“The Miracle Worker” is making a revival run on Broadway this Winter and the unfortunate news is that the role of Helen Keller will not be played by a Deaf or Blind actress, but rather by Hearing child actress Abigail Breslin.


Here is now the New York Times reported the sorry story:

The lead producer of the revival, David Richenthal, said in an interview that he had already made up his mind about his casting criteria for Helen when he chose to revive the William Gibson play — he wanted a star. The only way to make money for his investors in a commercial Broadway revival of a play these days, Mr. Richenthal believes, is to cast stars, and his research did not turn up any young well known actresses whom were deaf or blind.

“It’s simply naïve to think that in this day and age, you’ll be able to sell tickets to a play revival solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance,” Mr. Richenthal said. “I would consider it financially irresponsible to approach a major revival without making a serious effort to get a star.”

Mr. Richenthal said that he and the production’s director, Kate Whoriskey, as well as their casting director, planned to audition deaf or blind actresses to be Ms. Breslin’s understudy, and would hire sign language interpreters for the auditions of the young deaf women.

The first mistake Mr. Richenthal makes is his shameful misunderstanding of the method of the play. 

“The Miracle Worker” is not about Helen Keller — the story is about Helen’s teacher, Anne Sullivan — just as the title of the play describes.  Anne is the miracle worker, not Helen.  If this were Helen’s story, the title would be, “The Miracle Worker’s Miracle” or something more inane.

What Richenthal also misses is that having a disabled actress playing Helen is important today in the age of “non-traditional casting” and honoring the ideal and the intention of who Helen Keller was and what her legacy stands for today. 

Richenthal also roundly proves the old Broadway chestnut that just because you call yourself a producer doesn’t mean you have taste or training in what is good and proper and important to share in the public square.

For Richenthal to crassly cast a nominal “star” as Helen just to sell seats on Broadway, he is confessing is his very core that he doesn’t not comprehend or appreciate the memeing of the play and that he is in this endeavor, just as he confesses, to make money off the disabled — but without honoring the disabled.  A disabled understudy is okay — but a starring, history-changing role?  Never!

Richenthal’s problem is Broadway’s genetic problem:  There are no ingenious producers left to guide us inward and to lift us upward — we are only sent cascading to the depths of the barrel in the lowest possible common denominator of Great White Way pablum.

Richenthal could easily cast a superstar in the role of Anne Sullivan that would warm his theatre seats while also honoring the Deaf/Blind community by giving one of them a chance at a major Broadway break to pioneer a bright new pathway of understanding as humanity conquers greed.

We would not have Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin today as a star without producers who were brave enough to believe in her unknown and unproven talent while honoring her Deafness in performance.

Richenthal should follow Helen Keller’s original inspiration for fighting against the odds and realize he is presently behaving as nothing more than an ordinary tormentor of the disabled — and it is people just like him that Helen Keller spent her life convincing and overcoming.  Helen’s battle was not against her disability but rather against those with small minds and bitter spirits who refused to see the potential in her.  Helen spent much of her goodwill needlessly fighting middling taste and misguided wants that dutifully repressed the ugly while pretending to serve the common good.

The best way for Richenthal to learn his lesson — and to be taught the ways of the modern, human, world — is for all of us to refuse to buy into his discrimination by not purchasing a ticket to his play.  He only understands the mechanical world of money and not the electrical impulses of the heart. 

Let Richenthal learn his hard lesson in the only meter he understands:  The pocketbook.  Vote your wallet against his by staying away from such a misguided and lame revival — that could have been a celebration of two wondrous women who found each other against grievous odds — instead of an embarrassment against everything Helen Keller stands for today. 

Helen and Anne deserve at least that much gratitude of understanding.

9 Comments

  1. I remember seeing the play in high school. I’m disappointed that they chose fame over authenticity but it seems like something you have to come to expect from Broadway nowadays.

  2. The decision to go with a diminished “star” for the Helen Keller role on Broadway is disappointing and it makes one wonder why the play is being revived, Gordon. Is it just to make money? That seems to be the sole reason. Theatre must be greater than mere money — even on Broadway! — and the great theatrical producers in antiquity knew that in their bones.

  3. It’s amazing to watch that the director chosen a specific play which will appeal the mass, at the same time wasn’t honest enough to the cause. Height of hypocrisy – seriously.

  4. That is precisely the problem, Katha! There must be terrible PR on the show because imagine doing a national search for the next Helen Keller in the Deaf and Blind communities! That process would bring light and excitement to the world and the show would make its mark in history before its debut!
    You could have online videos of auditions for the Helen Keller role that people could watch and vote on and there would be a deep human investment in finding the next disabled superstar like Marlee Matlin and Helen Keller. That pot is so rich for human compassion — and the price of the process would be extremely cheap — I cannot believe any producer would just sit back and pretend he’s casting another know-nothing, boring, revival meant only to line his pockets instead of bringing some semblance of the human understanding to the stage.

  5. Although I agree that his intentions were less than amiable, I would disagree with former posters that ‘boycotting’ the play would make any sense? I assume this is based on perspective, but I would hate to negate the possibilities this play simply for its content. Although I understand where all of you are coming from, boycotting this play only shows a lack of respect for both its content as well as the hard working actors/ actresses who are a part of it. I say, it you are interested in the show, go and see it, if not (and this should be based on interest alone) then don’t. Why perpetuate negativity, when something like this could be a very positive medium for the discovery of the abilities not disabilities of disabled people.

    1. I’m not sure what you mean when you say:

      I would hate to negate the possibilities this play simply for its content.

      We are boycotting a certain performance in a specific venue because of insensitivity to the disabled — that negates the core lesson of the original play.