From Industry Reading To Broadway Show In Two Days

June 12th, 2013 § 0 comments

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

For those complacent about the ongoing reduction and elimination of professional arts journalism, I would like to offer a small but concrete example of where this decline is leading us.

On Monday June 10, the website published the following item, credited only to “BWW News Desk.” In my experience, this usually means that it is, more or less, taken directly from a press release.

Eric LaJuan Summers and Felicia Finley to Star in BASQUIAT THE MUSICAL Reading, 6/24

Basquiat, a new musical based on the life and times of 80’s art-star, Jean-Michel Basquiat will get a private reading on Monday June 24th.

Basquiat was a New York graffiti artist who shot to stardom in the early 80’s with his neo-expressionistic paintings and bad-boy image. He was a part of a cultural revolution that included fellow painters, Keith Haring and Fab 5 Freddy, New Wave bands Blondie and Talking Heads and Basquiat’s mentor, Andy Warhol. He was one of the most sought after painters in the 80’s until his untimely death in 1988 at only 27 years old. Written by Chris Blisset (music and lyrics), Matt Uremovich (lyrics) and Larry Tobias (book), Basquiat deals with the triumphs and failures of one of the art world’s most controversial figures.

The cast stars Eric Lajuan Summers (Motown) and Felicia Finley (Mamma Mia). Summers, who recently won an Astaire Award for Outstanding Male Dancer for Motown the Musical, will be reading the title role of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Other performers include: Roger DeWitt, Chad Carstarphen (In the Heights), James Lambert, Justis Bolding (Woman in White) Frank Viveros, Jason Veasey (Lion King), Gabriel Mudd, Rubin Ortiz, and Eddie Varley.

Basquiat is conceived and directed by Paul Stancato.

Now this is a pretty straightforward announcement of something that happens constantly in New York, a reading of a new musical. But in our era of search engine optimization, curation, consolidation, aggregation and “reporting” based solely on something written elsewhere, stories begin to grow. On Tuesday June 11, The Huffington Post carried the following “story,” with no byline, which escalates some of the language around this one-day industry reading. It is, presumably, drawn from the same source as the Broadway World item, or extrapolated from the item itself.

‘Basquiat The Musical’ Is Reportedly Happening

Move over Matilda, there is a new unlikely Broadway star in town. According to Broadway World, “Basquiat The Musical” will get a private reading on June 24 with stars Eric LaJuan Summers and Felicia Finley.

That’s right, art star Jean-Michel Basquiat will have his meteoric life immortalized in song, thanks to writers Chris Blisset, Matt Uremovich and Larry Tobias, and director Paul Stancato (who is married to Felicia Finley).

Of course if any artist were to get a Broadway debut, we would assume it would be Jean-Michel. The neo-Expressionist bad boy’s iconic style, charismatic persona and tragic early death make for an extremely compelling story. He’s already been the subject of documentary and film, and a blockbuster auction at Christie’s, but the musical threshold has yet to be crossed…until now.

Summers, who previously starred in “Motown,” seems like a good fit to play the graffiti king, leaving us wondering who will play Basquiat’s mentor Andy Warhol and brief beau, Madonna.

What do you think of the prospect of a Basquiat-based musical? And which artist would you most like to see doing jazz hands on Broadway? Fingers crossed for Gerhard Richter…

On the very same day that a one-day reading is announced by Broadway World, The Huffington Post informs us that Basquiat is “reportedly happening” as a Broadway show and the actor taking the lead role in the reading has been elevated to having “previously starred in Motown.” Considering that Motown has only been running for a couple of months, the use of past tense seems unwarranted, and the actor in question is a member of the ensemble there, not playing a lead role (the Motown ensemble plays a wide variety of small roles). In addition, this as-yet unseen reading is apparently already generating buzz, as the unnamed reporter opines that this actor “seems like a good fit to play the graffiti king,” even though the reporter is unlikely to have read the script, heard the score or been able to extrapolate from the actor’s Motown performance how his talents would bear on that material. Incidentally, as I write, 133 people saw fit to share this story with others, 67 tweeted it out and 463 “liked” it.

Then, in turn, this morning, does its own “reporting,” credited to Justin Ray (noting it is “via The Huffington Post,” but also citing Broadway World as a source) in which Basquiat is now a sure thing.

“Basquiat The Musical” Will Be Coming to Broadway

We have heard a slew of rappers refer to Jean-Michel Basquiat in song, however the influential artist’s involvement with music will be taken to the next level. Basquiat The Musical will be having a private reading on June 24 according to Broadway World.

Yes, the prolific art icon will now have a musical dedicated to his life starring Eric LaJuan Summers and Felicia Finley. The musical was written by Chris Blisset, Matt Uremovich, and Larry Tobias. It will be directed by director Paul Stancato. Although it is unexpected, we imagine it will be a pretty awesome story. It’s another thing he could have added to his hilarious resume.

Eric LaJuan Summers starred in the big musical Motown and is sure to play the part well. However details have not been released as to who will play Madonna or Andy Warhol. However we anticipate it will become popular, though it will be hard to outsell his works (which have gotten crazy amounts of dollars).

Yes, in less than 48 hours, Basquiat is not only “coming to Broadway” – all reference to a reading is gone in the headline – but Complex “anticipate[s] it will become popular” and the lead actor is “sure to play the part well.” The snowball effect is well underway, for a show that hasn’t even had its industry reading.

I don’t bring this up in order to cast any aspersions on the artists or creators of Basquiat; I genuinely wish them well. But these three items, taken together, demonstrate how quickly some simple facts about a show early in its development blow it up into a Broadway show based solely on the voracious appetite of news consolidators and headline fabricators. Have they done so wholly of their own accord, or were they easy prey for a wily publicist? Hard to say.

Since I was a child, I’ve known the phrase, “You can’t believe everything you read.” But nowadays, when it comes to news, when facts are elaborated upon and disseminated by multiple “news” sources, our skepticism needs to be greater than ever before. If this is the new standard for news, we shouldn’t be bemoaning the death of accuracy, even more than the anticipated death of print?

And as for arts coverage? Without reliable and verifiable reporting, whether in print or online, our descent into nothing but gossip draws ever closer.

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Full disclosure: I periodically cross-post blog entries from this site to The Huffington Post as an arts blogger, for which I receive no compensation, and I have not communicated with anyone there in connection with this piece.


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