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Redefining Disability Representation on Broadway

At this moment, there is a production in-the-works that has the potential to make musical theater history on Broadway. Crystal SkillmanBobby Cronin, both award-winning writers, have joined forces to develop their romantic musical comedy, (Un)Lucky In Love. The production received a developmental reading this last week, according to broadwayworld.com, led by Ali Stroker, who became the first actor in a wheelchair on Broadway in Spring Awakening, and has also starred on hit television series, “Glee”.

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Ali Stroker (image via)

With this project undergoing further development in New York, there’s a chance it will be the first musical in Broadway history to feature the lead actor in a wheelchair.

“Perhaps an actor in a wheelchair appeared centuries ago without the disability being noted, but what’s absolutely certain… is that this milestone is way past due,” says Howard Sherman to NY Daily News.

(Un)Lucky In Love, based on Cyrano de Bergerac, was workshopped in a lab production at West Texas A&M University with university students in 2015. In this earlier iteration, Abby, the protagonist, was played by a non-disabled individual. Abby is an aspiring writer who faces discrimination from a publisher based on her image.

When I first saw this new casting development, I was initially curious to how much the book and music had developed since this WTAMU production. I then realized that my assumption that there would need to be adjustments to the play based on the casting of a disabled actor resulted from a subconscious notion that disabled persons constantly need assistance.

This is a false notion and I believe the development of this piece will challenge audiences and myself to question any preconceived notions  about the capabilities of disabled persons.

Cronin, who had been Stroker’s professor at New York University, had her in mind while developing the musical, “I said to her ‘Ali, someone is going to write you a musical,’ and guess what? I wrote her a musical.”

The disabled community is one of many minorities that the American entertainment industry has egregiously neglected and who have lacked identifiable, authentic representation in the media. “‘There’s no question that it’s time, 20% of Americans have disabilities. But on stage and on film and TV, they are largely unseen'” says Sherman to the NY Daily News.

This issue is prevalent on an international community scale as well. Lyn Gardener of The Guardian notes in her article, Diversity in theatre: why is disability being left out?, that the “winds of change” are beginning to blow through English theater, specifically manifested in broadening racial diversity. Yet, similarly to the American theatre, disabled artists are discouraged and vocalizing their discontent with under-representation.

There is something slightly disconcerting at these significant steps toward greater representation of disabled persons on stage being championed by non-disabled individuals. Yet I hope that Ali Stroker and other artists with disabilities will begin to redefine how disabilities are defined on stage, just as John Belluso during his lifetime and work as a playwright.

Check in on www.bobbycronin.com to stay updated on (Un)Lucky In Love developments.

Hear Stroker sing with Cronin below via Broadway Unlocked:

 

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