Tag: Ntozake Shange

THEATER: “Fall of The Kings” by Mai Sennaar Opens Tonight at Historic Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx

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Bronx, NY – Designated as a New York City Historic Landmark, the Andrew Freedman Home, a vibrant location for arts and culture, is revitalizing the artistic landscape of the Bronx, New York.  On September 5, New York University alumni and producer Walter E. Puryear will mount “The Fall of the Kings,” a new American drama set in the 1940s.

The play tells the story of an African-American heiress and her Caribbean (Cuban) husband fighting to sustain their family in the midst of an economic disaster.

Described by the New York Times as “exactly the sort of place…that contemporary arts dreams are made of” the venue carries an undeniable palatial air and encompasses over 100,000 square feet. Freedman, a millionaire, former owner of the New York Giants and financier of the city’s first subway lines, bequeathed funding to construct the Home in the 1920s as a luxurious residence for once-wealthy senior citizens.

Playwright Mai Sennaar (photo via baltimoresun.com)
Playwright Mai Sennaar (photo via baltimoresun.com)

The playwright, Mai Sennaar, is an alumna of the Tisch School of the Arts. She is a mentee of noted playwright and screenwriter Richard Wesley (The Mighty Gents, Broadway) and Broadway and film actress Novella Nelson. At the age of 19, Sennaar’s first play, “The Broken Window Theory,” was produced at the famed Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe starring Tony Award-winner Tonya Pinkins and directed by Tony Award-nominee Michele Shay.

“The Fall of the Kings” production crew includes choreographer, Dyane Harvey-Salaam, whose Broadway, film and television credits include: The Wiz (original stage and film versions) and the Spike Lee film “School Daze.”  Set designer, Christopher Cumberbatch’s work has appeared both in theatre and in the Spike Lee films, “Crooklyn” and “Malcolm X.” Composer Dianaruthe Wharton Sennaar is a founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock and composer for Ntozake Shange’s Broadway hit “For Colored Girls…”  The award-winning, Grammy-nominated composer and trumpeter Christian Scott is a featured guest soloist on the play’s main theme.

“The Fall of the Kings” is an immersive theatre experience where the fourth wall crumbles and the story moves the audience through intimate rooms and enthralling portrayals, welcoming the audience right into the home and lives of the Kings.

“Kings” opens today, September 5 at 8pm, with performances running through November 1st.  Tickets range from $30-$45. Discounts are available for groups, Bronx residents, seniors, and students. Exclusive Bed & Breakfast and Bus trip packages are also available.

For tickets and information: www.thefallofthekings.com

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

THEATER: How Black Stars on Broadway are Redefining Legacy of “The Great White Way”

Keke Palmer And Sherri Shepherd's Debut In 'Cinderella' On Broadway
Keke Palmer And Sherri Shepherd’s Debut In ‘Cinderella’ On Broadway (Source: Jenny Anderson / Getty)

‘The Great White Way’ is seeing a serious dose of color these days.

In 2014, Black actors broke ground on Broadway when Norm Lewis became the first Black male to play the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and Keke Palmer played Rodger and Hammerstein’s first Black Cinderella on the stage. This year, Brandy scored another career milestone as the third notable Black actress to play femme fatale Roxie Hart in Chicago. And just last week, photos of Taye Diggs as Hedwig & The Angry Inch’s first Black male superstar hit the web to tons of excitement.

These inspiring moves are not only monumental for the actors, but also for the world of Broadway. While television and film are often called out for their extreme lack of diversity, Broadway has a long history of incorporating actors of color, as well as from the LGBT and disabled communities. And yet, despite impressive attempts at inclusivity, most people remain unaware of the strides made in the theater world.

To put it mildly, Hollywood could learn a lot from the Great White Way’s  moves to culturally harmonize the stage.

Brandy Norwood Prepares Her 'Chicago' Broadway Debut
Brandy as “Roxie Hart: in “Chicago” (Source: Bruce Glikas / Getty)

Black actors first began standing under those bright white lights in 1920 when Charles Giplin became the first Black actor on Broadway to play the lead role in The Emperor Jones. Seven years later, Ethel Waters became the first Black actress in a lead role in Africana. Meanwhile, Show Boat was the first production to feature an integrated cast and even an interracial marriage.

The Roaring Twenties gave us our “Black firsts” on Broadway, but racism and segregation marred an otherwise elegant art scene, due much in part to the terrible effects of minstrelsty.  Minstrels shows may not have been “Broadway” productions, but the racist shows garnered popularity nonetheless. Sometimes performed through the vaudeville platform (think baby Broadway), the productions continued through the 1960s, when fight for civil rights decreased their popularity.

Still, amid all of the setbacks, Black actors persevered by singing, dancing and acting their way into our hearts. More importantly, they did so not for the amusement of the White man, but out of their talent and genuine passion for the field.

In 1950, Juanita Hill was the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for a Supporting Role as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Another Rodgers and Hammerstein production, the story was far from the famed duo’s most famous shows, but was notable for its tackling of the harmful affects of racism head-on.

The next 30 years would see a number of other noteworthy moments, including Diahann Carroll’s Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for No Strings. Vinnette Justine Carroll‘s achievement as the first Black female director of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, the production of Ntozake Shange’s emotional For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, powerhouse actress Audra McDonald winning and of course Jennifer Holliday’s portrayal of Effie White in Dreamgirls:

But the last two years have been extremely notable for their high-profile and consistent opportunities for Black stage actors. Not only did Broadway darling Audra McDonald make history by winning her sixth Tony in 2014 (also becoming the only actress to win in all four acting categories), but Phyllicia Rashad won a Tony for the revival of A Raisin In The Sun and Denzel Washington shone in his much-praised role in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.

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“For Colored Girls” 40th Anniversary Commemorated In New York Art Exhibition

ntozake_shangeCommemorating the 40th anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking choreopoem For Colored Girls is an introspective exhibition, i found god in myselfwhich is kicking off the fall season at The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture from Sept. 19 to January 2015.  Her work i found god in myself explores issues of femininity and gender, love and loss, empowerment and sisterhood.

Since its debut performance in California in 1974, Shange’s work has captivated, provoked, inspired and transformed audiences all over the world. Since, the work has remained a cornerstone of feminist, black, and LGBTQ-theory studies in colleges and theaters alike, both in the United States and abroad.

Shange is a past recipient of the The Women of Power Legacy Award, which recognizes outstanding impact, achievement and leadership by women in business, the arts, education, government and other influential industries. Black Enterprise recognized Shange in 2011 for her body of work as a playwright, poet, and self-proclaimed feminist who addressed issues relating to race and gender.

Turning to the choreopoem not simply as an engaging work of text or drama but as a well of social, political and deeply personal issues affecting the lives of women of color, the New York exhibition will feature 20 specially commissioned pieces in honor of each individual poem, additional non-commissioned artworks on display at satellite locations that address the work’s themes and archival material donated by Shange. The exhibition’s title is drawn from one of the last lines recited in the finale poem a laying on of hands. The title suggests that navigating through the complexities of what it means to be of color and female is only enlightened by an understanding, acceptance and appreciation of self. With self-empowerment comes the process of  “…moving to the ends of their own rainbows.”

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