Veteran theater actor Ken Page, who plays the regal African king Amonarso in the Muny’s current production of “Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida,” stepped out of character at Tuesday night’s performance.
Tuesday’s show, which coincided with the two-year anniversary of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown’s shooting death, was disrupted for about 25 minutes by about 40 protesters, according to Muny spokesman Kwofe Coleman. The protest started at the beginning of the second act and took place at the rear of the audience area.
After the protest, Page, a St. Louis native, took to the stage with his co-star, Michelle Williams, to address what had happened, while evoking the names of Michael Brown, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, drawing mixed reaction from the audience.
“We ask this, in the name of our creator, who created each and every one of us, whether the name is Michael Brown, Hillary Clinton or, God forbid, Donald Trump ... sorry ... I’m just saying. Now I had to be a little political. Come on. But I want us to raise our spirits, seriously, because we have to. That was more or less a joke (before). But it’s not an issue of who you support or what you know and who you think you are and who you think someone else is. I’m addressing right here in this moment who we are, which are spirits on this earth just trying to get through this journey,” said Page, a Broadway veteran who has appeared in “The Wiz,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Cats” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Page continued: “The idea of this show is about that. When we say we all live ‘Elaborate Lives’ (a song in the show) we’re not talking about the price of your shoes or the tag in the back of your clothes. We’re talking about the idea of how we live life on this planet and how we must respect each other. It’s imperative. Life goes on, whether we like it or not. Nobody’s perfect, whether we like it or not. We’re gonna disagree, whether we like it or not. Sometimes we’re gonna agree whether we like it or not. But tonight what I’m going to ask of our audience and our brothers and sisters who are protesting, we all know that black lives matter. And that is because God created us all.”
Some took Page’s words as a slam of Trump; others appreciated his words.
In a statement from Page, released Wednesday, he said: “Last night, as we resumed the show, I invited the audience to come together in unity and peace. I asked that we ‘understand what’s important, to whom it’s important and why it’s important.’ I was not supporting or disparaging any public figure or candidate, and I regret that is what is being interpreted. I only mentioned these figures in the context of sharing the idea that differences can be overcome, and we can create community, unity and peace. We then began Act 2, and were thrilled by the audiences’ warm embrace of our beautiful show.”
Austin Smith, who was sitting in section B, took videos of the protest and of Ken Page’s comments. He also posted to Twitter (with video clips): “...Ken Page gives audience more than what they paid for after #BlackLivesMatter protest stops show.”
Leslie Elpers took video of the comments from her season-ticket seat in the fourth row.
“I thought (his statement) was perfect,” she said. “They couldn’t go straight from the situation that happened into the middle of the second act, so it was necessary. Something needed to be said.”
She said that the Muny employees handled the protest and interruption well but that the helicopters circling after the show restarted were more annoying than the disruption.