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Mandy Patinkin and the Broadway diversity casting controversy

The cast of
The cast of "Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812" performs onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

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The push for diversity casting has been front and center in Hollywood.

It’s a conversation that Broadway is finding itself having, after controversy erupted over the casting of Mandy Patinkin to replace African American actor Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan as one of the leads in the musical “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”

Onaodowan was himself brought in to replace white actor Josh Groban, who left the show in early July. Ticket sales plummeted after Groban’s departure, leading producers of “The Great Comet” to seek out a bigger name in Patinkin to revive the struggling production.

Backlash to the casting decision started soon after the Patinkin news came out, with critics characterizing the move as racially insensitive. Patinkin has since announced his withdrawal from the production in a series of tweets.


How might the controversy impact casting on Broadway? For example, will producers now be more resistant to casting leads of color for non-ethnic-specific roles, fearing backlash if they later want to hire a white star for the role?


Gordon Cox, New York-based editor who covers theater for Variety; he tweets @GCoxVariety and he’s been following the story