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Leads & Legends

Audra McDonald Is Divine in Sexy Movie Musical “Hello Again”

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The origin of the word diva comes from the Latin word for “divine,” and when we talk about Black Broadway, there’s one person that fits that bill every time: Our Lady of Song, Audra McDonald. Though she’s played some fantastic leading ladies on stage, we’re excited to see her on the big screen again. No, not in Beauty and the Beast, but by another singing film role, this time as Sally, an diva and mistress to a senator (Martha Plimpton) in Michael Lachiusa’s movie musical, “Hello Again.”

 

If that job title sounds familiar, it’s because Audra performed Hello Again’s “Mistress of the Senator” on her 1998 album “Way Back To Paradise.” We get chills when we see McDonald’s name with Lachiusa’s because of their rich history of fabulous music. Lachiusa wrote “Marie Christine” (1999) and “See What I Wanna See”(2005); both starred McDonald.

 

“Hello Again” is the cinematic adaptation of LaChiusa’s celebrated Off-Broadway musical of the same name; inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s controversial 1897 play “La Ronde.” Ten fleeting love affairs across a century in New York City history are explored through ten lust-filled musical episodes.

 

The film makes its rounds in film festival scenes across the country throughout the summer. While you wait to see if it’s coming to a theater near you, soothe your soul with this music video of McDonald from the film. It’s titled “Beyond the Moon” which is as apt description of the lengths we’ll go to find tickets to this amazingly sexy film.

 

“Hello Again” also stars Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu), Martha Plimpton (Top Girls), Jenna Ushkowitz (Spring Awakening) and several others.

The film makes its rounds in film festival scenes across the country throughout the summer. While you wait to see if it’s coming to a theater near you, soothe your soul with this music video of McDonald from the film. It’s titled “Beyond the Moon” which is as apt description of the lengths we’ll go to find tickets to this amazingly sexy film.

“Hello Again” also stars Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu), Martha Plimpton (Top Girls), Jenna Ushkowitz (Spring Awakening) and several others.

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Broadway Black Exclusive

There’s No One Like Ntozake Shange, Part 1: Wild Beauties

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In this multi-part series, Broadway Black interviews Poet Ntozake Shange.

The Legendary Blue Note Jazz Club located in NYC’s Greenwich Village was buzzing in anticipation of Ntozake Shange’s performance of Wild Beauties. Before the start of the show, I interview Shange’s friends, family, and long time fans, asking them “what they were most looking forward to?”

Although hard to believe, it has been over 40 years since the creation of Shange’s seminal work for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Blue Note audience member’s stories span decades; set in New York City, The Bay Area and every town or city in between.

They recall the moments they felt visible in her poetry. They blush as they confess they performed in local productions of For colored girls as lady in red, lady in green or other women in the play. They smile reciting lines from sechita, pyramid and “no more love poems #1. #2, #3 & #4.” They are nostalgic as they tell me about seeing Shange’s work on and off Broadway. They compare the play to the 1982 PBS American Playhouse production, to the Tyler Perry Film with strong opinions about each iteration. Each felt ownership and protective of Shange’s work. Each came to see the artist whose work changed their lives. 

At the end of their testimony, there is a pause. Their unending love for Shange is coupled with their concerns for her. I disclose I am writing about the performance and as a result, many ask me with caution in their eyes, about her health.

Is she healthy (enough to do this)?  Is she too old to do this?  Will this be her last performance?

These questions are caring and well meaning yet, problematic; heavily anchored in western cosmologies about health and our fears of a changing body. I graciously shift the conversation, encouraging them to relax and enjoy the show. As a journalist, I understand it is important to address these curiosities as it relates to Shange’s most recent performance and the legacy of her work.

I had the pleasure to sit with Shange the morning of her Blue Note performance. She candidly discusses her health, her body and her excitement to be performing again since recovering from stroke related medical complications over the last decade. It’s no secret that stroke rehabilitation has been an important part of recovery, as she shared the successes and setbacks on her journey towards wellness.  “I went through a period where I didn’t write. I didn’t perform. I concentrated on my physical rehabilitation. I had to learn how to hold things, how to sit up how to stand.” 

She is thrilled with the progress she continues to make in rehab. Shange who is a gorgeous 68-year-old woman glows when she talks about dancing. She approaches her physical therapy as if it were a movement workshop often asking her cab drivers to play Latin music and dances in the back seat as she rides.

In our conversation, she strikes me as a fiercely independent woman.  She is a Black artist who takes pride in the craft of her poetry. Shange reluctantly depends on speech recognition software to write poetry as the software seeks to not only auto correct but colonize the beauty of black phraseology that is the essence of her work.

Her writing uses a Black talk that dances like jazz telling stories of the diaspora. Her work is the embodiment of Blackness moving in the air to manifest emotion, uniquely her own and there is no one on earth who can replicate. Software certainly can’t do what Shange can do and this is a source of her frustration.

Shange tells me Maya Angelou sent her children’s books to read as she regained her speech. She tells me about times when walking, moving and certainly dancing was impossible. How getting a typewriter helped her feel more connected to her work. She still has poems to write and desires this connection to her words. 

She shares that rehearsals are going well and how she loves working with musicians  William “Spaceman” Patterson,  Michael Raye and Patmore Lewis. She is ecstatic to be back on stage in front of audiences. This is the conversation I am recalling in my mind as audience members whisper to me about her health. This is the reason I decline to speculate, I figure Shange would do what Shange came to do. Perform poems. Dance. Take Names.

The return to the stage at Blue Note feels like a homecoming for Shange. She explains ” I began working in night clubs with musicians reading my poetry. That is how for colored girls started. I feel like it’s the beginning again.”

At the start of the night, the announcer welcomes the audience to Blue Note, painfully mispronouncing her name. The audience rumbled, rolling their eyes in her defense while yelling “Its N-to-ZAH-kee SHAHNG-gay. Her name is N-to-ZAH-kee SHAHNG-ga!”  said many voices from neighboring tables.

When the musicians William “Spaceman” Patterson & Michael Raye take the stage the audience tosses their annoyance aside and settles in for the show. Shange soon followed. The audience gives a standing ovation before she utters a word.

She came out swinging. Normally Shange likes to ease audiences into her work offering safety at the start of her sets but she had something to say about PRIDE. Her opening poem, ODE TO ORLANDO is about the Orlando Night Club Tragedy.  In June 2016, 49 people were killed and 58 wounded due to hate a crime inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Shange lyrically takes audiences to the inside of Pulse nightclub where the black and brown queer bodies gather to celebrate Pride month. Her poem collages stories of her daughter who could’ve been there but wasn’t there. This poem is timely and tender, embracing the spirit of Pride season while not forgetting the need for LGBTQ liberation all year around.

 She shares a poem titled LOOSENING STRINGS, OR GIVE ME AN “A”. Shange, a self-described Black girl who grew up listening to “white boys who sang weird harmonies that all sound the same” on the radio states “Yes, Eric Clapton made me want to have a child named Layla.” She has a sense of humor. The audience laughs in tune with her confessions.

Shange like a bandleader of a jazz orchestra moves us through experiences that are terrifying and soft. In THERE ARE NO MARKERS, she reminds us of the brutal reality of Blackness in America. She draws the audience into her world with I had five nose rings.

I had five nose rings

a gold circle

a silver circle

a star

nefertiti

& a half moon

without these I am unarmed

not ready for arbitrary violence

There is no question that Shange captivates audiences. Her poetry, her presence her aura is magnetic.  We have heard her words in cafes in local theaters, on Broadway and in Hollywood performed by some of the greatest Black actresses of all time, yet there is nothing like hearing Shange perform her own work. She is beautiful and particular. It is this closeness with her, her words, her journey that audiences are still yearning for 40  years after for colored girls took Broadway by storm at the Booth Theatre in NYC. 

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Leads & Legends

James Earl Jones’ Entire Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech

George M. Johnson

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Sunday evening, the incredibly brilliant multi-talented Mr. James Earl Jones, received the Special Tony Award for his lifetime achievements on the Broadway Stage. Unfortunately, the Tony Awards decided to air only a taped portion of Mr. Jones speech rather than allowing him to speak live, although he was in attendance.

Mr. Jones is a 2 time Tony Award Winner; winning for “Best Lead Actor in a Play” in 1969 and 1987 for The Great White Hope and Fences respectively.  He has also received 2 additional “Best Lead Actor” Nominations in 2005 and 2012 for On Golden Pond and The Best Man.

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Leads & Legends

Phylicia Rashad Joins Shakespeare in the Park’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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A true titan of the theatre will take the stage with an exceptional cast for Shakespeare in the Park’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tony winner Phylicia Rashad (A Raisin in the Sun) plays Titania, Queen of the Fairies in one of the bard’s most twisting comedies. Youth, love potions, deep forests, magic and a stumbling acting troupe collide for a night of summer mischief and hilarity that can’t be missed.

 

Delacorte Theater’s resident Director Lear deBessonet’s vision for Shakespeare’s most produced play on Earth will be a sight to behold. The cast features De’Adre Aziza (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Passing Strange), Kyle Beltran (In The Heights), Vinie Burrows (Samara), Austin Durant (War), Shalita Grant (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike), Patrena Murray (The Death of The Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World), Bhavesh Patel (Present Laughter) Richard Poe (All The Way), Danny Burstein (Fiddler on the Roof), Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots), and more.

 

Fifty years after interracial marriage was legalized in the United States, it’s a joy to see so much diversity reflected in every on-stage pairing, each of which is multiracial. Representation matters and when it comes to casting, Helena says it best in this play: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”

 

With any luck, this play won’t be disrupted like the last Shakespeare offering from the same theater, and we’ll bow to Queen Phylicia any day.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is offered at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park July 11 – August 13, 2017.

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Award Nominations

Audra McDonald and Will Swenson To Host The 2017 Drama League Awards

Jerrica White

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drama league

Broadway couple Audra McDonald and Will Swenson will host the 83rd Annual Drama League Awards. What a perfect selection, it’s almost like we came up with it!

All jokes aside, we’re in the middle of awards season and anticipation runs high as we celebrate the work of our community all the way up until Tonys night on June 11.

In the weeks up to the Tonys, it can be hard to differentiate one award from the other. The Drama League Awards are unique in that they hinge on the Distinguished Performance Award. In a category of over 50 performers, this award goes to one artist a year, and can only be won once in an artist’s lifetime.

The Drama League previously announced its 2017 Special Recognition Honorees: the legendary Bette Midler will receive the Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater Award; Bill Berloni will receive the Unique Contribution to the Theater Award for his work in animal training for Broadway, and Michael Greif will receive the Founders Award for Excellence in Directing.

The 83rd Annual Drama League Awards Ceremony and Luncheon includes a nominees cocktail reception, luncheon, and awards presentation and will be held at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in the Broadway Ballroom (1535 Broadway) on Friday, May 19, 2017, beginning at 11:30 am. Tony winners Patina Miller and Bebe Neuwirth announced nominations for the 83rd Annual Drama League Awards on April 19th at New York’s famed Sardi’s.

For a complete list of 2017 nominees click HERE.

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Award Nominations

It’s That Time! The 71st Annual Tony Awards Nominations

Andrew Shade

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tony nominations

At last! Tony Awards season has arrived, and Broadway Black is thrilled to congratulate several leads and new legends for their nominations!

Tony Award-winning actress Jane Krakowski and past Tony Award nominee Christopher Jackson announced nominations in 24 competitive categories for the American Theatre Wing’s 71st Annual Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards® at the Tony Award Nominations ceremony, sponsored by IBM, held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center on Tuesday morning.

The eccentric new musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 leads with a total of 12 nominations including Best Musical. August Wilson’s Jitney received six nominations, including Best Revival of a Play, and Sweat received three, including Best Play.

Broadway newcomer Denée Benton of Great Comet received a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, competing alongside legends Patti LuPone and Bette Midler, and Miss Saigon’s Eva Noblezada. Corey Hawkins scored his first Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for Six Degrees of Separation.

Featured actors John Douglas Thompson and Condola Rashad both received nominations for their performances in their respective plays, Jitney and A Doll’s House, Part 2. Sweat’s Michelle Wilson will also compete in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play category.

For his work in Jitney, Tony winner and August Wilson-connoisseur Ruben Santiago-Hudson received a nomination for Best Direction of a Play, along with costume designer Toni-Leslie James, who also takes a nomination for her work in Jitney. Having won two Pulitzers for Drama in her career, Lynn Nottage receives her first Tony nomination for writing the topical new play Sweat.

Prolific stage and film actor James Earl Jones will receive the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, having had a career spanning more than 60 years.

For a full list of nominations, visit TONY.

Congratulations to all of the 2017 nominees!

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BB Casting Agency

Hello, Dolly! The Past, The Present, and The Prospective Future

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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hello, dolly!

A few weeks ago, previews began for the Bette Midler-led revival of Hello, Dolly! over at the Shubert Theatre. Midler last appeared on Broadway in her hilarious one-woman show I’ll Eat You Last at the Booth three years ago, and Fiddler on the Roof in 1967, when the actress had last starred in a musical on the Great White Way.

This revival of Hello, Dolly! marks the fourth incarnation of the Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman musical since its first inception in 1964, starring Carol Channing. The original production played well, but after three years and a slight decline in ticket sales, producer David Merrick decided he needed to shake things up a bit.

Hello Dolly!What better way to achieve shock value than to recast the show and create an all-Black version with the amazingly talented Pearl Bailey as matchmaker Dolly Levi and Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder.

Nowadays, a stunt like this would surprise no one, but in the late 1960s –a time of war and protest, racism and hate– the casting was nearly unheard of. The cast, however, didn’t deter people from seeing the show.

In fact, Hello, Dolly! opened to glowing reviews on November 12, 1967, at the St. James Theatre. This new version would later close on December 27, 1970, bringing the total cumulative Broadway run to 2,844 performances, thus making it the longest-running musical of its time.

DuImage result for pearl bailey hello dollye to popularity, producers released another cast recording with the all-Black cast and Bailey received a Special Tony Award in 1968. She would eventually reprise her role in a short-lived revival in 1975 with Billy Daniels.

After her successful run as Dolly, more opportunities opened up for Black actresses to step into the role of the meddling matchmaker including: Thelma Carpenter, who actually went on as Bailey’s alternate on Wednesday matinees and performed in over 100 performances, Edwina Lewis, and E. Faye Bulter — whose 1990 version included the cut song “Love, Look in My Window.”

Looking back on this amazing production, and with the revival set to officially open in April, we got to thinking: If we could recast Hello, Dolly! today, who are some Black actresses we’d like to see?

Check out some of Team BB answers below:

JHD: Jenifer Lewis. She can blow, she has sass, she needs to be on Broadway since yesterday. And she would absolutely make an amazing Dolly. She actually played the title role back in 2009 in a Seattle Regional Production. If not a Broadway reprisal, we’ll settle for a revival of Mame too.

Tristan: Whoopi Goldberg, Queen Latifah, or Vanessa Williams. Here for all three of them, though the Ugly Betty fan in me is truly here for a Wilhelmina Slater-inspired Dolly.

Who would YOU cast? Sound off in the comments below.

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