Christian Dante White on bringing the legacy of Broadway performers to the forefront

Broadway veteran Christian Dante White has a full plate this spring. Not only is he a part of the cast of the hotly anticipated Broadway revival Shuffle Along, but he’s also prepping the next installment of Broadway Legacy, an online place to honor and celebrate the talents of black performers on the Broadway stage.

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What was the impetus for starting Broadway Legacy?

It’s interesting that we’re talking about diversity with the Oscars again this year because it’s kinda what started Broadway Legacy started last year. When the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag started, I was really upset and was wondering what I could do to change that and give African Americans I work with a platform. I had just done a photoshoot with the cast of Motown and realized I could do another, a-la Legends Ball from Oprah Winfrey, to promote my community, the Broadway community.

It has been really special seeing these men and women come together off the stage. The goal was creating something that wasn’t there to give people a platform, but also for me to say that they matter, that they are honored and that they deserve this love.

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How do you juggle being in a show on Broadway and making these shoots happen for Broadway Legacy?

It’s tough. Right now I’m rehearsing Shuffle Along so I have to wait until I have my days free again before we can do the next installment. I’m working with the photographer, Brent Dundore, on concepts but we just did a huge shoot so it needs some time to breathe. With these shoots, it’s like getting an all-star dream team together. Being able to have all of these people come together at once on a certain day is tough, but it all falls into place. I have people who want to be a part, but because of shows, haven’t been available yet.

As a black performer, give me some insight into the struggle you’ve faced in casting that has served as your personal inspiration for what you’re doing.

Besides this season, there aren’t a lot of black shows out there. There isn’t as much work for black performers as there is for a white performer. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of Scottsboro Boys, Book of Mormon, Motown and now Shuffle Along, but the way the Broadway press runs, the stars get the press and that’s it. There are people who are in the ensemble or who have been working for such a long time and no one knows who they are. That bothers me. I don’t want to wait until someone passes away to give them a minute of shine. These talented people don’t get the recognition they deserve on basis of there just not being enough jobs to go around. Not everyone is Audra McDonald and works steadily.

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You mentioned how this season, there are many shows catering to performers who aren’t white.  What do you think about the fact that it takes bringing in a “black show” to find roles for these talented people?

The reason why we are doing Shuffle Along is that it was such an important part of history and no one knows anything about it. I was just saying to someone the other day that I’ve never been in a show/never heard of a show where black people are just people. Usually things are about race, like Memphis, which is unfortunate. Why not have an all-black Next To Normal? It’s just about telling stories of people going through something, not about the color of the people on stage. We also have to create and write more. We can’t wait for others to tell our stories for us. There are so many writers and so much money out there to tell those stories with.

Besides your schedule with the opening of Shuffle Along, what’s on the horizon for Broadway Legacy?

The bigger goal is to do some exhibits around the city, a coffee-table book and perhaps a documentary. We are onto something here and I want to give these people as much of a platform as I possibly can.

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Photography by Christopher Boudewyns
Interview by Ryan Brinson
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