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In a climate where producing plays is tougher than ever, ‘Fat Ham’ took the risk

The producers of ‘Fat Ham’ share their strategy behind selling the new work to a Broadway audience.

(L-R) Marcel Spears as Juicy and Adrianna Mitchell as Opal in “Fat Ham” on Broadway (Credit: Joan Marcus)

“Fat Ham” may have won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but as the play’s producers will tell you, that doesn’t necessarily make the comedy by James Ijames an easy sell. “It’s so hard for a play to work on Broadway — and for a play with no stars and a writer and director who not as many people know,” said “Fat Ham” producer Darren Johnston, executive vice president of No Guarantees.

Just this season, the industry witnessed how hard it is when another play without big names doesn’t last, with “Ain’t No Mo’.” And though Broadway’s audience is gradually diversifying, it has been historically difficult to sell shows that star nonwhite characters. “Ain’t No Mo’” (like “Fat Ham”) centered a Black perspective. Despite glowing reviews and buzz from an Off-Broadway production at the Public Theater (albeit a production before the pandemic shutdown), “Ain’t No Mo’” closed on Broadway after 23 previews and 28 performances.

And yet, Johnston, along with producers Mandy Hackett of Public Theater Productions and Rashad V. Chambers, decided to transfer the Off-Broadway production from downtown’s Public Theater to Broadway. Adapted from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Ijames’ “Fat Ham” tells the story of Juicy — a Black, queer college student from the South — who is lost in his own family. The Broadway production began previews on March 21 and officially opened on April 12. Tough climate or not, this producing team had to sell it.

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