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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tony nominee Adrienne Warren also weighed in, calling the situation "infuriating."
Great Comet composer Dave Malloy referenced the controversy in a vague tweet, in which he praised Onaodowan.
Ultimately, the one thing everyone can agree on is that Onaodowan has made a great Pierre and deserves the industry's support.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to representatives for Patinkin, Onaodowan, and Kagan for comments on the backlash.
In an Instagram post Friday morning, Onaodowan announced that he would not be returning to Great Comet after his last performance on Aug. 13.
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."
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."
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.
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.
(The headline on this story has been revised to reflect the latest news.)
Louis Peitzman is a deputy entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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