Renaissance Man, Stephen C. Byrd, brings "A Streetcar Named Desire" to Broadway

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[Black Star Theatre]

He’s a man who speaks with the authority of someone who knows what he wants and doesn’t easily take no for an answer, but still manages to have a keen sense of humor.

That combination of tenacity and humor without a doubt is the under current for his success as a producer. Stephen C. Byrd followed an interesting path from investment banking to private equity to Hollywood, finally landing with his feet firmly planted on Broadway when he made his
debut with the all Black cast version of Tennessee WiIliams' “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” This critically acclaimed show featuring Anika Noni Rose,
Terrence Howard, James Earl Jones, and Phylicia Rashad later moved to the West End in London with Sanaa Lathan and Adrian Lester joining the cast, where it garnered the "What's Onstage" and "Olivier" Award for Best Revival of a Play.

When Byrd first left his early retirement from investment banking at Goldman Sachs, his sights were set on producing films in Hollywood. He started a production company, but after years of doing the run around between agents, stars, and writers, he threw in the towel and became a partner of a private equity fund. Disillusioned by the “hollywood shuffle” Byrd came to New York and jumped straight into the Broadway community which he says is simple, the way he prefers it. “You’ve got a handful of producers and a few major theater’s manageable.”

Following his gut instinct and driven by his passion for classic stories he sought to attain rights to Tennessee Williams' work. When asked to make an offer by Maria St. Just, the executor of the estate, he went to the nearest bookstore to read up on producing for Broadway. After obtaining the rights, and attaching names such as James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, and Halle Berry to the project, success still didn’t come overnight. Frustrated, but fueled by his desire to offer Black talent quality roles on Broadway he pressed on. He faced fourteen years of back and forth between major stars and their agents, naysayers, and theater strikes, but in the end he prevailed. When ask why he bothers to continue on despite the struggles faced when mounting a production Byrd said:  "Its fun…It's a difficult business but its one that I feel the fire in my belly for. That's the barometer for me. If I wake up one day and it's not there anymore, I'll know its time to move on…travel, do something else."

In an age where Broadway is risky business, and some have called live theater a dying art, the production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" managed to
draw old and new audiences becoming the highest grossing Broadway play in 2008. The all Black cast production of “Cat” was a major financial success that created a model current Broadway productions are following.

Now Stephen C. Byrd's company Front Row Productions is back with the classic Tennessee Williams drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” coming to Broadway in the Spring of 2012 with a star studded cast and an all-star team. After considering a slew of stars including Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Denzel Washington, and Halle Berry, confirmed thus far are: two time Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood as Stanley Kowalski, seven time NAACP Image Award nominee Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche DuBois, Grammy Award winning trumpeter Terrance
Blanchard to compose the music, and award winning director Emily Mann who lived and wrote with Tennessee Williams prior to his death.

On the horizon, there will most likely be a lot more from Stephen C. Byrd, who is currently the only African American producer of Broadway plays. He spoke of rights to James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room,” and a new version of “Black Orpheus” with original music to name a few. "I don't want to put on projects like this unless they can be an event," he said firmly in response to why he pursues classic stories, "…when you hear 'Cat on the Hot Tin Roof' or 'Streetcar' you know the brand, so there's a barometer for what to expect."

Now that he has achieved success as a producer, Byrd is also working to mentor others. He's a part of a committee that is working to create a program to offer African Americans opportunities to become stage managers and producers on Broadway. When asked where he sees himself in ten years, Byrd smiled, “Man plans and God laughs.”

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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