In a split bill at Damrosch Park Bandshell in New York City, Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “Word Becomes Flesh” and Kyle Abraham’s “Pavement” explored race, power and, most specifically, what it means to be a black man in contemporary society as part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series last Thursday night. Using spoken word, movement and music, Mr. Joseph takes on the issues confronting black fatherhood in “Word Becomes Flesh,” which program notes describe as a “choreopoem.” First performed in 2003 by Mr. Joseph, the work is a recitation of letters written to his unborn son. Now “Word” is reimagined for an ensemble cast of six. The performers share their fears about bringing a child — first addressed as “heartbeat” and later as “brown boy” — into the world.
Spurts of movement — diagonal runs from the wings; slow, exaggerated steps; and springy jumps — often serve to accentuate the wistful text, which magnifies the idea of multiple, insecure fathers-to-be. “You have an intrinsically intimate relationship with your mother,” one dancer says, “but your dad didn’t check out when you were in the womb.”
For all of its words, Mr. Joseph’s loquacious piece lacks poetry. Mr. Abraham’s “Pavement” is more elegiac, yet the thorny sightlines of the Damrosch bandshell did the piece few favors. Mr. Abraham is a beautiful dancer — unpredictable and spry, with the kind of articulation that is likely to become only more refined and subtle with age — but his packed productions are somewhat unconvincing. “Pavement,” influenced by the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and John Singleton’s 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood,” is set in the historically black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. It was there, at 14, that Mr. Abraham first watched the Singleton movie; audio clips from the film are included in the production.
Tension is wonderful in a work, and Mr. Abraham’s propensity for moving his dancers in multiple directions — his movement phrases show a body swirling one way and then the next before evading momentum with a backward hop in arabesque — can be exhilarating. But the push and pull between narrative and dancing throughout “Pavement” gives it a choppy, locomotive feel. The film audio is overkill.
The prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s first black soloist in twenty years took the stage last week, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in the unlikely, groundbreaking life of ballerina Misty Copeland. The 30-year-old beauty starred in ‘Le Corsaire’ at the Metropolitan Opera House from June 4-8, but her star turn is just one of a string of firsts and a fascinating life story she brings along with her.
For starters, Copeland, a native of San Pedro, California, grew up in extreme poverty. She didn’t even know what ballet was when she was spotted by an instructor at her local Boys and Girls Club at 13. Which brings up another unlikely fact in Copeland’s life—she didn’t even begin training in ballet until her early teen years.
‘I had no introduction to the arts in any way definitely not the fine arts,’ Copeland told the New York Post of her childhood, part of which was spent living out of a motel room with her mother. ‘Survival was our Number 1 priority, not extracurriculars, or a career,’ she said. ‘These were not things we thought about.’ She was destined, however, to think a lot about those things. In fact, she would soon be thinking of nothing but.
A ballet instructor named Cynthia Bradley spotted Copeland’s potential and told her she was ‘You are the most gifted dancer I’ve ever seen, and this could be a path to have a career.’ And that’s what it became. But at 13, Copeland was at a major disadvantage. Whereas most ballerinas start at the age of 5, with money and eager parents backing them. Copeland was not so lucky.
At every performance of musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” on Broadway and around the country, the tortured title character rips off his mask to reveal his disfigured face. That deformed mug is the handiwork of production makeup supervisor Thelma Pollard, who’s been with the New York incarnation since it began in 1988. It’s her job to teach every new “Phantom” cast member how to apply character makeup correctly and then ensure they keep doing it right. But it’s the Phantom himself that’s her baby: Before each performance, she carefully paints the prosthetics pieces (made of one-use latex) and applies the actor’s makeup herself, a process that takes about an hour.
Besides fidgety thespians — “some actors are better at sitting still than others,” she says diplomatically — hurdles include dropped wigs and a clock-ticking makeup application for an understudy who was rushed into a performance when the lead was sidelined by laryngitis mid-show. And then there was the time she had to figure out the Phantom’s skin color palette for Robert Guillaume, one of the few black actors to take on the title role.
Pollard was born in what she describes as a small village in Barbados — “I didn’t know about Broadway!” — and eventually followed her parents to New York, going on to earn two licenses in cosmetology, specializing in hair and makeup. A chance meeting with makeup designer Stanley James in the salon where she was an apprentice led to gigs on the original Broadway production of “The Wiz” and a string of legit credits that include “Dreamgirls,” “Cats,” “Song and Dance,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
The new Broadway production of Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful,” featuring Emmy-winning stage and screen star Cicely Tyson, has extended its run at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. The production, which officially opened April 23, had been scheduled for a 14-week limited engagement through July 7. It has now extended an additional eight weeks and will continue through Sept. 1. “Bountiful” was recently nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Actress in a Play (Tyson), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Condola Rashad), Best Sound Design for a Play (John Gromada) and Best Revival of a Play.
The cast also includes Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Jerry Maguire,” “Red Tails”), Emmy Award nominee Vanessa Williams (“Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives”), Rashad (Lifetime’s “Steel Magnolias,” Broadway’s Stick Fly), Tom Wopat, Devon Abner, Curtis Billings, Pat Bowie, Leon Addison Brown, Arthur French, Susan Heyward, Bill Kux, Linda Powell and Charles Turner. Michael Wilson directs.
Cicely Tyson’s return to Broadway indeed proved “Bountiful,” as she is among the contenders for best actress in a play for her starring role in “The Trip to Bountiful.’’ The others in Tyson’s category are Laurie Metcalf for “The Other Place,’’ Amy Morton for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,’’ Kristine Nielsen for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,’’ and Holland Taylor for “Ann.’’
The revival of “Pippin” “Motown: The Musical” each garnered several awards, among them nominations for their respective lead actresses, Patina Miller and Valisia LeKae. Courtney B. Vance also garnered a nomination for his supporting role in “Lucky Guy,” as did Tyson’s “Bountiful” co-star Condola Rashad for hers.
The full list of nominees is below:
Best play “The Assembled Parties” by Richard Greenberg “Lucky Guy” by Nora Ephron “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang
Best musical “Bring It On, The Musical” “A Christmas Story, The Musical” “Kinky Boots, The Musical” “Matilda, The Musical”
Best book of a musical “A Christmas Story, The Musical” Joseph Robinette “Kinky Boots” Harvey Fierstein “Matilda, The Musical” Dennis Kelly Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Douglas Carter Beane
Best revival of a play “Golden Boy” Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, Bernard Gersten “Orphans” “The Trip to Bountiful” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Best revival of a musical “Annie” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” “Pippin” “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella”
Best original score (music and/or lyrics) written for the theatre “A Christmas Story, The Musical” Music and Lyrics: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul “Hands on a Hardbody” Music: Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green Lyrics: Amanda Green “Kinky Boots” Music and Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper “Matilda, The Musical” Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play Tom Hanks, “Lucky Guy” Nathan Lane, “The Nance” Tracy Letts, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” David Hyde Pierce, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Tom Sturridge, “Orphans”
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play Laurie Metcalf, “The Other Place” Amy Morton, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Kristine Nielsen, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Holland Taylor, “Ann” Cicely Tyson, “The Trip to Bountiful”
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical Bertie Carvel, “Matilda, The Musical” Santino Fontana, “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Rob McClure, “Chaplin” Billy Porter, “Kinky Boots” Stark Sands, “Kinky Boots”
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical Stephanie J. Block, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” Carolee Carmello, “Scandalous” Valisia LeKae, “Motown, The Musical” Patina Miller, “Pippin” Laura Osnes, “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella”
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play Danny Burstein, “Golden Boy” Richard Kind, “The Big Knife” Billy Magnussen, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Tony Shalhoub, “Golden Boy” Courtney B. Vance, “Lucky Guy”
Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play Carrie Coon, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Shalita Grant, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Judith Ivey, “The Heiress” Judith Light, “The Assembled Parties” Condola Rashad, “The Trip to Bountiful”
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical Charl Brown, “Motown, The Musical” Keith Carradine, “Hands on a Hardbody” Will Chase, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” Gabriel Ebert, “Matilda, The Musical” Terrence Mann, “Pippin” Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical Annaleigh Ashford, “Kinky Boots” Victoria Clark, “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Andrea Martin, “Pippin” Keala Settle, “Hands on a Hardbody” Lauren Ward, “Matilda, The Musical”
Best scenic design of a play John Lee Beatty, “The Nance” Santo Loquasto, “The Assembled Parties” David Rockwell, “Lucky Guy” Michael Yeargan, “Golden Boy”
Best sound design of a musical Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm, “Pippin” Peter Hylenski, “Motown, The Musical” John Shivers, “Kinky Boots” Nevin Steinberg, “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella”
Best direction of a play Pam MacKinnon, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Nicholas Martin, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Bartlett Sher, “Golden Boy” George C. Wolfe, “Lucky Guy”
Best direction of a musical Scott Ellis, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” Jerry Mitchell, “Kinky Boots” Diane Paulus, “Pippin” Matthew Warchus, “Matilda, The Musical”
Best choreography Andy Blankenbuehler, “Bring It On: The Musical” Peter Darling, “Matilda, The Musical” Jerry Mitchell, “Kinky Boots” Chet Walker, “Pippin”
Best orchestrations Chris Nightingale, “Matilda, The Musical” Stephen Oremus, “Kinky Boots” Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook, “Motown, The Musical” Danny Troob, “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella”
Recipients of awards and honors in non-competitive categories Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Bernard Gersten Paul Libin Ming Cho Lee
Regional Theatre Award Huntington Theatre Company, Boston
Isabelle Stevenson Award Larry Kramer
Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre Career Transition for Dancers William Craver Peter Lawrence The Lost Colony The four actresses who created the title role of “Matilda, The Musical” on Broadway – Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro
As you find your seat at BAM’s recent production and U.S. premiere of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar, a group of black actors cavort on stage, laughing and joking, casually passing the day in what appears to be a West African market place, immediately distinguishing this production of Julius Caesar from the Shakespeare you might remember from your 8th grade reading list.
Certainly less romantic, and probably for that reason less popular than say Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has nonetheless surfaced in the past year in a modern day prison in the Triviani brothers’ film Caesar Must Die, in an all-female production staged at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, and now in an all-black production by Gregory Doran, using the political upheaval that has plagued modern day Africa as its backdrop.
Doran’s interpretation takes this classic drama’s transcendent themes – the corrupting influence of personal ambition, the fickle nature of public favor, and the unreliable symbols we pursue in making meaning of the world around us, just to name a few – out of the cool, limestone halls and monuments of ancient Rome, making them work and sweat under the hot, unflinching glare of the African sun.
It was much earlier this year when it was announced that there was renewed interest in exploiting the Soul Train franchise – thanks to Don Cornelius’ death. The news then was that Soul Train Holdings was working with WME to find ways to, as I said, exploit and grow the brand, which would include a film, a stage musical AND a TV show. “Certainly we want to proceed in a way that will highlight the contribution of Don to the creation of the brand and its subsequent impact on American culture,” said Kenard Gibbs, CEO of Soul Train Holdings.
However, there were some rights issues that they’d have to deal with, notably the music used in each episode of the series. But they were confident that wouldn’t be a problem. Things seem to be in motion again as it’s been announced today that Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his business partners have bought the rights to the Soul Train franchise for “several million dollars,” and are planning an upcoming musical based on the life of Don Cornelius, according to the NY Post. The musical, which is being aimed towards Broadway, will focus on the once mega-hit variety show.