In February, the producers of the Broadway musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” proudly announced that Okieriete Onaodowan, known as Oak, a member of the original “Hamilton” cast, would step into the show’s leading male role after the departure of Josh Groban.
But this week, the producers abruptly cut short Mr. Onaodowan’s expected nine-week tenure, saying that during his final three weeks, he would be replaced by a major Broadway star, Mandy Patinkin, who became famous with “The Princess Bride,” won a Tony Award for “Evita” and is now featured in television’s “Homeland.”
Although producers periodically replace lesser-known performers with big-name actors in the hopes of selling more tickets, the move at “The Great Comet” is prompting outrage among some black actors. They have turned to social media to express their concern that Mr. Onaodowan, who is African-American, was not given sufficient opportunity to succeed before being replaced by a white actor.
There are multiple complicating factors. Mr. Onaodowan’s tenure was always going to be short — it just got shorter. Mr. Patinkin is unquestionably better known on Broadway, which could boost publicity for the show and ticket sales during a traditionally slow end-of-summer period. (On Thursday, for example, he was interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show.) And the production is among the most diverse on Broadway, with an African-American actress, Denée Benton, playing Natasha, and multiple other nonwhite actors in the company. (This month, Actors’ Equity gave the show an award for “extraordinary excellence in diversity on Broadway.”)
But some performers are arguing that the casting change reflects a larger problem in the entertainment business. The move “raises questions about how Black actors are valued and supported within Broadway,” declared the website BroadwayBlack.
Rafael Casal, a writer and performer who called attention to the producers’ move on Twitter, called it “infuriating.”
“It’s like the integration of baseball, where a player has to be twice as good,” Mr. Casal said in a phone interview. […]