A former lead actor in the musical “Come From Away” has sued the show’s producers, claiming that he was let go from the production because of his Christian beliefs.
Chad Kimball, 45, a Tony-nominated performer who had been with the show since before its transfer to Broadway in 2017, filed suit this week in New York State Supreme Court, alleging that the production had violated his rights under New York City’s Human Rights Law.
In the lawsuit, which was first reported by The New York Post, Kimball claimed he was terminated “wholly or partly” because of his religious beliefs. According to the lawsuit, one of the show’s producers allegedly told him there were concerns about supposed connections between his faith and Christian conservatives connected with the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Matt Polk, a spokesman for the show, which reopened on Sept. 21, said the producers declined to comment.
Kimball, a Broadway veteran described in the lawsuit as “a devout and practicing Christian,” had stirred controversy in November 2020 when he announced on Twitter that he would “respectfully disobey” Washington State’s coronavirus-related restrictions on religious services, including rules forbidding even masked worshipers from singing. At the time, he was living in Seattle, his hometown.
“Respectfully, I will never allow a Governor, or anyone, to stop me from SINGING, let alone sing in worship to my God,” Kimball, who had previously had Covid-19, wrote.
That statement drew strong criticism from some in the theater industry, including a co-star, Sharon Wheatley, who responded, “I respectfully totally and completely disagree with you.”
Kimball said in an interview Friday that it was hurtful to have the initial reaction to his social media posts subsequently “snowball” into discussion of him as a “conservative Christian” whose beliefs were somehow connected with the Jan. 6 insurrection, which he described as “an event I wasn’t even involved with.”
“I don’t talk about politics at all,” he said. “The only thing they really know about me for sure is that I’m a Christian.”
Before the social media exchanges, the lawsuit said, Kimball, who had appeared in more than 1,000 performances of the show before the shutdown in March 2020, had never received any reprimand or complaint, and had never been told by anyone connected with the show that he “made them feel unsafe.” But subsequently, he “was forced to explain and defend his Nov. 15, 2020, tweet to Defendants’ agents and employees,” the suit claims.
Then, on Jan. 18, the suit said, he was contacted by a producer, Susan Frost, who allegedly informed him that there was conversation around his “conservative Christian” faith and his “freedom to believe.”
Frost, the suit claims, also mentioned the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and said that there were concerns that “the events at the Capitol, Josh Hawley and the conservative Christian movement were tied together and implied a connection” between Kimball’s faith and the “ideas and actions” of that day.
On Jan. 22, according to the lawsuit, Frost told Kimball he would not be invited back to the production, which he was told “needed to focus on bringing the show back together and ensure people’s safety.”
At the suggestion of Frost, the suit said, he spoke with the show’s director, Christopher Ashley, on Feb. 2, and asked him if he had been let go because of disagreements with colleagues or his religious beliefs. “In response,” the lawsuit continues, Ashley “stated that it was ‘everything.’”
As a result, according to the lawsuit, Kimball was “made to suffer significant economic and professional harm,” as well as “emotional and physical pain and suffering.” The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and lost wages, as well as legal costs.
Kimball was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010 for his role in the musical “Memphis.” While he has always been a Christian, the lawsuit said, it was following his recovery from an injury while in the show that he started becoming “more outspoken regarding his beliefs.”
In the interview, a joint one with his lawyer, Lawrence Spasojevich of the firm Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, Kimball said he had an inkling that his position with the show might be in jeopardy as early as December 2020 when he contacted the show’s producers to inform them of the tweets and the reaction to them.
Kimball, who said he was currently not working, added that negative reactions to his beliefs weren’t new to him. “What was new to me was the idea that a religious belief could be used as fodder for deciding I wasn’t worthy of being a part of the show,” he said.