Black hair is being celebrated on Broadway and the national stage this weekend. The League of Live Stream Theater (LOLST) has partnered with the Manhattan Theatre Club to run the final Broadway performances of Jaja's African Hair Braiding by award-winning playwright Jocelyn Bioh on the streaming platform, making the lively one-act accessible to nationwide audiences.
That's good news for Somi Kakoma, who stars in the play's title role. "Seeing natural hair on the Broadway stage enables us to bring our specific life experiences to telling stories on stage," Kakoma shares with EBONY. Her sentiments tap into the Crown Act, important legislation protecting people wearing natural hairstyles. "Historically, Black performers have been held to Eurocentric beauty standards," Kakoma continues. "This is a way of ensuring that whether on the stage—or in any kind of industry context—the workplace is a space in which we can show up as ourselves and that all ethnicities and racial backgrounds can be embraced and acknowledged and worthy of professional opportunities."
Kakoma isn't the only actress rocking braids on the theater's main stage. Kimber Elayne Sprawl is the first Black woman to star as Nessarose, Elphaba’s younger sister, in the New York-based production of Wicked. "The honor of being the first Black woman to play Nessarose on Broadway makes me feel proud. It's a special feeling knowing that more opportunities for Black women are being created in the world of such an iconic piece of theatre history," she tells EBONY. She's ecstatic that she's wearing a natural hairstyle throughout the production. "There is something about rocking box braids in a predominantly white professional space that is so empowering. Now we can talk about how my hair requirements bring more opportunities to Black hair and wig stylists on Broadway."
Allison Semmes, one of the dazzling stars of Harmony, which opened on Broadway on November 13, brings a Black hair pioneer to life in the production. She stars as Josephine Baker in the real-life story of the Comedian Harmonists. Josephine Baker and her sleek, cropped bob, considered revolutionary in her time, made her one the first African American internationally recognized performers. When Semmes slips into the iconic hairstyle for her Josephine Baker-inspired show-stopping number, it "captures the joie de vivre of this beautiful woman and her legacy," the actress declares to EBONY. Josephine Baker created a hair care product line, opening the door wider for Black female entrepreneurs in the beauty space.