For years after college, Broadway performer Chad Kimball enjoyed a charmed career. He arrived on the Great White Way fresh out of Boston Conservatory, encouraged to attend by a high school drama teacher who saw promise in him. Though tales of grueling Chorus Line-style auditions while waiting tables and praying for a big break abound, Kimball’s path to theater stardom was relatively smooth. Within the first week, he’d booked his first Broadway show.
“It was totally providential,” the 45-year-old tells me, then adds with a laugh, “It also shut down three weeks later.”
But through the next couple of decades, despite the waxing and waning that is par for the course in the theater business, he consistently landed roles on and off-Broadway in shows like Sweeney Todd, Godspell, Lennon, and the jukebox musical based on the Beach Boys discography, Good Vibrations. Finally, in 2010, his performance in the smash hit musical Memphis nabbed him a Tony nomination for Best Actor. Kimball lost, but the show won four awards that night — Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Orchestrations.
So in 2015, when the same producers and director asked him to originate a lead role in a new musical based on a group of 9/11 passengers who were stranded in a small town in Newfoundland, he immediately said yes. Why wouldn’t he? By then, he says, “They were like my family.”
Kimball and the rest of the team found nearly as much success with Come From Away as they did with Memphis. The show routinely played to standing-room only crowds and received multiple Tony nominations. Then, in a release similar to Disney Plus’ Hamilton, on September 10, Apple TV+ released a live stage recording of the production in honor of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Except, Kimball wasn’t in it.
Singing And Sneering
The pandemic hit many areas hard, but perhaps none harder than Broadway. Kimball and New York’s theater community were some of the first Americans struck with Covid early in 2020. He spent several weeks that March suffering from the virus. Though often quiet about his faith, his brush with serious illness prompted him to pray and speak about eternal things. On March 24, he posted a link to a sermon about peace in times of suffering on Instagram, saying, “All of our earthly pleasures — the things we rely on, our freedom, the things that help us escape — have been ripped away. And the only thing standing are those aching questions — Who am I? WHOSE am I? What is the thing that LASTS…Where does my hope come from?”
Many of his Broadway friends “liked” the post and left encouraging messages.
By the time he recovered, Kimball found his industry decimated. With audiences quarantined and the marquee lights darkened, he headed home to Seattle. He and his wife spent the downtime visiting with old friends at his childhood church.
“It was such a blessing,” he says, “to be able to have a church home that after 20 years of being in New York, you could go back to and kind of just start right up with familiar faces.”
He was feeling reinvested in church fellowship and the strength he found there when, on November 15, 2020, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued an edict limiting worship services to 25 percent capacity and declaring that churchgoers would not be permitted to sing. Kimball joined millions of Christians across the country in declaring he would not bow to such an unconstitutional decree.
“Respectfully,” he tweeted in response to the announcement, “I will never allow a Governor, or anyone, to stop me from SINGING, let alone sing in worship to my God. Folks, absolute POWER corrupts ABSOLUTELY. This is not about safety. It’s about POWER. I will respectfully disobey these unlawful orders.” He added the hashtag “#Tyranny.”
Looking back on his comment, Kimball says it was the cold indifference of the order that most bothered him.
“This isn’t choir singing, this isn’t solo singing, this is actual people in the pews could not sing even with a mask on,” he says. “It seemed preposterous to me, and I was angry. I stopped and thought about all the things that I had been bottling up inside and I tweeted what I believed. And not only what I believe, but what’s commanded of me as a Christian in the Bible.”
The biblical command to praise and worship, he points out, is as significant as the command to love. “It’s like, love your neighbor and praise God with your community,” he says. “So, the overreach just felt so tyrannical and like our faith was being treated with such insignificance.”
Though Kimball says a few colleagues reached out to him privately to share their support, publicly, the backlash within his industry was sweeping and fierce. All of it betrayed a deep ignorance of Christianity and its practices, along with an arrogant refusal to seek better understanding.
Fellow Broadway star and Chicago Med actor Colin Donnell called Kimball’s opinions “f–king moronic.” Patti Murin, who originated the role of Princess Anna in the stage production of “Frozen,” tweeted, “No one said you can’t sing. You can sing. Alone. In your own home. Possibly for the rest of your life, after this tweet.”
Several colleagues specifically mocked the tenets of his faith. Comedian and actor Billy Eichner, who has a history of denigrating Catholicism, retweeted Kimball’s post with three laughing emojis, saying, “It’s the SINGING in all caps for me.”
John Tartaglia, who played Lumiere in the musical Beauty and the Beast responded with a lecture: “No one is stopping you from loving your God & celebrating how you wish at home. But church is a gathering & gatherings spread this deadly disease. Just the same as theatre & group fitness etc. must be paused, church singing, too.”
Tartaglia evidently saw no difference between attending a show for entertainment and participating in worship as a matter of protected religious practice.
Had even one of Kimball’s peers asked for more information instead of sneering at him, he might have been able to share that all throughout the Old and New Testament believers are commanded — not encouraged, but commanded — to sing to the Lord. More specifically, they are commanded to sing as a gathered body in corporate worship.
Just a few verses Kimball might have pointed to in order to address their ignorance:
- Psalm 149: 1 — “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly.” (Note, in the assembly).
- Ephesians 5:18-21 — “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…”
- Colossians 3:16 — “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”
Furthermore, in all of this Scripture, the implication is that Christians are to worship together, as a community of believers, something made explicit in Hebrews 10:22-25 — “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”
Kimball said many of the comments he received equated singing on stage to singing in church. “They were like, ‘How dare you when all of your colleagues can’t sing right now?’” His response: “You’re not singing to God. They’re different. Singing in theater is not a protected right.”
What Kimball’s professional community failed to understand was that, to him, singing alone in his home would, quite simply, mean disregarding his faith.
‘The Religiosity of Your Tweet’
As the social media mob carried on, Kimball said little more. But he was concerned about what the rest of the cast and crew of Come From Away might be hearing about his statement. He sent an email to Susan Frost, his long-time friend and one of the show’s producers.
Her response immediately left him feeling that his job might be in jeopardy. According to Kimball, Frost replied that she needed to “think” about the tweet for “a couple of weeks.” Around Christmas, he left a second conversation with her hopeful that he could still continue with the show and star in the live recording if, in her words, “some hurdles [could] be overcome.”
Weeks later, an exchange with the show’s director, which involved the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, dashed that hope.
Kimball says he never talked about his politics publicly, whether on social media or in work conversations, because in his business, “You don’t talk about them. It’s as serious as that. I’ve shut my mouth for 20 years, you know, to kind of just go with the flow.”
But in his meeting with director Christopher Ashley, a man he’d known for more than ten years, Kimball says Ashley told him, “I don’t agree with anything you believe. The religiosity of your tweet was unfathomable.” Kimball says Ashley then suggested he apologize for his comments, but Kimball refused, believing he’d done nothing wrong. Strangest to Kimball, however, was when Frost brought up Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) and the riot in D.C.
“I think their idea of me maybe just snowballed because they knew that I was a Christian,” he speculates, “and that was so foreign to them they lumped me into this other category of rioters at the Capitol.” Though he had never mentioned Trump or any Republican politician, he says because he’d used the word “tyranny” in his post, his beliefs were connected to the subset of radicals who broke away from the crowd during President Trump’s January 6 speech and stormed the Capitol.
“She said that because the rioters and Josh Hawley were also Christian conservatives, there was a question of my beliefs,” Kimball recalls. He says it was made crystal clear to him that he would need to explain his beliefs to management’s satisfaction to continue with the show and that he would need to work on “reconciliation.”
“Though,” he adds, “what I needed to reconcile and with whom, I never was given a clear answer on.”
In the meantime, management convened a meeting with the rest of the cast to discuss the tweet and what it should mean for Kimball’s employment. He was not invited to defend himself.
“The kind of gross presumption that by way of my Christianity I’m somehow to blame for the January 6 riots and must therefore be dangerous just shocked me,” Kimball shares. “I mean, I’m someone they know. Someone they have loved for years, someone who’s worked alongside them. These are the people that threw a wedding shower for me and my wife. There’s never been a complaint against me.”
In the end, Kimball says, the producers told him that the rest of the cast was upset and scared of him. He was further informed he had caused systemic trauma within the production. A few months later — after, he says, he’d been strung along with his future in limbo — his agent told him his time with the Come From Away was over. The producers were recasting the show to make it “more diverse.”
The Daily Wire requested an interview with the producers of Come From Away and received an email statement from press representative Matt Polk. “Chad [Kimball’s] allegations are completely unfounded,” he said, adding, “This very show is built on the power of diversity and we celebrate every voice. We cannot comment further given HR privacy rules, and we wish Chad all the best in his future endeavors.” Neither Polk nor anyone else associated with the show was willing to answer any further questions.
‘I’m Supposed to Stand Up and Say No’
Ironically, Kimball has a connection to another high-profile celebrity cancellation. His wife, Emily Swallow, worked with actress Gina Carano on The Mandalorian before Disney notoriously fired the former MMA fighter for expressing her political opinions.
Swallow played the armorer in the first season of the Star Wars series. When asked about Carano at a convention, Swallow was quick to defend her, saying, “What impressed me about her from the beginning is that she is so interested in other peoples’ opinions, and is so welcoming of other peoples’ opinions. She wants to have a genuine dialogue…She’s very giving, she’s very gracious.”
Carano made headlines when she declared she was fighting back against the cancel mob by embarking on a new partnership with The Daily Wire. Kimball now wants to strike a blow for religious liberty through a lawsuit.
“In my mind, as far as employment cases go, this is the maybe the most straightforward case that I have had,” Kimball’s lawyer, Lawrence Spasojevich, tells me. “It’s very clear that because Chad was a Christian, they were uncomfortable around him.” The attorney says he’s not aware of many workplace discrimination suits being brought by Christians in New York, but because he believes deeply in the old truism that “discrimination anywhere is discrimination everywhere,” he was eager to take Kimball’s case.
“It’s analogous to Japanese Americans not being trusted after Pearl Harbor,” Spasojevich says. “Or, even more ironic, given the subject matter of Chad’s show, not trusting Muslim Americans after September 11.”
Kimball wrestled for some time over whether he should sue people he still considers friends, but ultimately, he felt the issue was bigger than his own experience.
“As a Christian,” he says, “I kind of felt God’s hand in this, that I’m supposed to stand up and, and say, ‘No,’ for my own well-being, but also for the residual impact of helping other Christians feel emboldened to live out their faith without feeling like they’re going to be fired.”
He also wants to send a message to Broadway producers and directors in general that the law prohibits them from making hiring and firing decisions based on a person’s faith, likening it to the Apostle Paul appealing to his Roman citizenship in the book of Acts: “We want to sow peace, of course, in our everyday lives, but in trying to live out a compassionate life as a Christian, if we are abused, we should defend our rights and the rights of our neighbor.”
The actor/singer says that when he thought about the gravity of what Come From Away management had done, when he considered the disdain and disrespect they showed to his deeply held beliefs —beliefs that 65 percent of American adults still profess — there was little question what he should do.
“The theater community is a community I love,” Kimball says. “And there are people in that community who agree with my views. They’re just afraid to say it. So I hope the lawsuit brings about awareness. For me, it’s really about justice. And restoration and reconciliation — reconciliation that you can actually name.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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