R.I.P. Robert Guillaume, 89, Emmy-Award Winning Actor and Star of “Benson”

Robert Guillaume (CREDIT: AP)

Richard Natale via variety.com

Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, best known as the title character in the TV sitcom “Benson,” died Tuesday. He was 89.

His wife Donna Brown Guillaume told the Associated Press he died at their Los Angeles home of complications of prostate cancer. Guillaume often played acerbic, dry-witted, but ultimately lovable characters like the butler Benson Du Bois, which he created on the 1977 series “Soap,” before his character was spun off in 1979. Guillaume won Emmys both for “Soap” (as supporting actor) and “Benson” (as lead actor).

He was also known as the the voice of Rafiki in “The Lion King,” for which he also won a Grammy for a spoken word recording. “Benson” ran on ABC for seven years until 1986. The show brought Guillaume an Emmy in 1985 for lead actor in a comedy. In the late ’90s he took on the role of Isaac Jaffe, executive producer of a cable sports show on the ABC sitcom “Sports Night,” and continued to perform even after being felled by a stroke.

Guillaume also possessed a powerful, mellifluous voice, which he used most notably to play the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” onstage. After suffering through a period of unemployment during the ’70s, he was cast in an all-black revival of “Guys and Dolls” as Nathan Detroit, which debuted on Broadway in 1977 and secured him a Tony nomination. He also guested during this period on sitcoms such as “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons,” which led to the supporting role of Benson in “Soap.”

He tried another sitcom in 1989, “The Robert Guillaume Show,” playing a marriage counselor. The series lasted four months before ABC pulled the plug. He returned to singing in 1990 in the Los Angeles production of “Phantom of the Opera” and on Broadway in the lead role of “Cyrano — The Musical” for four months beginning in November 1993. He also performed regularly in concert.

Guillaume was featured in films such as “Meteor Man,” “First Kid” and “Spy Hard.” On television he appeared in the HBO family series “Happily Ever After” and TV movies and miniseries including “Children of the Dust,” “Run for the Dream” and “Pandora’s Clock.” He appeared in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” in 2003, and then made more frequent bigscreen appearances later in the decade, appearing in the Christian film “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry” in 2008; in the thriller “Columbus Circle,” starring Selma Blair, in 2010; and in the small musical dramedy “Satin” in 2011.

Robert Peter Williams was born in St. Louis, Mo., changing his name only after he decided on a career in acting. After completing his schooling he joined the Army in 1945 and was discharged 15 months later. He took on a number of menial jobs while studying nights at St. Louis U. He originally intended to study business but became interested in singing and transferred to Washington U. to study voice and theater. His performance at the 1957 Aspen Music Festival led to an apprenticeship at the Karamu Performing Arts Theater in Cleveland, where he appeared in operas and musical comedies.

After moving to New York, he made his Broadway debut in a 1960 revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” and found regular employment in the chorus of shows like “Fly, Blackbird,” “Golden Boy” and “Porgy and Bess.” In 1972 he took on the title role in the musical “Purlie” and also appeared in the revue “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”He is survived by his second wife, TV producer Donna Brown Guillaume; one son (another died in 1990); and three daughters.

Source: Robert Guillaume, Star of ‘Benson,’ Dies at 89 – Variety

Tamron Hall to Develop Daytime Talk Show With Weinstein Television

Tamron Hall (photo via twitter.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to Variety.com, former Today show co-anchor Tamron Hall is returning to return to daily television after leaving NBC News in February in the wake of the Peacock’s hiring of Megyn Kelly.

Weinstein Television is working to develop a daytime talk show featuring Hall, who will co-create the program with Weinstein and serve as host and executive producer of the series. Weinstein and Hall will also collaborate to develop other non-scripted programming under the terms of their deal.

The talk show is currently untitled, and is expected to focus on current events, human-interest stories and interviews with celebrities and newsmakers. The daily series is slated to be shot in front of a live studio audience.

“I’ve been working towards developing a talk show for a long time, but needed to make sure I did it the right way and with the right person to take the lead,” said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, in a prepared statement. “Tamron is far and away that person. She’s an exceptionally talented journalist whose interviews masterfully walk the line between entertainment and hard hitting. We couldn’t be more thrilled to begin this new venture with her.”

Harlem Playwright Shaun Neblett to Honor Works of Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry at I, Too Arts Collective

Lorraine Hansberry and Malcolm X share a birthday on May 19 (photos via dnainfo.com)

by Dartunorro Clark via dnainfo.com

HARLEM — In an age of resistance and Black Lives Matter, a local writer is looking to the past to unpack present-day issues.In an ode to civil rights icon Malcolm X and playwright Lorraine Hansberry — both of whom share a May 19 birthday and a Harlem connection — writer Shaun Neblett is unveiling a play based on the pair’s works on Friday.

The play “Happy Birthday Malcolm and Lorraine!” will feature sets of vignettes performed by several up-and-coming playwrights who will discuss contemporary topics, such as gentrification. Since the two subjects share the same birthday, Neblett wanted to fold their ideas and words in with the work of current writers, whose “journeys have been paved by Malcolm and Lorraine’s spirit and relentless drive to sharpen the black psyche,” he said. “Beyond creating a great show, we are sending their spirits our gratitude and keeping their important teachings alive,” he added.

In doing research for the play, Neblett said he discovered a letter at Harlem’s Schomburg Center that Hansberry wrote to her local newspaper when she was living in Greenwich Village, saying that “people were coming into her community and trying to take over.” “It really speaks to the gentrification that people are dealing with today in Harlem,” said Neblett, who founded the Changing Perceptions Theater.  Another captivating draw for Neblett is the play’s location: the home of Langston Hughes, another historic Harlem figure.

The East 127th Street home was renovated and has been leased by a group of artists — called the I, Too Arts Collective — since last year to preserve Hughes’ legacy. “It’s just all a real sort of nucleus for this event and the meaning of it and the purpose,” Neblett explained. “They all fought in their own way to empower the black psyche.” Hansberry and Malcom X also have Harlem ties. He spent some of his most formidable years in the neighborhood, and she moved there in the 1950s, later writing “A Raisin in the Sun,” whose title was based on a poem by Hughes.

“They were both revolutionaries and they just went about the way they fought for liberation in different ways,” Neblett said, “but their ideas and thoughts were the same.”

“Happy Birthday Malcolm and Lorraine!” premieres Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or online. The show will take place at the I, Too Arts Collective at the Langston Hughes House, 20 East 127th St.

Source: Harlem Playwright to Honor Work of Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry – Central Harlem – DNAinfo New York

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’ to be Staged at the Apollo Theater in April 2018

Ta-Nehisi Coates (photo via nytimes.com)

article by Andrew R. Chow via nytimes.com

“Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s award-winning book exploring racial injustice in America, will be brought to the Apollo stage next April.

Mr. Coates’s fiery work — which made him the National Book Award winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist — will be adapted into a multimedia performance, with excerpted monologues, video projections, and a score by the jazz musician Jason Moran.

Portions of Mr. Coates’s letters to his son would be read aloud, while narratives of his experiences at Howard University and in New York City could be performed by actors. Kamilah Forbes, the Apollo’s executive producer, will direct the production.

The coming Apollo season will be Ms. Forbes’s first full season in the role; she previously was the associate director of “Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway.

To read more, go to: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’ Is Coming to the Apollo – NYTimes.com

Pulitzer Prize Winners: Colson Whitehead, Lynn Nottage, Hilton Als and Tyehiimba Jess Earn Awards for 2017

2017 Pulitzer Prize winners Hilton Als, Colson Whitehead, Lynn Nottage and Tyehimba Jess (photo via mic.com)

article by Sarah A. Harvard via mic.com

The Pulitzer Prize committee announced its 2017 winners at its 101st annual ceremony on Monday. Among the 21 winners of the prestigious literary award, four black writers were commended for their work. BuzzFeed News’ executive editor Saeed Jones tweeted that Tyehimba Jess, Hilton Als, Lynn Nottage and Colson Whitehead were among the new class of winners.

Jess won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Olio, a collection of his sonnets, songs and narratives that highlight the lives of “unrecorded African-American performers” before the Civil War up to World War I.

Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for her Broadway show Sweat. The play, a political drama, centers on a group of friends who spent most of their lives working with each other in a factory and follows their friendship’s tumultuous friendship as rumors of layoffs begin to stir. According to Playbill, Nottage is the first female playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize twice. Nottage tweeted out thank yous for her award.

Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. The novel tells the story of a teenage heroine, Cora, in 1850s Georgia who tries to escape a cotton plantation and start her journey toward freedom.

Als, a theater critic for the New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

Source: 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners: 4 black writers take home the coveted award

New Yorker Writer Hilton Als Wins the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism

Hilton Als, a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1994, has been awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. (PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIGITTE LACOMBE)

article via newyorker.com

Hilton Als, the theatre critic for The New Yorker, has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Als became a staff writer for The New Yorker in 1994 and a theatre critic in 2002. Week after week, he brings to the magazine a rigorous, sharp, and lyrical perspective on acting, playwriting, and directing.

With his deep knowledge of the history of performance—not only in theatre but in dance, music, and visual art—he not only shows us how to view a production but how to place its director, its author, and its performers in the ongoing continuum of dramatic art. His reviews are not simply reviews; they are provocative contributions to the discourse on theatre, race, class, sexuality, and identity in America.

To see the ten pieces by Als, from 2016, that were part of the prize-winning submission to the Pulitzer committee, go to: Hilton Als Wins the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism – The New Yorker

Story of Negro Leagues Baseball Star Josh Gibson Premieres This April in Opera “The Summer King”

In this photo made on Friday, March 17, 2017, Sean Gibson, great grandson of Josh Gibson and Executive Director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, right, holds a replica Pittsburgh Crawfords jersey with Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn as they pose next to a poster at the Pittsburgh Opera House in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

article by Beth J. Harpaz, AP via washingtonpost.com

An opera about Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson, whose power hitting rivaled Babe Ruth’s, will have its world premiere in Pittsburgh this April. “The Summer King,” presented by Pittsburgh Opera, premieres April 29. Gibson’s story also figured in “Fences,” the movie starring Denzel Washington that was originally a play by Pittsburgh native August Wilson.

Baseball and opera “don’t usually inhabit the same universe,” said Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera’s general director. But opera is the perfect medium for telling Gibson’s story because opera allows people “to sing about emotions and aspirations and fears.”

Gibson was one of the first three Negro Leagues players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which lists his career batting average as .350. He was twice named Negro National League batting champ and led the league in home runs three times. He played for two Pittsburgh teams, the Homestead Grays and the Crawfords.

Gibson died at 35, probably from a brain aneurysm, a few months before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947. Gibson’s story is “the story that came before Jackie Robinson,” says Daniel Sonenberg, composer of “The Summer King.” ‘’Josh’s career made the advent of Jackie Robinson possible. It was Josh who played at this high level that caught the attention of white owners. It was Josh who demonstrated it was competitive suicide not to integrate.”

But baseball’s integration led to the Negro Leagues’ shutdown, ending careers for dozens of black athletes who were not among the few chosen for white teams. Both “Fences” and “The Summer King” honor “a whole generation of wonderful players whose livelihoods and social structures got up-ended,” Hahn said.

“Most people know the story of Josh Gibson as a baseball player, a home run hitter compared to Babe Ruth with outstanding statistics, in the Hall of Fame,” Sean Gibson said. “But behind the uniform was a great man who lived through tragedy outside of dealing with racism and playing baseball: His wife died giving birth to their twins.”

The opera also portrays Gibson’s career playing abroad in Cuba, Mexico and elsewhere. “Over there they didn’t have to deal with racism,” said Sean Gibson. “You’re going over to Latin countries, your skin color is the same color as theirs.” Nearly all 14 principal roles in “The Summer King” are played by African-Americans, a rarity in operas (”Porgy and Bess” notwithstanding). Renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves plays Gibson’s lover. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker, who plays Gibson, told the New Pittsburgh Courier that playing “someone that looks like me” is “an amazing opportunity.”

A ballfield named for Gibson is located in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood, not far from the August Wilson House, the late playwright’s childhood home. The August Wilson House hosts a block party April 29, starting at noon, just a few hours before the opera premiere, to mark Wilson’s birthday.

The Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit plans to stage “The Summer King” in March 2018.

To read full article, go to: Opera tells story of Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson – The Washington Post