Tag: theatre

THEATER REVIEW: Audra McDonald Shines in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

LADYDAY-master675
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill Audra McDonald plays Billie Holiday at Circle in the Square. (Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

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.

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Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Kyle Abraham Hip-Hop Performance Pieces Captivate at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “Word Becomes Flesh” was performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. (Photo: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

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.

Continue reading “Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Kyle Abraham Hip-Hop Performance Pieces Captivate at Lincoln Center Out of Doors”

Denzel Washington Returning To Broadway For ‘Raisin In The Sun’ Revival

After unconfirmed rumors from Showbiz411, the man himself, Denzel Washington has confirmed that he is indeed returning to Broadway in 2014 to star in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, to be directed by Kenny Leon.  Washington confirmed the rumors last night at the New York premiere of his action-comedy 2 Guns, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Although he didn’t say whether he’ll be joined by Sophie Okenedo, Anika Noni Rose and Diahann Carroll, as Showbiz411 also previously reported.  But since they got Denzel’s involvement right (as well as the play, director and producer), I’d assume that they are also correct on the casting of the three actresses.

Denzel didn’t tell the WSJ what role he’ll be playing in the production, but, really, who else would it be but the lead protagonist, Walter Lee Younger? Certainly not Joseph Asagai nor George Murchison. Besides, I don’t see Denzel returning to Broadway to take a supporting role.  Assuming Sophie Okenedo and Anika Noni Rose are indeed attached, they’d likely play Walter Younger’s sister (Beneatha) and wife (Ruth).  Showbiz411 pegged Diahann Carroll as the family matriarch, Lena (“mama”).  Scott Rudin will produce.

Continue reading “Denzel Washington Returning To Broadway For ‘Raisin In The Sun’ Revival”

List Of Black 2013 Tony Award Nominees Ahead Of Tonight’s Broadcast on CBS

“The Trip To Bountiful”‘s Condola Rashad
The 2013 Tony Awards will be broadcast on CBS tonight, starting at 8pm, with Neil Patrick Harris hosting. Here’s a list of the African-Americans up for awards tonight:

– Cicely Tyson, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (A Trip To Bountiful)

– Billy Porter, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Kinky Boots)

– Valisia LeKae, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Motown The Musical),

– Patina Miller, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Pippin)

– Courtney B. Vance, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Lucky Guy)

– Shalita Grant, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike)

– Condola Rashad, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (The Trip to Bountiful)

– Charl Brown, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Motown, The Musical)

 Keala Settle, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (Hands on a Hardbody)

– George C. Wolfe, nominated for Best Direction of a Play (Lucky Guy)

For the full list of all the nominees, see below: Continue reading “List Of Black 2013 Tony Award Nominees Ahead Of Tonight’s Broadcast on CBS”

“Bountiful’s” Cicely Tyson Moves Broadway Audiences to Sing Along to “Blessed Assurance”

Not long after the curtain rises on the second act of “The Trip to Bountiful,” the Broadway revival of the Horton Foote play at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, something unusual happens. Cicely Tyson, as Mrs. Carrie Watts, sits on a bus station bench in a small Texas town. She is on the run from her abusive daughter-in-law and henpecked son in Houston, desperate to see the family farm in Bountiful once more before she dies.

Audience members join in as Ms. Tyson sings “Blessed Assurance.”  Overcome with emotion, she begins singing an old Protestant hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”

From the first note, there’s a palpable stirring among many of the black patrons in the audience, which the play, with its mostly black cast, draws in large numbers. When Ms. Tyson jumps to her feet, spreads her arms and picks up the volume, they start singing along. On some nights it’s a muted accompaniment. On other nights, and especially at Sunday matinees, it’s a full-throated chorus that rocks the theater.

Continue reading ““Bountiful’s” Cicely Tyson Moves Broadway Audiences to Sing Along to “Blessed Assurance””

Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams Return to Broadway in ‘The Trip To Bountiful’

trip-to-bountifulAfter three weeks of previews, the Broadway production of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful starring Emmy winner Cicely Tyson, Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr., Emmy Award nominee Vanessa Williams and Tony Award nominee Condola Rashad, opened on Tuesday at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre to several rave reviews (see below). Directed by Michael Wilson and produced by Nelle Nugent, the 14-week limited engagement will end on June 30, so if you’re interested, get your tickets by clicking here.

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article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

R.I.P. Maria Tallchief, America’s 1st Native-American Prima Ballerina

Maria Tallchief

The New York Times reports today that Maria Tallchief, daughter of an Oklahoma oil family who grew up on an Indian reservation, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Chicago.  She was 88.  Her daughter, the poet Elise Paschen, confirmed the death. Ms. Tallchief lived in Chicago.

Ms. Tallchief, a former wife and muse to the choreographer George Balanchine, achieved renown with Balanchine’s City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Indeed, the part that catapulted her to acclaim, in 1949, was the title role in the version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” one of many that Balanchine created for her.  In addition to “Firebird,” Balanchine created many striking roles for her, including those of the Swan Queen in his version of “Swan Lake,” the Sugar Plum Fairy in his version of “The Nutcracker,” Eurydice in “Orpheus” and principal roles in such plotless works as “Sylvia Pas de Deux,” “Allegro Brillante,” “Pas de Dix” and “Scotch Symphony.”

A daughter of an Osage Indian father and a Scottish-Irish mother, Ms. Tallchief left Oklahoma at an early age, but she was long associated with the region nevertheless. She was one of five dancers of Indian heritage, all born in Oklahoma at roughly the same time, who came to be called the Oklahoma Indian ballerinas; the others included her sister, Marjorie Tallchief, as well as Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and Yvonne Chouteau.  Growing up at a time when many American dancers adopted Russian stage names, Ms. Tallchief, proud of her Indian heritage, refused to do so, even though friends told her that it would be easy to transform Tallchief into Tallchieva.

 In 2007, PBS aired the documentary, “Maria Tallchief” about this Kennedy Center Honor recipient’s life and work.   To read more about Tallchief, click here.  To watch Tallchief narrate her stunning “Firebird” solo, click below:

article by Jack Anderson via nytimes.com; additional reporting by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

GBN Historical Photo of the Day

Leontyne Price as “Cleopatra” in the 1966 production of “Antony and Cleopatra” by the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center in New York.

Marvin Gaye-Inspired Stage Play to Hit Theaters Tonight

Marvin Gaye performing on stage (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

Marvin Gaye performing on stage (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

The story of the late, legendary Motown artist Marvin Gaye will be coming to a stage near you, thanks to the efforts of his sister Zeola “Sweetsie” Gaye.  My Brother Marvin is said to provide behind-the-scenes insights in the life of the “Let’s Get It On” singer.  “Through the years, I became taken aback and disappointed with everything that had been written, said and published about my family, especially my brother Marvin that wasn’t accurate,” Zeola Gaye said in a press release.  The cast for the show includes Lynn Whitfield in the role of Gaye’s mother and Keith Washington as the singer himself.

“In the play, I simply wanted to set the record straight. I wanted to leave a true account about Marvin the man and our family. People need to know what really happened and Marvin would want his fans to really know what happened. We are finally bringing the truth the world needs and must know,” Zeola added in her press release.  The show will be on tour throughout several major American cities including Houston, Baltimore and Motown’s birthplace of Detroit starting today (February 15) and concludes in the spring.  Click here to buy tickets.

article via thegrio.com