Already reeling following a disappointing night at the Tony Awards and the departure of star Josh Groban, “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” took another major hit last week.
Looking to goose sales of the flagging production, Broadway vet and Tony Award winner Mandy Patinkin was tapped to replace Okierite “Oak” Onaodowan in the starring role of Pierre. Given Broadway’s struggles with casting people of color, the move to replace Onaodowan, who is black, with Patinkin, who is white, was met with a flood of negative press. Patinkin announced on Friday that he would not join the cast after all, leaving the musical without a plan for after Onaodowan’s departure on August 13th.
“I hear what members of the community have said and I agree with them, the “Homeland” and “Princess Bride” alum tweeted. “I am a huge fan of Oak and I will, therefore, not be appearing in the show.” He was scheduled to join the cast for a limited run from August 15 through September 3.
Onaodowan replaced Groban in the title role earlier this month. It was originally announced that he had “graciously agreed to make room for Mandy” – stepping aside during the limited run, presumably to return after. But the actor decided to step down for good once Patinkin took the role over.
In a post on Instagram, he said:
“I always try to speak from my heart with love after listening. I have listened. I’m more than grateful for all the love and support the community and fans have shown me. It makes what we do and deal with as artists easier when you know many people do indeed have your back and that you are valued for your work. In spite of everything, I am grateful to have had the time to bring this character to life with a remarkable cast that truly make the Imperial Theater a sacred place every night. My pops would always tell me to be aware of the company you keep. I’m fully aware of the remarkable talents this cast holds, with Denee [Benton] at the helm. My work is just a reflection of what they bring, have brought and will continue to bring, be it me, Mandy, whomever is co-pilot to Denee. AUGUST 13th WILL BE MY LAST SHOW! I will not be returning. So make room in your schedule between now and Aug 13th. Come through, have a drink, and let’s celebrate the time we have because as always, that’s all we are guaranteed. We make the most of the gifts we are given and I’m driven to deliver a defining moment in time, with every line I let loose on stage.”
The string of bad publicity is the latest for the show, which was riding high with Groban at the forefront, earning 12 Tony nominations. The show, however, only won two, with Bradley King winning for Best Lighting Design and Mimi Lien for Best Scenic Design.
With just two weeks remaining in Onaodowan’s stint on the show, a replacement has not yet been named.