How ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ Prepared Kandi Burruss for ‘The Wiz’ on Broadway

“It’s not easy to get investors for an all-Black cast,” the Tony-nominated producer tells TheWrap

Kandi Burruss, "Thoughts of a Colored Man" cast (Getty Images, Julieta Cervantes)
Kandi Burruss/"Thoughts of a Colored Man" cast (Getty Images/Julieta Cervantes)

Going into Broadway’s musical revival of “The Wiz,” Tony-nominated producer and former “Real Housewives” star Kandi Burruss says that she took lessons from her previous experiences working in theater, particularly her first production, “Thoughts of a Colored Man.”

She told TheWrap the biggest lesson she learned was how crucial of a role investors play in keeping shows alive when financial crises, like a global pandemic, arise.

“That’s what taught me the importance of investors for a show,” Burruss said, looking back on the COVID-induced downfall of her first play “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” “You obviously know that you need investors for a Broadway show, but that was my first time. And it’s not as easy to get investors for an all-Black production, as some of the other productions out there. So we don’t have the same money to just float a show if it’s not up and running.”

On June 18, 2021, it was announced that the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter had signed on to produce Keenan Scott II’s Broadway debut “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” which explored the diverse lives, struggles and aspirations of seven Black men living in Brooklyn. The play was directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, and starred Dyllón Burnside, Bryan Terrell Clark, Da’Vinchi, Luke James, Forrest McClendon, Esau Pritchett, Tristan “Mack” Wilds and Scott. The production was a first-of-its-kind, as it was written and directed by a Black man and starred a Black man in the lead role.

“The show was important. That piece that [Scott] wrote needed to be seen, and I think especially during that that time,” Burruss said, referring to a time when social unrest was rampant following the murder of George Floyd, which reignited the Black Lives Matter movement along with other human rights efforts. “People needed to see Black men in a different way, and that is why I wanted to be involved. We did things differently, but that was my first time and it was a lot of obstacles.”

Just a little over a month after its Broadway opening at the Golden Theater on Oct. 13, 2021, the production announced it would be closing its doors as a result of COVID-related setbacks.

At the beginning of the pandemic, all 41 Broadway theaters shut down. A year later, in September 2021, Broadway made its way back, but ticket sales were still struggling as people readjusted to a new normal due to tight public safety protocols.

Even with financial backing from heavy-hitter venture capitalists and producers like Arlan Hamilton and James L. Nederlander, “Thoughts of a Colored Man” couldn’t sustain itself. Burruss said she was distraught knowing the show had to take a premature and sudden bow.

“I was devastated when we had to shut the project down. It wasn’t because people weren’t supporting it,” she explained. “They were, but with the rules that they had on Broadway during that time — people were out for COVID, then you had to shut the show down, but you had to keep it up, paying full costs for the show during those weeks. So it bankrupt the show, basically.”

Burruss continued, “That’s why I always tell people: you have to get out there and support the shows if you want to see more of them because it’s all about funding. That’s the only way the shows can be successful. So I wanted to do more after that.”

Despite the unfortunate situation, Burruss was only more encouraged to ensure the success of her second show “The Piano Lesson,” a revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. The cast included Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington, Danielle Brooks, Trai Byers and others. It was directed by Tony nominee LaTanya Richardson.

piano lesson
Samuel L. Jackson and John David Washington in “The Piano Lesson” (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

“I didn’t want it to like, ‘one and done,’ so we decided to come back with ‘The Piano Lesson,’ which obviously, we had some wonderful faces, but I felt like I went even harder on the promotion part of the show and making sure I was going everywhere to get the word out there about the show. I think the things that I did for the show’s first show also helped benefit the second one because it got more of us — Black people — coming to Broadway. So ‘The Piano Lesson’ was extremely successful. And don’t get me wrong, we had some very big stars in our show. But you’d be surprised, it still wasn’t as easy to get the funding, to get the investors that we wanted, just because, they just don’t do the same when it’s an all-Black cast.”

“The Piano Lesson” debuted on Sept. 19, 2022, at the St. James Theater. In 2023, it was nominated for Best Revival of a Play. Burruss praised the play not only for its acclaim, but also for its cultural impact.

“The show was very successful, and on top of that, 70% of our ticket buyers were first-time Broadway goers. So this is the first time people had ever gone to see a Broadway show,” Burruss said, explaining that she’s implemented what she’s learned from “Thoughts of a Colored Man” and “The Piano Lesson” into her process as a producer for “The Wiz.”

Easin’ on down the yellow brick road as the stars of “The Wiz” revival — which began its month-long run at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 13 ahead of a March 29 Broadway premiere — are Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy, Avery Wilson as Scarecrow, Kyle Ramar Freeman as Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as Tin Man, Wayne Brady as The Wiz, Deborah Cox as Glinda and Melody Betts as Aunt Em/Evilene.

"The Wiz the Musical" (Photos courtesy of Creative PR)
“The Wiz the Musical” (Photos courtesy of Creative PR)

“We took a different route and how we marketed it,” Burruss said. “We took a lot of those same ideas with [‘The Wiz’] tour. But this time, we decided to tour the show before we hit Broadway so it has the chance to get even more excitement about it leading up to Broadway run, and it gives us time to really tweak it and perfect it so that when it hits Broadway, we ain’t playin’ with y’all.”

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