by Rashidra Scott
In support of the Broadway Community’s petition to have Eric LaJuan Summers included in the “In Memoriam” section of the 73rd Tony Awards Telecast, we are sharing messages of Eric’s impact on the legacy of American musical theatre.
Eric LaJuan Summers was inspirational. He stood up and fought for what was right when everyone else was too concerned with ruffling feathers to do so. Once he was diagnosed with cancer, he fought for his life with such dignity and grace that sometimes he had to be reminded that he didn’t need to be strong for those of us around him. He was strong, hilarious, vibrant. He was, and still is, an inspiration. He never gave less than 150% any time he hit a stage. He was a dream scene partner whose very presence forced anyone sharing a space with him to step up and keep up or get steam rolled by his brilliance.
He was as big an influence to those of us honored enough to work with him and/or call him friend as he was to those who didn’t know him personally. When the Lola costume from Kinky Boots was donated to The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, producer Daryl Roth successfully championed to include Eric’s name beside Tony Winner Billy Porter’s as someone who once wore those high red boots.
Younger, up and coming performers have spoken to his influence on their lives. There’s a production of Aida at the Engeman right now. The young man playing Mereb recently found out that Eric made his Broadway debut in the same role and he proceeded to gush about how, for years, he would study any clips he could find of Eric to learn from him. So often we forget or are otherwise unaware of our reach and influence. Eric has not only inspired his peers but generations coming up after him.
To have a career that includes film, numerous regional, and six Broadway credits it would seem an obvious decision to include someone as impactful to so many lives in the In Memoriam portion of the Tony Awards- a night intended to celebrate everything Eric was and meant to a multitude of people. It’s one thing to have your name printed in the Tonys program, but many of us also believe his legacy is worth a one to two second picture clip on screen. He’s already touched so many lives.
How many more can he reach and inspire posthumously with this one simple gesture? When someone touches our heart, soul, spirit- our being- they deserve to be honored. To think that we choose to follow the paths where our gifts lead and endure all the sacrifices that come with answering our personal calling and at the end of our lives, not being given every opportunity available to be honored by those in control of the institution you devoted your life to is unconscionable.