ABOVE PHOTO: COLMAN DOMINGO ARRIVES AT THE VANITY FAIR OSCAR PARTY on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. Domingo is part of the producer team of the Broadway play, “Fat Ham.” (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
By John Carucci
NEW YORK — Colman Domingo believes in paying it forward, literally — so he joined the producer team of the Broadway play, “Fat Ham.”
Recently, at a curated cookout in New York before the show’s opening night, the Emmy-winning and Tony-nominated actor said his goal is to “hold the door open for Black, queer expression.”
“You give back to the things that you want to promote, so I want theater like this to happen,” Domingo said during an interview with The Associated Press.
“Fat Ham,” the Pulitzer Prize-winner by James Ijames refreshes “Hamlet,” Shakespeare’s tragic tale of the Danish prince, putting him at a modern-day Southern cookout. This version centers around Juicy, a young, gay, Black man disturbed by his mother’s decision to marry the brother of her dead husband, just like Hamlet.
“I felt like this was so beautiful and doing all the things that I hope theater can do. And how it would show Black families how you can reexamine ‘Hamlet.’ And it is a modern inflection in the mouths of people I know. Shakespeare belongs to everyone, and you don’t have to be someone who knows First Folio or anything like that,” Domingo said referring to the original versions of Shakespeare’s plays.
Make no mistake, Domingo has a deep respect for the classics, especially the Rogers and Hammerstein masterpiece “The King and I,” as well as playwrights Eugene O’Neill, August Wilson, and Henrik Ibsen. But he also feels that diverse Black voices need to be heard too.
“As an artist, it’s always been very important to me to make sure that we’re not monolithic in our experience,” Domingo said.
After seeing a performance of “Fat Ham” at the Public Theater, Domingo admits being “so emotionally struck by what was happening” that he let the “powers that be know that I’m very interested in being part of it and helping to move it forward in whatever way.”
Last season, Michael R. Jackson’s “Strange Loop” took home a slew of Tony Awards, including best musical, helping clear the way for a play like “Fat Ham.”
“I think years ago a show like this would not have made it to Broadway,” Domingo said.
The Emmy-winning actor says the pandemic-induced shutdown was a strong catalyst for the inclusive storytelling that audiences are seeing these days on Broadway.
“The pandemic helped shift a lot. I think Broadway had to do some reexamination of who it was and who it wants to be, who is it catering to,” Domingo said, adding: “Broadway, for a long time, was catering to the outsiders.”
He added: “They weren’t thinking about New Yorkers and what people who live here represent who actually make this city up. And I think that New York has been challenged to go back to the service of the people and that stories matter.”
But Domingo also looks back to a show he did in 2007, “Passing Strange,” as an early bellwether.
“I think many people look to ‘Passing Strange,’ as being such an avant-garde, out-there, beautiful examination of Blackness,” Domingo said of the Tony-nominated musical by Stew. “We feel like it laid waste to all the ‘Hamiltons’ and ‘In the Heights,’ and things like that, to be honest.”
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