Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in a new collaboration with Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe and Tony-winning choreographer Savion Glover. The collaboration is called Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Follows. The production begins previews March 14, 2016, at the Music Box Theatre, with opening night set for April 21.
McDonald will play Lottie Gee, the 1920s performer who appeared in the cast of Shuffle Along. This 1921 musical by Flournoy Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle altered the face of Broadway in giving several black performers their first Broadway credits. The show helped launch the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, and Paul Robeson, among many others.
Ninety-five years later, this backstage musical will explore the creation of this now-forgotten show. Wolfe directs and pens the book, while Glover choreographs. It marks their first collaboration since their 1996 hit Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. The production will have music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Daryl Waters, scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Ann Roth, and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Scott Rudin serves as producer.
Additional information about the production will be revealed in the coming months.
It was first a novel, then a film and now it’s headed to Broadway. “Devil in a Blue Dress” will be getting the theater treatment. The popular film that starred Denzel Washington and Don Cheadlein 1995 — based on one of Walter Mosley‘s most popular works — is coming to the Great White Way.
“Devil in a Blue Dress” is a noir novel and film about a man in 1948 Los Angeles who loses his aerospace manufacturing job and turns to private detective work.
Mosley revealed the Broadway news when he was promoting his new book, “Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore.” He has partnered with Jazz musician and composer Branford Marsalisto bring the work to the stage. There’s no word on if Washington or Cheadle will reprise their roles from the film, but the production should begin within the next year.
Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Hillary in the TV show “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” is raising funds for a new animated short about Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina and soloist to ever perform at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. In Collins’ journey, she overcame many great obstacles; at the age 15, the young dancer was asked to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but only if she performed in whiteface.
After refusing to dance in whiteface, Collins went on to become a renowned Prima Ballerina, winning awards for her performances on Broadway. In 1950, Collins was honored with the Best Dancer of Broadway title, making Collins a pioneer in this industry for paving the way for other black dancers and companies such as Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theater of Harlem.
The short story will be narrated by actor/comedian/producer Chris Rock and presented by Parsons’ founded award-winning organization Sweet Blackberry, whose mission is to educate kids on the achievements of African Americans with inspiring true stories.
So far, the project’s Kickstarter page shows 18 days left to go in the campaign, with over $16,000 already pledged of its $75,000 goal.
For more information on Sweet Blackberry, click here to see the Kickstarter video and contribute!
A watershed moment, a major milestone, recently took place on Broadway, with the orchestras of four major shows led under the batons of distinguished African-American music directors and conductors. This marks the first time in the history of Broadway that this many African-Americans have been in executive roles in major productions running contemporaneously.
The men in front of the orchestra and behind the music are (L to R) Daryl Waters, music supervisor and conductor for “After Midnight,” recalling Duke Ellington’s years at the Cotton Club; Zane Mark, music director and conductor for “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” inspired by the late hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur; Joseph Joubert, music director and conductor for “Motown the Musical,” about Berry Gordy’s famous music label; and Shelton Becton, conductor, pianist and performer in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” about the legendary Billie Holliday.
When Billie Holiday sang, history attests, her audiences tended to clam up. Even in the bustling nightclubs where she mostly performed, Holiday often insisted on total quiet before she would open her mouth. The quiet usually held, as one of the great singers of the last century turned jazz songs and standards into searching, and searing, portraits of life and love gone wrong that cast a shimmering spell.
When Audra McDonald takes to the stage and pours her heart into her voice in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a similar sustained hush settles over the Circle in the Square, where the show opened on Broadway on Sunday night for a limited run. With her plush, classically trained soprano scaled down to jazz-soloist size, Ms. McDonald sings selections from Holiday’s repertoire with sensitive musicianship and rich seams of feeling that command rapt admiration.
Although Ms. McDonald, a five-time Tony winner and an accomplished recitalist, has her own natural authority onstage, in this show, she submerges her identity in Holiday’s as an act of loving tribute to an artist whose difficult career exacted a painful price. Holiday is as well known now for the grim travails of her short life — she died at the age of 44, her voice spent, her body destroyed by addiction to alcohol and heroin — as she is revered for the legacy of recordings she left behind.
We hear much (too much) of this sorry story during the show, written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Lonny Price, and first produced Off Broadway in 1986. The year is 1959, just months before Holiday died, and the show is set at the club of the title in Philadelphia, a city that, as Holiday notes, she had reason to loathe. It was the site of her trial and conviction for drug possession, which led to a stint in prison and the revoking of her New York cabaret card, limiting her opportunities to perform in the city during the latter years of her career.
The spark of rebellion, the kind that makes a man stand up and fight, has almost been extinguished in Walter Lee Younger. As portrayed by Denzel Washington in Kenny Leon’s disarmingly relaxed revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun — which opened on Thursday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater — Walter appears worn down, worn out and about ready to crawl into bed for good. Frankly, he looks a whole lot older than you probably remember him.
That’s partly because, at 59, Mr. Washington, the much laureled movie star, is about a quarter of a century older than the character he is playing, at least as written. (This production bumps Walter’s age up to 40 from 35.) But it’s also because, as this production of Raisin makes clearer than any I’ve seen before, Walter inhabits a world that ages men like him fast.
Listen to how his mama, Lena (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), describes her late husband’s existence: “I seen him, night after night, come in, and look at that rug, and then look at me, the red showing in his eyes, the veins moving in his head. I seen him grow thin and old before he was 40, working and working like somebody’s horse.”
In this engrossingly acted version of Hansberry’s epochal 1959 portrait of an African-American family, Walter is all too clearly his father’s son. Lena may tell him, shaking her head, that he is “something new, boy.” But you know that her great fear is that he is not. Small wonder she shows such smothering protectiveness to Walter’s 11-year-old son, Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins).
A claustrophobic fatigue pervades the cramped, South Side Chicago apartment in which A Raisin in the Sun is set. And despite its often easygoing tone, a happy ending feels far from guaranteed. As designed by Mark Thompson, the Youngers’ living room cum kitchen is a narrow corridor that keeps its three generations of inhabitants in close, erosive proximity.
The production begins with a searing vision of bone-weariness. Ruth Younger (Sophie Okonedo), Walter’s wife, stands frozen center stage in a bathrobe, amid sallow morning light. Her face is harrowed, and her arms are braced against the kitchen counter in what is almost a crucifix position. She is trying to find the strength to get through another day.
Mr. Leon relaxes that initial tautness for the scene that follows, in which the Youngers — who also include Walter’s sister, Beneatha (a first-rate Anika Noni Rose), a pre-med student — go through their usual morning rituals. And the play as a whole has a genial, conversational quality; it always holds you, but without trying to shake you.
Still, that opening scene strikes a note that will resonate. Exhaustion is pulling at the Youngers like a dangerous force of gravity. As Hansberry puts it in her stage directions, “Weariness has, in fact, won in this room.”
Tony Award nominee Norm Lewis will join Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera as the show’s first Black lead after 26 years.
On Thursday, producers of the long-running show announced that the stage vet and Scandal actor would make his debut alongside Sierra Boggess on May 12. They noted that he will be the first African-American to play the role.
“I love the show but also to have hopefully set a precedent to see more diversity in casting,” Lewis told The Associated Press.
The thespian’s Broadway credits include Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Chicago, Side Show, Sondheim on Sondheim, and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (in which he received a Tony nomination), among others.
To date, Phantom has played to more than 130 million people in 27 countries and grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide.
Audra McDonald will be spending a lot of time on Broadway over the next couple of years. Weeks after announcing she will star in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Night, Mother opposite Oprah Winfrey, McDonald is set to play Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The four-time Tony Award-winning actress will play the late jazz icon in the show, which is set in 1959 in a seedy Philadelphia bar, and relives Billie Holiday’s last performance, taking place only four months before her death at age 44.
Lady Day is set to go in front of audiences later this year, making it McDonald’s next turn on the stage. Night, Mother will debut in the 2015-2016 season.
Oprah Winfrey is in talks to make her Broadway debut in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ’Night, Mother, starring opposite Tony-Award winner Audra McDonald as a mother struggling to stop her daughter from killing herself, according to two theater executives familiar with the plans. Tony winner George C. Wolfe (Lucky Guy) would direct the production, which is being aimed for the 2015-16 Broadway season. The two theater executives spoke on condition of anonymity to share details about a production that is currently confidential.
The lead producer of the project, Scott Sanders, confirmed on Thursday that he was in discussions with Ms. Winfrey to make her Broadway debut, but he declined to identify the play or discuss other details.
“Oprah has had a longstanding desire to act on Broadway,” Mr. Sanders said. “She understands how unique and challenging performing live on stage will be as an actress. She and I have been looking at a number of plays and roles in order to find material and a character that truly resonate with her. We’ve recently read something that we’re both excited about but are not yet ready to officially announce the specifics.”
Ms. Winfrey and Ms. McDonald read ’Night Mother together last year with Mr. Wolfe in Mr. Sanders’s apartment, according to the two theater executives, and all involved were happy with the results. The 2015-16 timing is driven by scheduling availability, according to the theater executives. Ms. Winfrey, who delivered an acclaimed film performance in Lee Daniels’ The Butler last year, and Mr. Sanders are currently working together on a Broadway revival of the musical The Color Purple, possibly for the 2014-15 theater season. They produced the original Color Purple production on Broadway in 2005; the new version would be the stripped-down production that the Tony winner John Doyle directed to much praise in London last summer.
Ms. McDonald, a five-time Tony winner who was last on Broadway in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and whose last Broadway play was A Raisin in the Sun in 2004 (for which she won a Tony), has theater projects and other work planned for the 2014-15 season. ‘Night, Mother was written by Marsha Norman, who worked with Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Sanders as the book writer on The Color Purple.
The two-character drama originally opened on Broadway in 1983 and ran for a year, earning Tony nominations for best play and best actress for both stars, Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates. There was a short-lived revival on Broadway in the 2004-5 season starring Brenda Blethyn and Edie Falco. Representatives for Ms. Winfrey did not return requests for comment; a spokesman for Ms. McDonald declined comment.