from 1927 to now... a whole bunch of musicals (but surely not all)
Last Edit: Chazwaza 02:02 am EST 01/24/23
Posted by: Chazwaza 01:42 am EST 01/24/23
In reply to: Musicals with both Black and White major characters? - Zelgo 09:40 pm EST 01/23/23

This is by no means a complete list. I did some wiki checking and such but not enough, and mostly based on memory and Tony noms.

Of course there's a big difference between written or conceived as black (or Asian, Hispanic etc) vs cast as black (or Asian, Hispanic etc) but with no mention or intention of race. (What is also worth noting, at least for the future of reviving the white-cast shows) is that the vast majority of musicals original or commonly cast with white actors have no mention of race, and little to no need for the characters to be white especially if not in a specific historical time and place where that matters or needs to be congruous with historical reality for the story/play to make sense.

It's interesting to see the history laid out because it really is surprising and inconsistent.

Audiences were given black and white leads in what is basically the first musical as we know them... 1927's cultural landmark SHOWBOAT. Not only featuring white and black major roles, including leads for both races, but with 1 of the 3 central relationships (you might even say 1 of 2) being specifically white and black (mixed race, but in that time/place that made you black... well, anyway the details of that are part of the plot).

In 1947 we had FINIAN'S RAINBOW, an anti-racism fable, with a major white character who turns black. A complicated entry but nonetheless.

In 1950 SOUTH PACIFIC was a show about racism, with 2 major but all too-minor islander characters. Besides Emile's non-white children who open the show and are enormous factors in the plot but without too much to do as characters, we have Bloody Mary who has 2 big songs and is a legit big role, and her daughter, but she does not get songs or much dialogue or voice because of the language barrier. This makes sense in context, but when looking at the show it does feel uncomfortably slanted toward voicing the white characters, including the ones with relationships with the native people (Cable and Emile). But it won a Tony for Juanita Hall (ironically, for your question, a black woman but not Asian/Pacific Islander) as Bloody Mary.

In 1952 with THE KING AND I we get an epic, legendary lead male role written as Siamese, with a white female lead. And though he was amazing and I think many people never thought twice about whether or not he was actually the right race for the role because he had a very unplaceable look, he was mainly of a white ancestry -- part Buryat (a Mongolian ethnic group indigenous to Siberia, he was also Russia, Swiss/German and Romani, according to wiki. So not white entirely but not not white. As a kid I believed he was at least some non-white race, I never thought to question if he was or if he had any tinted make-up on. But even though the role was technically played mainly (only?) by white men originally, King & I has not only one of the most famous lead roles in musical history written as non-white, but a cast full of non-white major characters (far more than the 1 white leading lady, her young son, and the visiting Brits in act 2)... Lady Thiang is also a big and very important role, as is Tuptim, Lun Tha, The Kralahome, and the oldest prince.

In 1957 we got JAMAICA, which starred two people of color (Lena Horne and Ricardo Montlaban)... I know it had white characters too, but I don't know the show well enough to be sure if they are major characters.

1958 WEST SIDE STORY famous has white and Puerto Rican major characters -- I'd say there are 5 leads of that show and 3 are Puerto Rican. Of course only Chita was actually hispanic of the actors playing those 3 leads originally... but they are written that way.

1961 KWAMINA ... i know little about this show but it did have a white female lead and 3 black male leads. Wiki says: The son of an African tribal chief returns home after attending medical school in London and finds his modern methods conflict with his village's traditions. He also butts heads with the village's white female doctor, but he ultimately falls in love with her.
and BYE BYE BIRDIE featured a lead actress who is hispanic, and played by actual hispanic actress Chita Rivera.

In 1962, before the Civil Rights Act even happened, NO STRINGS gave us the first full on black and white romance in a broadway musical that had nothing to do with race, nor any mention of their races - though the part originated by Diahann Carroll was conceived to be black. She won a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

In 1964 we got GOLDEN BOY which has black leads and also major white characters.

In 1966 MAME of course has Ito, a major character who is Japanese.

In 1967, HALLELUJAH, BABY! had black and white major character, though was very much about the black experience.

In 1969 HAIR had major black characters/players.


In 1971 TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA had white and black leads. .. though Raul Julia was Puerto Rican and so not actually white, but white-skinned, and so in the sense that you mean it I'm guessing this counts, especially at a time when for many seeing white skin and black skin in equal roles might have been a big deal.
and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR... which cast Judas as black. Of course everyone in this show was almost definitively some variety of brown in historical/geographical reality, but in the world of Broadway, Judas was Black and Mary Magdalene was Asian (mixed Japanese/Irish).

1972 gave us the broadway debut of black composer Scott Joplin's 1911 opera TREEMONISHA. I don't know a ton about it but it definitely seems to have major black and white characters.
and of course PIPPIN, the most showy star role in the showy show is The Leading Player, a fictional person, created for/portrayed by black actor Ben Vereen (and is very often cast this way, including in the revival). He of course won a Tony for his performance in this show, as did Patina Miller. (I think it was created win Vereen in mind but correct me if I'm wrong)

1973 SEESAW had a major (i think?) supporting character who was a black man, originated by currently-big TV star Giancarlo Esposito.

In 1976 A CHORUS LINE had 3 non-white major roles, a black guy (Richie), an Asian woman (Connie) and a Puerto Rican woman (Diana).

In 1978 RUNAWAYS had a mixed race cast, it's the kind of show that's hard to know who are leads, and I don't know it well enough to know if the black and other poc players were "major" or not.
WORKING also had black people, but I don't know it well enough to know if they were major roles or minor, or written as black or not. Did it also have other poc characters? Are they written that way?

1981 TINTYPES has a major black character if I'm not mistaken.

1982 if off-broadway hits count, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS... though some might argue that the 3 black characters are not "major" as they have little to no life of their own and are there to tell the story, but they are still major roles.

1985 BIG RIVER of course, and the lesser known GRIND (directed by Hal Prince).

1987 i am fairly certain the flop (but lovely) musical ROZA (also Hal Prince) had several major poc supporting characters, as her adopted children and her neighbor, but I forget.

1991 MISS SAIGON obviously has both white and Vietnamese leads. And John is always cast as black or poc, though I can't remember if he's specifically written to be.


1996 was huge for this with RENT, white and black leads and hispanic too.

1997 gave us THE LIFE with a very mixed black and white collection of leads and major characters

1998 RAGTIME - i mean come on!
and SIDE SHOW - Jake is always black (I can't remember how integral it is)
And I don't count The Lion King because they're not humans... but the cast was mixed.

and MARIE CHRISTINE, an extremely underrated musical with absolutely incredible major black and white characters
and THE CIVIL WAR by Wildhorn has both white and black major characters
and FOSSE maybe is worth mentioning, as a black woman won a Tony for her role... but I doubt race played into the show or casting, I never saw it.

2000 THE WILD PARTY (by LaChiusa & Wolfe) had 4 major black characters (Black, Eddie, Oscar and Phil) and of course 2 leads were cast black but not necessarily written "as" black: Dolores played (sumptuously) by Eartha Kitt, and Kate played thrillingly by Tonya Pinkins.
and Aida but I don't think it counts because while the cast was black and white, shouldn't they all be black/brown given that it takes place entirely in ancient Egypt?

2001 THE FULL MONTY had at least one black major supporting role, right?

2002 THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE -- the major character of Muzzie has always been cast a black in the musical, though I don't know if it's in the script (and of course was Carol Channing in the movie it's based on). And while a complicated matter, two other major characters in the show are Asian men.

2003 HAIRSPAY - incredible major white and black characters

2004 the masterpiece CAROLINE OR CHANGE

2005 SPELLING BEE had a major black character, Mitch Mahoney, though I can't remember if his race is mentioned.
If off-broadway counts I want to shout out DESSA ROSE by Ahrens & Flaherty, an absolutely beautiful musical (with a score that sits, I think, easily in their top 3 of their musicals produced in nyc so far), which is about black and white characters with many incredible major roles for both.

2008 IN THE HEIGHTS doesn't really have white people per se but it has light skinned (some fully "white-passing") people with dark skinned hispanic and black people.
and PASSING STRANGE i think (white played by black performers I believe but still written as black and white)

2010 MEMPHIS - best musical winner ABOUT a white and black relationship

2011 BOOK OF MORMON - best musical winner ABOUT a white and black relationship

2013 KINKY BOOTS - best musical winner ABOUT a white and black relationship
and HANDS ON A HARDBODY featured white and black (at least one, played by Keala Settle who was Tony nominated for it)
and FAR FROM HEAVEN if off-broadway counts

2014 IF/THEN had several non-white characters, including black - but don't know it well enough to be sure if anyone's race is written into the show.

2016 WAITRESS has a major supporting character who was black but not sure if written to be.

2017 GROUNDHOG DAY has a black female lead and white male lead, but I'm not sure if either character's race is specific in the script or text.
and DEAR EVAN HANSEN had a major black girl character, though not sure if any character is written as a race in this show.
and COME FROM AWAY had a couple poc characters (or actors at least), with a major black girl woman character - I think she is written as black.
And NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 ... while everyone in this story would likely be white (eastern Russia 1812), at least 2 of the leads have consistently been non-white (Natasha and Helene)

2018 while not white and black, I wanted to call out THE BAND'S VISIT for being a cast of Israeli Jews and Egyptian Arabs... the Jews are possibly white, and castable as white I'd say.
and MEAN GIRLS, I'm not sure it's written this way but Gretchen Wieners is now always played by an Asian (East or South) actress... though that is a Jewish name I think, I'm not sure if in the musical she's meant to be adopted or if it's just "color blind" casting.
And FROZEN gives us a black Kristoff, a character drawn as white in the film.

2019 HADESTOWN ... cast many ways, but always with major white and black characters, and always, it seems, with a white Orpheus and non-white Euridice (I've seen her as Asian and as Black)
and THE PROM... cast this way but maybe not written with race in mind
and TOOTSIE... white male lead, black female lead (and on tour the best friend guy was black too), but I don't think written with race in mind... maybe there are references/jokes about Michael being white, I don't recall

2021 MOULIN ROUGE (though I don't think written with race), TINA, JAGGED LITTLE PILL

and of course PARADISE SQUARE, as this is squarely about black and white sharing a neighborhood
and FUNNY GIRL, which has no intended black characters as written originally, but assuming the revised book is used going forward, Eddie is black and is a very major role.

2023 SOME LIKE IT HOT, of course.
and KIMBERLY AKIMBO - I've seen the show twice and I don't think race is mentioned anywhere but Seth is played by a black actor off-broadway and Broadway (same actor though, and I saw his understudy who is white, or was the night I saw it without Cooley in), and the teen students are also racially diverse though again I don't think it's written in.

I'm sure I'm forgetting MANY from the last 30 years or so as casting poc (particularly, one can observe, black) actors in roles not specifically needing and written to be white for any purpose of plot/theme/message got much more common... so it's hard to remember. But I do assume the OP was looking for roles written or conceived as black, not just cast that way.

Previous: re: The people call it RAGTIME! - MockingbirdGirl 05:42 am EST 01/24/23
Next: re: from 1927 to now... a whole bunch of musicals (but surely not all) - Zelgo 08:06 pm EST 01/24/23

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