Even with these bold changes, the musical is still very much centered around blackness, which continues to struggle for prominence on the Broadway stage despite recent productions of August Wilson's Jitney, The Color Purple and Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. For both Darrington and Dandridge, black storytelling remains an important reason why they continue to perform on stage.
For Darrington, it’s gratitude for the “black brothers and sisters who suffered and went without recognition or support for many, many a year to pave the way for us to be here today,” to whom he says he owes his career. The actor, who made his Broadway debut in Ragtime, is honored to “take the space with respect not only for them but also for the people coming after me. It is an honorable legacy to hold on to the past, to provide some great hope and some great tutelage for the future and those who come after me.”
“There is nothing like seeing yourself reflected [on stage],” adds Dandridge, who also stars as Pastor Grace on OWN’s Greenleaf. While making the point that the actors on stage are “here not because of stunt casting, but because everyone up here is excellent,” she also commends the show for concentrating on the human experience. “We are releasing ideas on what the gender should be [and] what the race should be.”
Dandridge also believes that love remains the overarching message for the show, and how love during times of disaster -- particularly with what’s happened in Puerto Rico -- means we must “must care for our fellow man, and in the midst of that, what we get to do is come together.” The recent devastation brought on by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria has only made the show feel timelier. “Disasters are happening at an alarmingly increasing rate,” Arden adds. “I hope people are inspired by how people rebuild -- not only by rebuilding buildings and restoring power, but how we tell, and how we give and share love with each other, because that is rebuilding.”