Actor and educator Forrest McClendon is famous to fans everywhere for his Tony-nominated blockbuster performance as Mr. Tambo in The Scottsboro Boys and his later reprisal of the role in the London production. He has appeared Off-Broadway at such acclaimed venues as the Vineyard (where he originated the role), City Center Encores!, New Federal, and La MaMa, in addition to his work at regional theaters around the country (including Philadelphia, where he received two Barrymore Awards and five nominations), and his tenure as a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow and a faculty member at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Theater Institute.
All of that would be more than enough to secure his never-ending “15 minutes” of fame, but this fall, McClendon returns to Broadway, at the John Golden Theatre, in Thoughts of a Colored Man – a bold, vibrant, and “daringly universal” new play by multi-hyphenate Queens native Keenan Scott II. Set in Brooklyn on a single day, the theatrical mosaic blends spoken word, slam poetry, rhythm, and humor to reveal the brotherhood of seven Black men, the inner life of being Black, proud, and thriving in the 21st century, and the profoundly human hopes, joys, sorrows, fears, and dreams that reverberate with all people.
Produced by Brian Moreland, Ron Simons, and Diana DiMenna, the cast, under the direction of Steve H. Broadnax III, features Dyllón Burnside, Bryan Terrell Clark, Da’Vinchi, Keith David, Luke James, and Tristan “Mack” Wilds, along with McClendon.
I had the chance to touch base with Forrest during a busy week of photo shoots and prep, to ask him some quick questions about the show, his career, and his own inner life.
- What thoughts are in your mind as you prepare for your return to the live stage?
Forrest: Safety! Celebration! Revolution!
- What is it about Broadway?
It’s about theater for me. I took The Scottsboro Boys directly from Broadway to Broad Street [Philadelphia, with the Philadelphia Theatre Company] – education is my message and theater is my given medium. Sharing important stories with the widest possible audience is the goal.
- What’s the best thing about coming back with this particular show?
Personally, I really wanted to come back to Broadway in a play – and it’s amazing that Thoughts of a Colored Man will open exactly eleven years to the day of The Scottsboro Boys, with another brilliant group of Black men.
- If you could sum up the play’s message in one sentence, what would it be?
Keenan’s original title was Thoughts of a Colored Man on a Day When the Sun Set Too Early, and, for me, the play reminds me of this universal truth – what a difference one day can make!
- What’s been your most memorable experience in the theater to date?
Standing on stage in London during The Scottsboro Boys when the Ferguson decision was handed down [In November 2014, a grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri, decided not to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August 9th shooting death of Black eighteen-year-old Michael Brown]. We were devastated, everyone back home was devastated, and so was our audience that night. Colman Domingo stepped forward and asked the audience to take hands and send a vibration of love around the world. I had no idea he was going to do that. Life-changer.
- Is there one character you’ve performed that you could most relate to, or one line you’ve delivered that best sums up your philosophy of life?
I think it’s Depression. In every way. The last line of this play: “All we ever wanted was to be ourselves . . . to live.”
- Is there any one classic role that you haven’t yet played, but would love to do?
Feste in Twelfth Night.
- What three things do you always have in your dressing room?
Index cards, Ricolas, and sage.
- What do you do for fun on your day off?
REST! Rollerblade. Eat. Sleep. Teach!
- What activity or comfort food kept you going during the pandemic shutdown?
Tate’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yum!
- Is there any one place in the world that you would love to visit, that you haven’t been to yet?
Vancouver. I would love to move there to start my television career, and I would love to teach in Asia for the first time.
- Who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
- What three words would you use to describe yourself personally?
Simple. Sweet. Salty.
- What three words would you use to describe yourself as an actor?
Chameleon. Creative. Cautious.
- If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
That’s easy. Teacher. Wait. I’m already a teacher. I truly have no idea.
Thanks, Forrest; it’s been so great to catch up with you! I can’t wait to see you back on Broadway in the fall.