NEW YORK – Alysha Umphress has been dazzling audiences on Broadway for nearly a decade and the seasoned actress is currently getting rave reviews for her performance in Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller, but a review in the New York Times hit a bad note with both readers and the star herself.
Times writer Laura Collins-Hughes singled out Umphress not for her singing ability, but for her body.
“Umphress, by the way, is bigger than the other women onstage and the costume designer doesn’t seem to have known how to work with that,” Collins-Hughes wrote.
That one sentence sparked a wave of backlash on social media, even getting a response from Umphress who said “the wording wasn’t constructive. It was full on mean girl.”
“They could’ve just said the costuming was uneven,” the actress told PIX11 Wednesday.
Umphress said the writer’s sheer wording and focus highlight societal standards that have historically maligned women – especially full-figured women.
“She didn’t mention how the costumes were fitting or ill-fitting on any of the men,” she noted. “I think there is an underlining problem that she doesn’t see the problem with singling me out, against the other girls for being bigger.”
For her part, Collins-Hughes offered no apology, tweeting that “it is in no way shameful to be big,“ insisting her remark was directed at the costume designer.
A spokesperson for the Times mirrored that sentiment.
“We have heard and respect Alysha Umphress’ criticism,” a statement sent to PIX11 reads. “It was our reviewer’s intent to critique the costumes in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” not to body shame Ms. Umphress. The phrasing of that paragraph should have been more precise.”
While Umphress says she doesn’t expect an apology, she hopes Collins-Hughes learns from the blunder.
“Coming from another woman I just think it’s her responsibility to stick up for other women,” she said. “I hope she could man up – no, I hope she could woman up!”
While the conversation has tapered off on social media, activists like Diana Denza – a member of the “Endangered Bodies” organization which combats body shaming --- says it should serve as a reminder of what young people are absorbing.
“We have to think about what type of world we want young women to grow up in because this is not the type of world that I want young women to grow up in,” Denza said. “Where they have to go up on stage and worry about being judged about their body.”