A concert staging of a musical based on the 1998 animated movie The Prince of Egypt has been canceled after being heavily criticized for casting mostly white performers as Egyptian characters. The DreamWorks film was based on the Book of Exodus, centering on Moses and his eventually leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
The Bay Street Theater, which was co-producing the concert with DreamWorks Theatricals in Sag Harbor, New York, had scheduled the one-night-only performance for Aug. 13.
The concert had drawn criticism from many within the Broadway community, including Cynthia Erivo, who won a Tony for her starring role in The Color Purple in June. On July 23, Erivo tweeted, "It saddens me that after such a wonderful multicultural season on Broadway a piece set in Africa has not one POC." In a subsequent series of tweets the following day, she said she had spoken to the director and was assured that "the eventual incarnation [of The Prince of Egypt] will be wholly inclusive."
Bay Street artistic director Scott Schwartz defended the casting in a statement he released on July 25, clarifying that the cast of 15 — which included white Broadway stars Marin Mazzie, Stark Sands, Shuler Hensley, and John Cariani — included five non-white actors, and was only one of a few casts who have previously performed the material. (A concert of the first act held at Bay Street last year included black actors Norm Lewis and Patina Miller, among others.)
In a subsequent statement from Scott Schwartz released July 29, the artistic director reiterated that "the discussion that arose around the casting of this concert is an important one," but went on to say the specific reason for canceling the concert was "personal attacks and comments online and in social media against our actors and creative team that were unproductive." Schwartz wrote, "The team feels strongly that social media harassment and bullying of artists is not acceptable nor is it a positive or constructive way to continue this important discussion about diversity and racial authenticity in casting."
Schwartz also added, "the creative team and producers at DreamWorks Theatricals all believe that the story of Moses is one that is embraced and owned by millions and millions of people from every country, race and culture - and we hope that the project we are developing will honor the passion of those who love it. It has always been our aim to create the piece in a way that people of all races and cultures can one day tell the story."
BuzzFeed News reached out to representatives for Schwartz, Mazzie, Sands, Hensley, and Cariani. No one immediately replied to the request for a further comment.
This story has been updated to include the July 29 statement from Scott Schwartz.