Sunday, December 5

The Perfect Date: Ohio’s Shavey Brown is ready to take you to “The Prom”

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Shavey Brown has played a lot of parts in his theatre career: Curtis Taylor Jr. in “Dreamgirls,” Old Deuteronomy in “Cats,” Freddy Eynsford-Hill in “My Fair Lady.”

But one of his favorite roles is that of Ohioan, a part this Cincinnati native plays to perfection.

“I love Ohio, and I’m proud to be from there,” says Brown.

Currently on tour with the national production of the crowd-pleasing musical “The Prom,” Brown will be returning to his Ohio roots when he appears in Cleveland’s famed Playhouse Square from November 2-21, playing the part of publicist extraordinaire Sheldon Saperstein.

The Buckeye Flame caught up with Brown before he took to the stage at the majestic Connor Palace to talk all about his dream parts, navigating COVID, and why we all should attend “The Prom.”

So, born and raised in Ohio?
Yes! I grew up in Cincinnati. Although technically it was Fairfield, Ohio, but nobody knows where that is, so I always say Cincinnati.

Was getting on stage always the goal?
It always was. Funny story: I knew I wanted to be on stage the minute I went and saw a production of “West Side Story” at my local high school when I was in 8th grade.  I was watching the show, and there was another girl on the stage where I grew up—not many Black girls lived in our town—and she was one of the leads. I was mesmerized by her. To see someone who looks like me up on stage doing what I want to do made me think, “Ok this is a possibility!” From that moment on, I made it a destination to be on stage.

What was the dream role?
<laughs> Growing up watching Barbara Streisand in “Funny Girl,” that was the dream role. Watching that movie, seeing her on screen? I thought, “I want to do what she is doing.”

Now the dream role is to originate something that is new and innovating, something that’s not been seen before.

But If I had to pick a dream role currently on Broadway, I would probably go with the Genie in “Aladdin.”

That’s a great part!
It is! He gets to do it all. It’s magical. I love things that are otherworldly. He can sing, dance, and make the audience laugh. And he can bring joy to people’s lives even as he is trying to find his own joy. A part like that would be great to play and my kids would love it.

I’m a ginormous “Dreamgirls” fan and saw that you have played Curtis Taylor Jr. Please tell me, what is wrong with him?!
I get asked that question a lot. “He’s so rude, he’s so mean, he’s so conniving.”

But I think that Curtis is a man who grew up at a time in America when Black men and women weren’t valued. The only way he saw to get to where he wanted to be was to do what he saw happen to people he knew. He thought that was the way it should be. And he just got caught up with fame and trying to live with that white-collar life. And he was just jealous that he can’t sing like the Dreamgirls. <laughs>

You mentioned seeing someone who looked like you on stage. What was it like navigating this theatre industry as a gay Black male?
At the beginning of my career, I was told, “You are tall. You are strapping. You’ll work more if you play these leading men. These straight men.”

Now looking back at it, it’s kind of laughable. Because I’m an actor. I can be me, and audition and act as if I’m this person and not have to portray that in my actual life.

Maybe I lost out on some roles, because they would say, “There’s another guy who can play this a little more straight.” It wasn’t until the last 5-10 years that I said, “Forget it. The only way I can be myself is to truly be me and to bring forth what I know to my work.” To do “The Prom” has been exhilarating because this is the first time I’m playing a gay man on the stage.

Talk to us about being a performer during COVID when everything was shut down and you couldn’t perform your craft on stage.
I have two small kids. I was on tour at that time with the Lincoln Center production of “My Fair Lady” and suddenly came home to teach school to two young boys. For the first part of the lockdown I just wanted to make sure that they were ok.  It took me taking some time for myself—especially with meditation and some Peloton—to really hone in on what’s important in my life And what I examined was that my love for my family is the most important. But I also spent time that time to find a creative outlook, whether that was taking directing courses or watching shows on youtube or singing in the shower. My partner was like, “I loved your concert today!” And it was just me doing full-on, hour-long concerts in the shower.

Anyone who was an artist during that time had difficulty because we were asking those tough questions. This was out of our control and I applaud all of us for coming out on the other end—and maybe in a way stronger—where we now know our values and what’s important to us.

And now all those Peloton users out there are going to want to know: what’s your Peloton screen name?
<laughs> I’m boring. It’s my name “shaveybrown”.

The cast of The Original Broadway Company of The Prom (Deen van Meer)

You’ll be returning to Ohio for The Prom. Is it different for you being on an Ohio stage?
It is! This will be really fun. We were in Columbus for “My Fair Lady” and that’s when the state of Ohio said “Good night!” and shut down for COVID. It will be really great to be in Cleveland. I haven’t been there in a very long time. My family will be coming up to see it on opening weekend.  I wish we were in Cincy to get some Graeter’s Ice Cream, but my mom is coming up and I told her to pack some in a cooler.

Finally, sell our readers on getting tickets “The Prom.”
Oh my gosh, come and get tickets! It’s a beautiful, funny show. You’re going to be laughing hysterically. You will shed a few tears. “The Prom” is all about acceptance, love and learning from each other. Bring your whole family. My kids are 7 and 8 and they love the music. It’s truly and utterly hands-down the show we all need right now. 🔥

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About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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