According to washingtonpost.com, The Metropolitan Opera in New York plans to hire an all-Black outside chorus for its first presentation in nearly thirty years of ”Porgy and Bess,” which opens the Met’s season on September 23.
Performances of “Porgy and Bess,” which premiered in 1935, are licensed by the Gershwin family, which specifies an all-black cast. Written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Heyward, “Porgy” depicts a man living in Catfish Row, a poor, Black community in Charleston, South Carolina.
When the Met originally presented “Porgy” in 1985, it hired an outside chorus then too. At that time, there were three only Black members of the Met’s regular chorus of 81. That number today is six Black members in a group of approximately the same total now, the Met said.
“I think the Met is regarded as an institution that is colorblind when it comes to casting,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said. “We have many African-Americans and other black artists who are appearing on our stage in major roles.”
The Hungarian State Opera created controversy last year when it presented an unauthorized production with a largely white cast.
Performers Eric Owens and Angel Blue (pictured above) head the opening-night cast, which will be conducted by David Robertson and includes Denyce Graves, Latonia Moore, Golda Schultz and Ryan Speedo Green.
To see video of Owens and Blue talking about the upcoming production, click here.
Actor Denzel Washington headlined a rainy ceremony Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to mark the start of renovations at playwright August Wilson’s childhood home.
Washington led a $5 million fundraising effort to restore what is now called the August Wilson House. Renovations are expected to be completed in 2020, when the house is set to become a center for art and culture in the neighborhood.
“It is a privilege and an honor and a responsibility … and a joy to play a small part in keeping him alive,” Washington told an audience that huddled under umbrellas in the yard of the house at 1727 Bedford Ave.
Paul Ellis, Wilson’s nephew, led an effort to restore the nearly 200-year-old building to its 1950s-era look, matching how it appeared when Wilson lived there with his mother and five siblings. Wilson, who died in 2005, last visited the house in 1999.
When renovations are complete, the building — which is now on the National Register of Historic Places — will house displays and artifacts from Wilson’s life and plays. Wilson said he wanted the building to be “useful,” not only a museum, Ellis said. It will incorporate artist studios and will continue to host plays in its yard.
Duquesne University has launched a program to award fellowships to emerging writers who will live and study at Duquesne and spend time working at the House, Duquesne President Ken Gormley said.
Washington, who starred in a 2016 film production of Wilson’s play “Fences,” called Wilson one of the world’s great playwrights and talked about a familiar feeling in visiting the Hill District house. “I love August Wilson,” Washington said. “He touches my soul, our souls, in a way that no one else I know has. This is just like coming home.”
He identified some of the project’s big-name donors, noting Oprah Winfrey and actor Tyler Perry each gave $1 million and writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, director Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson all contributed.
Washington is producing nine more of Wilson’s plays — the rest of the 10 plays in the playwright’s Century Cycle.
Duquesne University has already selected its first fellow, former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey. Trethewey read her poem “Pilgrimage” at the ceremony, which included short performances of Wilson’s work by student Jamaica Johnson and Pittsburgh actor Wali Jamal.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, born May 19, 1930, was an award-winning playwright and activist. Her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s battle against racial and housing segregation in Chicago. She would have been 88 today.
Hansberry was the youngest of four children of Carl Hansberry, a successful real-estate broker, and Nannie Louise Perry, a school teacher. In 1938, her father bought a house in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, violating a restrictive covenant and incurring the wrath of many neighbors. The latter’s legal efforts to force the Hansberrys out culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1940 decision in Hansberry v. Lee, holding the restrictive covenant in the case contestable, though not inherently invalid.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School. In 1951, she joined the staff of the black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and worked with W. E. B. DuBois, whose office was in the same building. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist. She later joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed two letters to their magazine, The Ladder, in 1957 under her initials “LHN” that addressed feminism and homophobia. She separated from her husband at this time, but they continued to work together.
In 1959, Raisin In The Sun debuted, becoming the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play. The cast included Sean “P Diddy” Combs as Walter Lee Younger Jr., Phylicia Rashad (Tony Award-winner for Best Actress) and Audra McDonald (Tony Award-winner for Best Featured Actress). It was produced for television in 2008 with the same cast, garnering two NAACP Image Awards.
While many of her other writings were published in her lifetime – essays, articles, and the text for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) book The Movement, the only other play of Hansberry’s given a contemporary production was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window ran for 101 performances on Broadway and closed on January 12, 1965, the night she died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Hansberry’s funeral was held in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Paul Robeson gave her eulogy. The presiding reverend, Eugene Callender, recited messages from James Baldwin and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. which read: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.”
In January of this year, PBS aired an American Masters Documentary on Hansberry called “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.” Check out the trailer below and check your local listings for upcoming showings.
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.
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 — 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.
“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.
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 forOlio, 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 novelThe 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.
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.
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.