade of it All

Melissa Slaughter

I've got a bone to pick. This Great Comet controversy started as, well, ridiculous. And it's only escalated it something that hindered far more than it helped. So my question is this:

Was it worth it?

When I saw that Mandy Patinkin was taking over, I was honestly pretty damn excited. Mandy is a Broadway legend, and his voice is, dare I say, a great match for David Molloy's Great Comet score. Racial optics weren't my first thought. Because this is a show that employs several people of color, and I assumed, would continue to provide jobs to POC as long as it was open. Then the controversy began.

Honestly, I thought Chris Peterson, my boss and the head writer for Onstage, was stirring up a controversy for no reason. That Wednesday night, all we knew was that Oak was leaving. There was none of this he-said-he-said shenanigan. And when Mandy announced he quit over Oak being bought out of his contract, and when David Molloy said the show had "catastrophically low" ticket sales, all I could this was: are you happy now?

Chris wasn't the only person I knew lamenting the loss of Oak. I get it, the optics are not good for the role of Pierre. A talented young black actor got bounced for a legendary older white guy. This is a problem, but the fact that there are several other POC's in this cast softened the blow. This show isn't about disenfranchising POC. If it was, why have the only Natasha's been half-Asian Phillips Soo, and African-American Denee Benton? (And side note: Pierre is old. He's meant to be old; they continuously call him "old man". So anyone complaining that Mandy is too old is clearly misunderstanding just who and what Pierre is.)

I literally gasped when I saw Mandy was leaving before he'd even begun, and an acquaintance of mine said "Good. Let's push the old white guys out."

Are you kidding? First of all, this is Mandy mothering effing, G-D Patinkin! Have some respect for your theatrical elders! Second of all, clearly y'all have lost sight for the forest for all the trees. Pierre is one role. A leading role, yes, but one role. Because people got so up in arms over one role, an entire cast and crew will most likely be out of a job. And that cast, by the way, includes several people of color.

I don't think this issue was about race, but if you wanna bring race into, then bring it all in. How are you gonna tell Tony-nominated Denee Benton that she can't have a job because the new lead is white, and it's just not progressive enough? Look in the faces of that ensemble and tell them that they're no longer employed because you were too mad about the "racial optics" of the show. Guess those ambiguous folks weren't ethnic enough for you. And finally, look at David Molloy and let him know that his show, with his excellent score, and his interracial cast, should go down in controversy and flames because they dared to hire a white star to bring up tickets sale. How dare he think keeping a show running and thereby providing opportunities for POC, was more important than letting Oak leave for 3 weeks.

Are you happy now?

I'll agree with Chris on this: the Comet producers have made some seriously bad business decisions, and they're currently suffering those consequences. And thanks to them, this show would probably have closed, Mandy or no Mandy, controversy or no controversy. But to those who are patting themselves on the back for fighting the Man, remember that you've stoked the flame that led to the potential loss of current jobs and future jobs for the exact people you were trying to help. And that a show that should have run with acclaim for several season will probably be an albatross to those who dare try and produce another show like it.

So I'll ask you again: was it worth it?