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"Great Comet" Is Closing As A Result Of The Casting Backlash

It was announced that Mandy Patinkin would take over for Okieriete Onaodowan, ending Onaodowan's run three weeks early. Following backlash to the casting, Patinkin dropped out and now, the show is closing.

Originally posted on
Updated on

When it was announced on Wednesday that Broadway veteran and Homeland star Mandy Patinkin would step into the role of Pierre in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet, theater fans were initially thrilled.

Eugene Gologursky / Getty Images

Patinkin, who made a name for himself with shows like Sunday in the Park With George and Evita, hasn't been on Broadway since An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in 2012.

But Patinkin was scheduled to join the cast Aug. 15, meaning the current star, Okieriete "Oak" Onaodowan, will be leaving the show on Aug. 13, three weeks before his previously announced departure.

Chad Batka

Onaodowan is best known for his role as Hercules Mulligan in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. He joined Great Comet as Pierre on July 11, taking over for original star Josh Groban. Onaodowan's run was originally scheduled to end Sept. 3.

It was not immediately clear if Onaodowan had chosen to end his run early or if he had been asked to do so in order to make room for Patinkin, a bigger name. But producer Howard Kagan confirmed people's fears that it was the latter.

Chad Batka

"This continues our show's remarkable history of having great actors and singers see the show as audience members, only to tell us they are inspired to join the cast!" Kagan said in an interview with Broadway World on Wednesday. "Whenever possible we will accommodate them as we did here with Mandy and his Homeland TV schedule. Oak, who was scheduled to appear as Pierre for this period graciously agreed to make room for Mandy, and we sincerely hope that Oak will return to us in the fall or winter. He is a terrific Pierre."

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Response from the theater community has been largely negative. Much of the backlash has centered on the fact that — in an industry that still struggles with diversity and inclusion — a black leading man is being replaced with a white leading man.

Imagine 2 weeks into your great review in a new show, the producers come to u & "ask" you to step down so a white a… https://t.co/zL8RO8bAkP

Onaodowan stars alongside Denée Benton as Natasha, making Great Comet (at least through Aug. 13) the only current Broadway show other than The Lion King to feature two black leads.

In a series of tweets, Tony Award–winner Cynthia Erivo said she was "flabbergasted" over how the casting was handled.

Mandy is a wonderful man, Oak is a wonderful man, this has been handled badly. Ticket sales shouldnt override a person doing his job.

She went on to say, "The disrespect of both actors is highly concerning."

Tony nominee Adrienne Warren also weighed in, calling the situation "infuriating."

It is infuriating because it happened to a FELLOW ACTOR. Giving an actor a 1.5wks to generate ticket sells and then… https://t.co/RgLDDxBA5m

Great Comet composer Dave Malloy referenced the controversy in a vague tweet, in which he praised Onaodowan.

love @OakSmash. love comets. love fans. o vultures of capitalism gross & inevitable. o muddles of internet toxic & beautiful. back to whale.

"Vultures of capitalism gross & inevitable" could be a reference to the financial necessity of bringing in a bigger star to boost ticket sales, while "muddles of internet toxic & beautiful" seems to refer to the outrage this casting decision has provoked. ("Back to whale" is a reference to the Moby Dick musical he's writing.)

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Ultimately, the one thing everyone can agree on is that Onaodowan has made a great Pierre and deserves the industry's support.

So to you @OakSmash I offer my sincere apologies for this mishandling. You deserve better, and are worth much more than this.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to representatives for Patinkin, Onaodowan, and Kagan for comments on the backlash.

UPDATE

In an Instagram post Friday morning, Onaodowan announced that he would not be returning to Great Comet after his last performance on Aug. 13.

Instagram: @oaksmash

Shortly after that, the producers of Great Comet released a new 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 theater community, which we appreciate is deeply invested in the success of actors of color – 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."

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Malloy also commented further in a Twitter thread, in which he said he was "sorry for how everything went down" and explained that the show had to bring in a bigger name because it was "on the brink of closing." He also apologized for having "missed the racial optics of it." He concluded by saying that Patinkin is "devastated," and "I am not sure that the show has a future now."

hey all. bit of a devastating last 24 hours. so sorry for how everything went down. nothing but love and artistic awe for @OakSmash 1/

@OakSmash it’s apparently a weird show. turns out it needs a name to sell it. 3/

@OakSmash so sorry to have missed the racial optics of it. we had to do same thing with dear beloved brittain so in… https://t.co/UmpCSOweWV

@OakSmash signing off now. going for ice cream or whiskey or likely both. so sorry. thank you for the love. 7/

Later, Patinkin told the New York Times that he is withdrawing from Great Comet.

BuzzFeed News has reached out for clarification on whether that means Great Comet will be closing early.

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And then the official Great Comet Twitter account said the following:

On Aug. 8, it was announced that the Great Comet is closing. Its final performance will be on Sept. 3.

.@GreatCometBway will play its final performance on 9/3. Raise a glass w. us in 19th Century Russia one final time.… https://t.co/Frl2JbOHYG

(The headline on this story has been revised to reflect the latest news.)

Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

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