The white duo, who were supposed to perform their impersonation act at The Gamm Theatre on Monday, have worn skin-darkening makeup to portray Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder, which the Providence branch of the NAACP calls "misguided" and "tone deaf."

WARWICK — The Gamm Theatre has canceled a Monday performance by the Edwards Twins, apparently over concerns that the Las Vegas-based impersonation act uses white performers to portray black celebrities.

Anthony Edwards, who with brother Eddie makes up the act, said that, while they have impersonated Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder in the past, their Christmas show this year does not include any black celebrities. Edwards said he even went so far as to sign a contract with The Gamm stipulating that the duo would not use any skin-darkening makeup.

Gail Hulbert, a spokeswoman for The Gamm, confirmed that Edwards signed a contract on Aug. 17 to rent a 300-seat space in the Jefferson Boulevard theater building, and then signed an addition to the contract called a rider on Oct. 1 agreeing that no skin-darkening makeup would be used during the performance.

The theater had posted a notice with the show's listing on the theater website: "The Gamm Theatre does not permit the use of blackface or anything approximating it in its venue. Therefore, skin-darkening makeup will not be used to portray people of color in this performance."

Then, on Friday, the announcement was made that the show was canceled, with little explanation.

"We really don't have any further comment other than to say the rental agreement was terminated," Hulbert told The Providence Journal, adding that The Gamm canceled the contract. "We're just not prepared to make any statement about Anthony or his act."

 

Blackface acts, a staple of minstrel shows in the first half of the last century, lampooned African Americans, with white performers painting their faces dark black, except for a circle around their mouths. It is now considered highly offensive, according to James Vincent, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP.

"I think it's offensive and it should never be done under any circumstances," Vincent told The Journal. "It was meant to insult, to put down, to minimize the black community."

That history of evil keeps the practice off-limits, Vincent said.

As for the Edwards Twins: "They haven't gotten the memo that you just can't do this in America anymore," Vincent said. "They're misguided. It's amazing they would be this tone-deaf."

"The Edwards Twins do not do blackface," Anthony Edwards told The Journal. "Blackface was making fun of African-American people." When the Edwards Twins portray black celebrities, it's to honor them, he said. "We are literally bringing joy and laughter to people with love."

Edwards added that Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie have endorsed their portrayals and that he has even been photographed with Richie. "He absolutely loves what I do."

"That doesn't matter; it's not OK," said Vincent. "The community at large has a problem with it."

Edwards said that it is too late to schedule a different venue for Monday's show. The nearest show with available tickets, he said, is Sunday in Taunton, Massachusetts. A show on Wednesday in Woonsocket is sold out, he said.

As for tickets to the now-canceled Gamm show, Edwards said, "Sales were just going through the roof."

Hulbert confirmed that the show was selling well, though it had not sold out.

Edwards said he and his brother picked The Gamm because they saw it as struggling to build an audience after the theater moved this year from Pawtucket to Warwick.

"We wanted to help them out financially by bringing some of our fans. I wanted to end up introducing our fans to them," he said. "This is just absolutely insanity."

— pparker@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7360

On Twitter: @projopaul