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Oliviers 2017: Dreamgirls cast champions diversity in London theatre

Amber Riley, won best actress in a musical for her performance in Dreamgirls. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Cast members from Dreamgirls have called for colourblind casting and more black writers to improve diversity in the industry.

Performers including Amber Riley, Lily Frazer and Tyrone Huntley discussed diversity at the 2017 Olivier Awards, in which Dreamgirls was nominated across five categories.

Huntley, who was also nominated for best actor in a musical for Jesus Christ Superstar, said: “I think diversity in the industry is improving, but a lot more can be done.

“From my personal experience as a black actor, we need to start thinking about the material and we need to start encouraging more black writers. Then people write about their own experience and you’ll get more black writers putting more material out there for black actors.”

Frazer said: “It’s about making more opportunities, so it’s about casting your musicals colourblind or bringing musicals of colour to the West End, rather than saying ‘we need a show and it needs to be diverse’.

“Let’s see everyone, let’s give everyone the opportunity to be in a show, and if that doesn’t happen, fair enough – at least there was the opportunity. It’s a really positive time to be performing.”

Riley, who won an Olivier award for best actress in a musical, said it felt “exceptional” to be in a show where the three leads are three black women.

She added: “I think it’s incredible. In theatre, I feel like you want to see people that look like you and know that you can do that.

“I’m always so vocal about ‘you can do it, you can see me, and I’m not ashamed to sing’. I’m not necessarily the standard of what the industry may feel is beautiful or could be a star, but I‘m doing it anyway because I’m making my own way.”

Bernard, who won best supporting actor in a musical, and Marisha Wallace, who plays the alternate Effie White in Dreamgirls, argued that diversity is improving in London theatre.

Wallace said: “I feel like [London theatre] is getting very diverse. There are more shows with black performers in the cast than there are on Broadway right now.

“It’s actually better for me to be here than on Broadway because I could be a lead role in a number of shows. We’ve got Hamilton coming up, we’ve got Dreamgirls, we’ve got Aladdin.”

She added: “If we can keep diversity being the norm and not just a trend, then we will finally be getting somewhere. That’s what we’re trying to do on Broadway and that’s what London is finally doing successfully.”

Bernard said: “I think [the state of diversity] is always getting better – the fact that Dreamgirls is here and that in Harry Potter Hermione is played by a black woman.

“Our perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable are changing and the only way forward is to continue with this progression. I think it’s great in comparison to 50 years ago or so.”

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