NEW YORK • Broadway legend Mandy Patinkin said last Friday that he was cancelling a plan to join the cast of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812, after an uproar on social media over the fact that the show brought in Patinkin, who is white, to replace an African-American actor, Okieriete "Oak" Onaodowan.
"My understanding of the request that I step into the show is not as it has been portrayed and I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor," Patinkin said. "I hear what members of the community have said and I agree with them. I am a huge fan of Oak and I will not be appearing in the show."
The statement, which Patinkin e-mailed to The New York Times last Friday afternoon, came after a tumultuous two days for the show, which had been trying to stabilise its finances after the departure of singer Josh Groban from the leading role of Pierre. It was not immediately clear what would happen now - Onaodowan had said last Friday morning he would leave the cast on Aug 13.
The show's producers and creative team were clearly blindsided by the turn of events. They had previously asked another performer, Brittain Ashford, to take a leave during the summer so she could be replaced by a well-known singer-songwriter, Ingrid Michaelson, and did not anticipate that replacing Onaodowan with Patinkin would be seen differently.
"So sorry to have missed the racial optics of it," the show's creator, Dave Malloy, said on Twitter last Friday. "We had to do the same thing with dear beloved Brittain, so in my head it was no different."
He also said the show made the cast changes out of financial necessity.
"The show was in desperate shape; sales after Ingrid leaving Aug 13 were catastrophically low. Show would have closed."
The producers had no immediate comment on Patinkin's withdrawal.
But earlier in the day, they had issued an apologetic statement.
"As part of our sincere efforts to keep Comet running for the benefit of its cast, creative team, crew, investors and everyone else involved, we arranged for Mandy Patinkin to play Pierre. However, we had the wrong impression of how Oak felt about the casting announcement and how it would be received by members of the theatre community, which we appreciate is deeply invested in the success of actors of colour - as are we - and to whom we are grateful for bringing this to our attention. We regret our mistake deeply, and wish to express our apologies to everyone who felt hurt and betrayed by these actions."
The show's producers announced in February that Onaodowan, a member of the original Hamilton cast, would step into the show's leading male role after Groban left the show in early July.
But this week, the producers cut short Onaodowan's expected nine- week tenure, saying that during his final three weeks, he would be replaced by Patinkin, who became famous with The Princess Bride (1987), won a Tony Award for Evita and is now featured in television's Homeland.
Onaodowan, who spent months preparing for the role, posted a response on Instagram last Friday morning before Patinkin dropped out, saying: "In spite of everything, I am grateful to have had the time to bring this character to life with a remarkable cast that truly make the Imperial Theatre a sacred place every night."
The show's grosses have dropped since Groban's departure. The show had been bringing in about US$1.2 million (S$1.6 million) a week with Groban in the role of Pierre.
It brought in US$923,571 last week, with Onaodowan as Pierre. That is still higher than the amount for most Broadway shows,and still more than the production's running costs, but not as much as the musical was likely to bring in with Patinkin. Patinkin was scheduled to play Pierre from Aug 15 through Sept 3.