The spirit of musical theater has always been one of acceptance, a place where people from all walks of life can come together and enjoy. Which is why many are calling out a New York Times theater critic who body-shamed talented theater actress Alysha Umphress in a recent review.
In her review for the Off-Broadway show Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Laura Collins-Hughes described many elements of the show — including costume design. This, in turn, led her to write, “Ms. Umphress, by the way, is bigger than the other women onstage, and the costume designer, Alejo Vietti, doesn’t seem to have known how to work with that, dressing her in an unflattering way. He does better with the skimpy, yet not overly revealing, pink fringe outfit Emma Degerstedt wears, and jiggles in, for the leering number ‘Teach Me How To Shimmy.'”
Bringing up a performer’s body size — especially when it has zero relevance to the plot — has no place in a professional theater review, and completely undermines the important aspects of the show (as in actual performances and the cast’s incredible talent). Not only that, but it reduces Umphress to nothing but a body, and reeks of regressive and sexist attitudes about what female performers should and shouldn’t be.
The comments also imply that women need to “dress their size,” which is a micro-aggression often used to control women and tear them down. The fact that these lines made it into a New York Time review (which was undoubtedly reviewed by an editor before being published) illustrates just how prevalent body shaming still is in our culture.
Umphress released a statement regarding the review on her Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Collins-Hughes has since doubled down on her statements via Twitter.
While speaking to HelloGiggles, Umphress said,
"In this business women are constantly scrutinized for how they look. This woman replied to a few (other people's) tweets saying that she wasn't criticizing me but rather the costume designer. But I have to think the way she phrased it was intentionally rude. She could have phrased her distaste for his costumes a million other ways. But she instead chose to single me out for being bigger. Like it's relevant to the show at all…it's not. It's truly shocking, I was floored."
We have to agree. And many fellow Broadway and Hollywood artists agree, too.
Zoe Kazan tweeted her support of Alysha, saying,
And Emmy-nominated GLOW actress Betty Gilpin threw in her own two cents.
Umphress is a beloved member of the New York theater community. She’s an immense talent and one of the most powerful singers working today. Let that be what we take away from this incident. Check her out slaying a tune from Smokey Joe’s Cafe below.
We think Umphress says it best when she sings, “Don’t mess around with me.”