*In part two of our four part series with Chapman Roberts, co-creator of “Black Stars of the Great White Way,” Chapman discusses the challenges faced by Black talent and the obstacles to raising funds for historic and important theatrical projects. He wants to educate and entertain audiences worldwide with the rich legacy of African American talent.
“We need [people] to understand—don’t take our music and contributions for granted,” says Chapman. “This is not as shallow as you have been taught to perceive it.”
Are there any plans to start a national or international tour with Black Stars of the Great White Way?
I can’t make that plan. I can have that vision, as Norm [Lewis] has that vision, but we can’t plan that, because that takes millions of dollars. The show that you saw [at National Black Theater Festival], that show could not be produced for one night for less than one hundred thousand dollars.
Are there plans for a television special for Black Stars of the Great White Way?
We cannot institute that, someone must come to us. We have already produced this. We produced it at Carnegie Hall out of our pockets. We produced it at Queensboro Performing Arts Center out of our pockets. We tried to go to the Apollo, but the Apollo turned us down, and I will never understand that. I approached the National Black Theatre Festival and they said we will take it. I have now approached them to try and get R.J. Reynolds and Hanes—their sponsors—to underwrite an international tour, that’s what I want to do. But it’s something I don’t have the power to do; I don’t have the finances for—but nobody’s picked-up on it. Now there are revivals of the “Little Shop of Horror,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and other important pieces. But nobody has approached us; not one person has approached us about putting money into making this show continue. At Carnegie Hall, we had the first African American male symphony orchestra in the history of the world on that stage. Not one person came to us and said let’s continue this, not one, not one phone call. The New York Times reviewed the show and did not make note of the fact that there was an all African American male Symphony Orchestra on the stage at Carnegie Hall for the first time in the history of the world; they didn’t say it and they were in the room. This is what we are up against. We did it, we put it out there and they didn’t say a word.
Obviously, a national and international tour, a television special and perhaps a recording of an album is something you’re interested in doing?
Yes, absolutely. As I noted in Winston-Salem [at the National Black Theatre Festival] over half of that cast is over the age of 70. This is not going to happen again. We’ve already lost everybody else, we lost five cast members from the Carnegie Hall concert [that concert debuted in June, 2014]. I haven’t called upon the rest of our Broadway veterans, you’ve only seen about fifteen of them on the stage in Winston-Salem [referring to the performance at the National Black Theatre Festival]. They are all over the place.
It’s astounding to me because I know there are white shows touring with all of the men who played the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” and you never heard of one of them. And they are working all over the world. They are working on these huge cruise ships making thousands—and they never call us.
What is your process in organizing the music for Black Stars of the Great White Way?
[Laughing] I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. Just an idea pops into my head and then I call the performers and say we don’t have any money, would you participate in this and they’ve all said yes. Norm Lewis and others flew in [to the National Black Theatre Festival]. They sandwiched that into their schedules, got off the plane, had a twenty minute rehearsal, went and changed clothes, jumped over to the gala, came and jumped on stage and jumped out the next morning.
To read part one of A Conversation with Broadway Veteran Chapman Roberts, please click here: http://wp.me/p33GTY-2ex1.
Gwendolyn Quinn is a veteran media specialist with a career spanning 20 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business. Contact her at [email protected]