NEW YORK—Gracing a Broadway stage is a bucket-list accomplishment for many actors, and debuting in a lead role is rare. Crystal Lucas-Perry, BA '10, is taking that accomplishment up a notch, starring in two Broadway productions within a month—first as John Adams in a groundbreaking reboot of the Tony Award-winning musical "1776" and then reprising her Lucille Lortel Award-winning role as Passenger 5 when hit comedy "Ain't No Mo'" made its debut Broadway run beginning Nov. 9.
"Being part of one amazing show is such an honor; being a part of two is a dream come true!" she says. But this dream scenario is no surprise; exceeding expectations and breaking barriers is in her DNA. "I come from a family of game-changers and history-makers. My grandfather, William ‘Bill’ Lucas, was the first Black sheriff of Wayne County in the state of Michigan."
As a Black woman leading the all female, transgender and nonbinary cast of the "1776" revival—a production detailing the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence—Lucas-Perry seizes the opportunity to examine the pivotal moment in American history through the lens of someone who would never have been allowed in the room.
"I'm very aware that this is a monumental moment for American theatre, because the show has continuously been done in certain ways. So for it to be cracked open is pretty exciting," she says. "Hopefully it allows people to find places and opportunities where they see themselves in the piece."
Lucas-Perry finds validation in an exchange Adams has with Edward Rutledge, who wants to uphold slavery.
"Rutledge says, 'Are you calling Black slaves Americans?' And as a Black woman in this show, I get to say every night, 'Yes. And they're people, and they're here,'" she says. "I can't echo enough the fact that we all have a place and a space, even when it feels like there hasn't been room for those voices to come through."
Her voice is being heard loud and clear as the production opened in October to rave reviews, including high praise from Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a trailblazing figure in her own right.
"She was definitely one of my inspirations throughout this process, so to have her there in the flesh and to have her be able to celebrate opening night was probably one of the highlights of my career," says Lucas-Perry. Jackson met her backstage on the first night of her show's pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Having her as part of this journey just brings things completely full circle and couldn't be more right."
Lucas-Perry had another full-circle moment in New York when Dr. Joan Herrington, chair of Western's Department of Theatre, whom Lucas-Perry describes as her "rock," attended the Broadway show during opening week. Lucas-Perry describes her time at Western as instrumental in building a strong artistic foundation, remembering the moment she walked into the Gilmore Theatre Complex to audition for the theatre program nearly two decades ago.
"I already felt like I was in a professional space. I was already in a dedicated space for art to take place and for growth to occur; I could just feel it. It was the energy; it was speaking with the faculty. I was able to connect with so many people that I hold dear today," says Lucas-Perry, who received the Early Career Award as one of the College of Fine Arts' 2021 Distinguished Alumni. "The fact that I'm still in contact with all of these professors, that our relationships have continued, speaks to the fact that I did make the right choice, and I felt it all those years ago."
She appreciates Western's holistic approach to training, allowing her to gain experience in theatre productions and musicals as well as emphasizing continued growth and development.
"I always felt so supported from the second I was (at Western) to not just be an actor but a complete artist," Lucas-Perry says. "It wasn't about just throwing you into the industry and saying, 'Good luck.' They also prepare you for the next phase of your artistic education, which was really important to me."
Now as she performs in her second Broadway production in "Ain't No Mo'"—another role examining the Black experience in America and challenging the status quo—Lucas-Perry is intent on making an impact and giving historically marginalized communities a voice through her work.
"I've always been focused on finding my power. And within that, one of the things was finding the role that I wanted to make sure that I set foot on that Broadway stage with. And this is that," she says.
"It means a lot. And it also is just further validation of the fact that not only do I deserve to be here, but this is the natural trajectory for me. I've been working in this industry for a while and have loved live theater and had the opportunity to work on so many wonderful projects and with so many wonderful people. So it just feels like the natural next step. And to experience that already is just giving me goosebumps, because I recognize what an opportunity and how fortunate I am to be able to be blessed with such a moment."