Artist, producer, and activist Brandon Michael Nase presented a virtual concert of gospel, jazz, R&B, and musical theater songs for the Michael Stairs Memorial Concert on April 28. Nase also reflected on the creation of his musical web series, “The Gospel According to Broadway,” and of his nonprofit organization, Broadway for Racial Justice.
The concert began with selections from “The Gospel According to Broadway,” including “Waving through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen and “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime. In between videos of song performances, Nase participated in a question-and-answer style session with Chair of the Performing Arts Department Darren Hengst. Nase reflected on his start in music and the performing arts, including one performance in Les Miserables directed by Liesl Tommy, which he said served as the genesis of Broadway for Racial Justice.
“We were performing Les Mis in 2014, during the riots in Ferguson [Missouri], and Liesl created the sets, costumes, and design to have a very present-future vibe,” Nase said. “It felt like we were playing out both past and future stories of revolution, and I carried that with me as I moved on. When the pandemic happened, I realized there needs to be someone speaking truth to power in this industry, especially when it comes to racism and oppression.”
Nase started Broadway for Racial Justice in June 2020, and talked about the services the organization offers, including a financial assistance fund and an anonymous hotline which connects artists with trained advocates. Nase also discussed the BFRJ Casting Directive, a rigorous 9-week training program for casting professionals to understand how people of color can be better represented in the industry. The first cohort of eleven people recently completed the program.
When Hengst congratulated Nase for the success of the organization so far, Nase responded with a performance of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, with lyrics that include: “This is my quest to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to fight for the right, without question or pause.”
Nase ended the concert with cover performances of Stevie Wonder’s songs “Evil” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and shared advice with students.
“There is a delicate balance to be able to say I need to be able to care for myself and to be able to give a large amount of care to the people around me,” Nase said. “When you strike that balance, you have the ability to let go of a lot of worry and anxiety, and you can exist fully in who you are in a very humble and caring way.”
The Michael Stairs Memorial Concert honors the legacy of the long-time Haverford School music teacher and Philadelphia Orchestra organist, who passed in 2018. The event aims to celebrate music as an academic discipline, and a source of inspiration and joy. At the beginning of this year’s concert, Andrew Helber ’12 and Kevin Madden ’98 spoke of Stairs’s importance at Haverford and discussed the Michael Stairs Concert Fund.