On Oak’s Forced Leave
Hi friends. I know we’re all super pissed about Oak being asked to leave Great Comet to make room for Mandy Patinkin (I am too. Like I was looking forward to seeing him for months, and now I can’t) but I’m seeing a lot of posts on here that include some info that is just wrong, and wanted to clarify them. So here.
1.) Oak being dismissed had nothing to do with race. Let me explain, because I know that it 100% looks like it does, but it really doesn’t. Oak, while having a lot of fans in the Broadway community, is a total unknown outside of it. Mandy Patinkin is famous in film, television, and theatre (I mean, he was Inigo Montoya). While they are replacing a black actor with a white actor, that’s immaterial. What they’re really doing is replacing someone who won’t sell tickets (at least, extra tickets) with a celebrity who will (at premium prices). Is that better? Not really. But it’s an important distinction that a lot of people haven’t been making.
2.) He did not have “a week and a half” to sell tickets. I keep seeing this point, and it’s confused me greatly. Oak has been announced to take over Pierre since February. That was about five months ago. Any pre-sale that was going to happen would’ve already happened by now, and obviously same day sales weren’t good. They were expecting Oak to be a draw, but he wasn’t. Not Oak’s fault, but it’s just a fact.
3.) They’re not blaming Oak for not selling tickets. A continuation of the second point, no one is putting the success of the show on Oak’s shoulders (if anything, they’re putting it on Ingrid’s). However, they found someone who could make the show more successful, and he happens to be taking over Oak’s role. This does not mean that Oak was unsatisfactory in any way, shape, or form, and no one is trying to imply that.
4.) This is not the first time Great Comet has done this. Brittain Ashford was asked to go on vacation to make room for Ingrid Michaelson, for the exact same reason that Oak is ending his run early, and no one batted an eyelash. The only difference is that Brittain is coming back when Ingrid leaves, while most people in the business are pretty sure they have another celebrity lined up for Pierre, hence Mandy only performing for three weeks.
5.) He’s still getting paid. Just like Brittain, Oak is going to be fully compensated for the time he’s off. That doesn’t make things better, but please don’t think they’re just throwing him out on the street or something.
6.) What About Denée, Amber, Nick, Blaine, Azudi, Shoba, Paul, Summaya, Lulu, Andrew, Brandt, and Heath? If you’re wondering who those people are, they’re the other PoC in the cast of Great Comet, which has won multiple awards for its commitment to diversity this season. To further break those numbers down: four of them (Denée, Amber, Nick, and Paul) are in lead/supporting roles (out of a total of ten), one of which, Natasha, is the absolute archetype of “white Russian princess.” Not to mention that one of Natasha’s understudies, Shoba Narayan, is literally the only actress of Indian descent (that I know of) on Broadway right now. The Comet team has gone to great lengths to make their show as diverse as possible (they literally have their swings learn both “male” and “female” roles, and you can see same-sex couples at multiple points during the show, and it has a largely female creative team), and frankly it’s a little bit insulting to see people acting like Great Comet only casts PoC “when it’s convenient for them.”
7.) It was not Dave Malloy, Mandy Patinkin, or Rachel Chavkin’s fault this happened. I’ve seen people attacking Dave and Rachel for allowing Oak to be replaced, and Mandy himself for replacing him. Not okay. If you want to blame anyone, blame the producers. Dave and Rachel have literally no say beyond: “Yeah. We’d love Mandy to be in it. Not sure when, though.” and Mandy just gave them the times he was free between shooting the next season of Homeland, and it happened to be the last three weeks of Oak’s run.
8.) This is all about making money. Broadway shows aren’t cheap to run in general, but a show like Comet is an absolute beast. 30+ cast members, a huge band, a giant crew, etc. Their weekly running costs are probably somewhere in the range of 700k-800k a week. Since Josh left, they’ve been making ~900k a week, which is fine, if they want to be in debt for the next ten years. Comet had a huge amount of money put into it, and the people running it are definitely feeling pressure from investors to pay it back. This means they have to stick a celeb in every once in a while.
9.) I still don’t think it’s okay. This all being said, I think it was an absolutely shitty move on the producers’ part (they could’ve handled it a lot better) and am livid. (Though, I do have to admit I love Mandy Patinkin. I just wish he came at a different time.) But while I’m angry, I think it’s important not to make this into something it’s not.
Okay. That’s all.