CBS and Paramount+ celebrate the New York theater scene's 74th ceremony
As Broadway begins its comeback in the coronavirus-pandemic era, Blair Underwood is happy to be associated with the New York theater scene.
Not only is the veteran of such series as “L.A. Law” and “Quantico” a current Tony Award nominee for acting in last year’s revival of “A Soldier’s Play,” he’s also a producer of the well-reviewed “Pass Over,” which last month became the first play to open since the Great White Way’s stages emptied in March 2020. How Underwood fares with his nomination for best actor in a play will be noted during “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!,” a concert-oriented special CBS and Paramount+ will present Sunday, Sept. 26, with “Hamilton” Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. as host. (Delayed for a year, the actual 74th Tony Awards ceremony will be carried live immediately before on Paramount+, hosted by six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald.)
At the time of the COVID-19-caused shutdown, the Charles Fuller-written “A Soldier’s Play” — which also starred David Alan Grier, Tony-nominated as well for the show, a contender for best revival of a play — almost was done with its run.
“We only missed two days,” the friendly Underwood notes. “We were already scheduled to do our archival performance for Lincoln Center, and we thought we wouldn’t get the chance and the show would be gone to the ether. The Roundabout Theatre Company called and said, ‘We’re going to do one last show. We won’t have an audience.’ And we did that final performance, and I’m pleased and grateful.”
The same feelings strike Underwood over the success that’s greeted “Pass Over,” Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s drama about two young men who share their hopes for better lives over the course of a long conversation. Underwood cites a newspaper article that questioned whether Hollywood was supporting Broadway adequately as his inspiration to get involved: “I called my agent and said, ‘How can I do something?’ I want to help somehow.”
Underwood’s producing role on “Pass Over” was the result, and he allows, “It’s definitely a play that I would be drawn to, given the subject matter of Black men on a street corner talking about pain and sorrow and love and aspirations … and especially given the times we’re in. The ending has changed from what it originally was, and it takes on a whole different resonance now.”
While he’s glad “Pass Over” has extra significance in helping to lead the charge for Broadway’s renaissance, Underwood reasons, “From a producer’s standpoint, you want it to work commercially. You’ve got to sell tickets. The beauty is that it also works creatively and emotionally, and good reviews for a play make a huge difference on Broadway. Bad ones can kill a show, but all art should speak to the audience and to the times.”