by Daniel Torres
One of the greatest things about being in the cast of Beautiful for the past five years has been the opportunity to get to know and work with so many incredible black actors from the New York theatre community. Beautiful is by far the most diverse company I have ever had the honor of being a part of. If you haven’t seen Beautiful you may be surprised to learn of the gender equality and beautiful diversity that makes up our show. Breaking Beautiful down by the numbers you’ll find 24 actors in the cast. That’s an even split of 12 men and 12 women. And that’s 11 roles for black actors and 13 roles for Caucasian actors. I’m Latino so if we want to go there, that’s 12 people of color in our cast and 12 white. For me, those numbers have always been something to celebrate! And I can tell you there is real value and importance in having this level of representation in a company.
Just think back on the last five years and you’ll no doubt recall the racial and gender equality movements that we as a nation have been grappling with. Hearing their perspective first hand, being able to have those tough and important conversations in the dressing room and during rehearsals has been such an educational experience for me. It’s not only helped me evolve as a human being but I think it actually makes me a better actor and certainly a better co-worker.
For five years we have heard audience members say, "I knew I was getting Carol King’s story but I had no idea I’d be hearing from The Shirelles and The Drifters too.” or my personal favorite “I didn’t know Carole King even wrote that music!” Indeed, learning the early music in King’s repertoire is one of the most thrilling parts of the show.
What’s interesting to me is that in our retelling of King’s true-life story, people are actually surprised to find that there are black people in our show. Sure Goffin & King and Mann & Weil wrote these timeless classics but it was legendary Black artists like The Shirelles, The Drifters, Little Eva, and Aretha Franklin who made their music famous! You cannot tell the coming of age story of Carole King without including these black artists and the show is all the better because of it.
Now since it’s Black History Month allow me to tell you a bit about the Black History that has been made at Beautiful. Beautiful has been a launching pad for black talent in New York City ever since we opened.
Look back at the alumni that have moved through our company and you will find Carly Hughes who now stars on American Housewife, Aisha Jackson: the first black actress to play Anna in Frozen, Brittney Johnson: the first black actress to play Glinda in Wicked, Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical writers Douglas Lyons and Melvin Tunstall, as well as countless current principals in The Lion King, Hamilton, and the soon to open Ain’t Too Proud. And that’s just naming a few. Beautiful has been a stepping-stone to the careers of some of the most successful and ground breaking black talent in New York City. And this Black History Month, I wanted to shine a big ol’ celebratory light on them.
That brings us to The Black is Beautiful Project. In an effort to celebrate all of these incredible black artists both then and now and inform the wider community of the diversity in our cast, I asked my co-workers if I could produce a portrait series called “Black is Beautiful.” I told photographer Kai Ravelson about the project and she immediately jumped on board, generously volunteering her time and incredible talent. Darren Melchoirre, the Associate Director of Art and Design for Roundabout Theatre Company, enthusiastically agreed to create our graphic design.
We worked out a schedule and we had our sitting. I knew we were going to get some amazing pictures but what I didn’t know was how good being an active ally for my friends was going to feel. It hasn’t only been a fun project; it’s deepened mutual respect and friendships in ways I couldn’t have predicted.
Who knows where the “Black is Beautiful” project might be able to go from here. After all, representation matters and diversity should be celebrated! So in honor of this Black History Month the cast of Beautiful is here to proudly say… Beautiful is black. And Black is most certainly Beautiful.