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Broadway embraces stories on race issues

WHEN United States President Barack Obama took his wife, Michelle, to a Broadway play by African American playwright August Wilson about a black father's search for freedom, ticket sales for the production spiked.

As the presidential visit cast a spotlight on Wilson's revival, playwrights and theater observers say both Obama's election and more open theaters and audiences have helped bring more stories of black culture to the New York stage this year.

Both on Broadway and off-Broadway, plays and musicals about black culture or race issues race are being praised and more are in the works.

"Now is the time to strike," said playwright Tracey Scott Wilson, whose play "The Good Negro" about the civil rights movement had a good off-Broadway run this year.

The election of the first black US president is having an enormous influence on culture and theater, Wilson said. "Obama is everywhere," she said. "This is a seismic event."

Some plays shown off-Broadway include "Ruined" by New York playwright Lynn Nottage, about rape in a Congolese brothel; "Inked Baby" by Christina Anderson about environmental racism; and Carlyle Brown's "Pure Confidence," a drama set in the world of Civil War-era horse racing.

On Broadway, Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" sold well; a musical revival of "Dreamgirls" about a group of black musicians opens in November; and a new musical, "Memphis," that opens in October looks at the roots of rock 'n' roll set against the segregation polices of the 1950s US South.

"You can't underestimate the importance of Obama on this theater season," said Joe DiPietro, who wrote the book and lyrics for "Memphis."

Others said Obama had influenced the theatrical landscape but a combination of factors had contributed to the current crop of stories about black culture.

Carlyle Brown, who has been called one of the more significant American playwrights to not regularly stage his plays in New York, said one reason there were more such works was "maybe a greater acceptance on the part of the audience."


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