Oprah's Broadway Acting Debut Could Have a Far-Reaching Impact on Theater
Oprah Winfrey is in talks to make her first appearance acting on Broadway. Appearing alongside Tony’s eternal belle of the ball, Adura McDonald, Oprah might snag the leading role of Thelma in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘night Mother. The play centers around a mother trying to desperately keep her daughter from committing suicide. The original production starred Kathy Bates as the daughter, Jessie, and Anne Pitoniak as the mother, Thelma. ‘night Mother isn’t Oprah’s first foray into theater — she produced 2005’s musical version of The Color Purple. However, acting on Broadway will be a first for the media mogul.
Oprah is riding high after the critical acclaim for her performance in The Butler and now that her daytime talk show has been off the air for a few years, her loyal, and massive fanbase would certainly chomp at the bit to see her live and in person. Though, some might be disappointed that each insanely over-priced ticket doesn’t come with a free car or humpback whale.
And this is also where Oprah’s celebrity on Broadway raises another concern for the already inaccessible-to- the-masses medium. It’s been way too expensive for a long time now to buy tickets (sans TKTS), and shows that are popular with younger audiences close much sooner than deserved. Broadway, it seems, continues to depend on its most popular demographic: older folks with disposable income. Which is sort of a sad state of affairs for live art when you come to think of it.
In the post-RENT era of Broadway there have been a handful of innovative and thrilling productions to sweep up younger and more diverse audiences — Spring Awakening, In the Heights, the Book of Mormon, and Kinky Boots. And still, they remain rarer in the overall breadth and scope of Broadway. The biggest phenomenons on stage right now are Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan’s two plays in rep, Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land. These guys are in their 70s and are absolutely killing it. Their productions were also crazy cheap during the snow storm, because the show must go on, right?
My hope is that with a little more income, energy, and fresh excitement earned by the older, more stately members of the Broadway stage, it will once again create space for the Awakenings and Mormons of the world to break through. Oprah's fanbase is incredibly far-reaching and her status in the entertainment industry is essentially royalty. Her casting could really make a huge impact: If Oprah can tell America what books to read, maybe she can finally get more people into the theater. And since she's already one of the richest people in the world, maaaaaybe we won't be charged an arm and a leg to see 'night Mother. Maybe.