Blair Underwood and Marie Maniego
(Photos by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com, c/o Playmaker Fellows)
In honor of Black History Month, Broadway.com is once again inviting Broadway artists to celebrate the Black theatermakers who inspire them. Stars are taking this chance to honor their friends, mentors, co-stars and idols for this year’s edition. Here, 2020 Tony nominee Blair Underwood shares about his first mentor and the impact she’s had on his life. Click here to stay up to date on the series.
A 2020 Tony nominee for his leading role in A Soldier’s Play, Blair Underwood is known for his success on both the stage and screen. After making his debut in the 1985 musical film Krush Groove, he went on to star in L.A. Law from 1987 to 1994 which earned him his first Golden Globe nomination. Underwood continued his screen career by appearing in Posse (1993), Set it Off (1996), High Incident (1996), Deep Impact (1998), Mama Flora’s Family (1998). Throughout the early ’00s, Underwood starred in several popular screen entities like Sex and thr City, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Madea’s Family Reunion and In Treatment, which gave him his second Golden Globe nomination. In 2009, Underwood recceived the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for An Inconvenient Truth. He made his Broadway debut starring as Stanley Kowalski in the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. His recent screen credits include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., When They See Us, and Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. A Soldier’s Play, which marked Underwood’s Broadway return, is currently nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Revival of A Play. Read on to learn about the mentor that changed Underwood’s life.
Underwood on Maniego: “I would like to honor my mentor Marie Maniego. During the day, she was my English teacher walking me through how to be a leader in high school. At night, she ran a theater company, The Playmaker Fellows, and we would rehearse in her basement right in Downtown Petersburg. She was really dedicated to theater and to African-American stories; dedicated to giving young people an opportunity to perform and express themselves. She was our leader. It was my junior year in high school when I initially started doing plays with her, and then I went on to do local dinner theater in Richmond. Ms. Maniego also directed the shows at the high school where I played Mister Snow in Carousel. She was so well-versed in history, literature and the arts and was the perfect person to really introduce me to the very tangible aspects of the theater.
When I had my Broadway debut in A Streetcar Named Desire in 2012, she came up to New York with two tour buses filled with people from home. To have Ms. Maniego in that audience, to have her watch that debut, was everything. Even the Mayor of Petersburg came! I went and hugged her afterwards and said, ‘We made it. We finally made it to Broadway, the both of us, here we are.’ It was a really great day.
There are people you always hear about when it comes to Black history in theater, but Ms. Maniego, to me, is an unsung hero. I saw her back in November at her home and she’s still kicking and doing well. I’m just filled with incredible gratitude for her.”