As an adolescent, I found comfort in the lyrics of several gospel artists, one of which was BeBe Winans. In the mist of my storms, I was able to find refuge in the smooth uplifting melodies of his albums, which ministered directly to my situations.
With that said, it brought me great joy to hear that the director of Motown: the Musical, Charles Randolph Wright, announced that he has written and is to direct the world-premiere stage musical Born For This: The BeBe Winans story at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA debuting January 2016 and running through February 14, 2016.
Born For This has been in the works for nearly a decade, and has been stated to showcase BeBe and CeCe Winans “heart-warming and hilarious journey toward self- discovery”.
Detroit natives BeBe and CeCe Winans, youngest siblings of the Winans family dynasty, experience the ultimate in culture shocks when invited to join Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord Network television show. The teenaged Winans become not only television celebrities, but also the “adopted children” of the Bakkers, integrating TV evangelism in Pineville, North Carolina. As BeBe and CeCe encounter fame, fortune, and even a young Whitney Houston, BeBe must learn to balance his desire for success with his true calling.
This production featuring new music written by BeBe, will reportedly incorporate a new generation of Winans to play the young brother and sister.
The full cast has not yet been released. However, during a private reading/workshop that had media mogul and Broadway producer, Oprah in the audience, as well as legendary Cicely Tyson, a few familiar faces were seen. Those faces included Syndee Winters, Alan H. Green, Dyllon Burnside, & Bryan Terrell Clark.
Bebe Winans recently did an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talking about the development of this new musical. Check out a snippet below:
On sharing his memories: “So much of it is a coming-of-age story, where we left home (in Detroit) and all the things we knew, which was pretty much a black-oriented school and church. And we were thrust into the South, where there were 4,000 (PTL Ministry) employees and four of them were African-American.
“It was a life-changing experience. We dealt with being away from home, we dealt with racism, we dealt with little things that were so different. Sports to me was basketball. And I found myself rock-climbing. I didn’t know that was a sport…”
On collaborating with “Motown the Musical” director Charles Randolph-Wright:“He’s very, very talented, and he knows my story, so it was easy to trust him. One thing I never will forget, he brought (a scene) to me, and it talked about threats on me and my sister. And I said, ‘I don’t remember no threats, Charles.’
“Then I was having dinner with Jim Bakker, who is still an incredible friend and father figure to me, love him with all my heart. And I gave him some of the script and told him that I had allowed Charles to take some leeway and that he had put in that we had had some threats. And Jim looked at me said, ‘Oh, there were a lot of threats.’
“He had protected us from them.”
On his Broadway hopes for the musical: “That’s the Alliance’s goal, that’s our goal, that’s the Arena Stage’s goal. Oh yes, it is Broadway bound!”
READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW ON ARTSCULTURE BLOG HERE
Just the idea of this production hits home for me, seeing that I spent much of my spare time in church. Strongly encourage those in the Atlanta area to mark this production on their calendars. I know how much of a blessing his music was to my life and I can only imagine what blessings are in store for those who take the time to support this man of God. I’ll be first in line when it comes to Broadway.
Whorl Inside A Loop Headed To Broadway!
As you may recall back in September, Broadway Black was in attendance at opening night for Whorl Inside A Loop at Second Stage Theatre. Since then, the show has been rumored to be making its Broadway debut this upcoming season, well that rumor is getting a lot more concrete. And we called it!
Christina Hendricks, known for her performance as Joan on AMC’s “Mad Men”, will star in an April 29 private industry reading of the Dick Scanlan/Sherie Rene Scott drama . The reading is presented by WalkRunFly, co-founded by Warren Adams and Brandon Victor Dixon, and is in advance of an anticipated Broadway run.
The new reading, will be co-directed once again by Scanlan and Michael Mayer and will feature original off-Broadway cast members Derrick Baskin , Nicholas Christopher , Ryan Quinn , Daniel J. Watts , and Donald Webber Jr.,as well as newcomer to the cast Tyrone Davis Jr.
Whorl Inside a Loop tells the story of a well-regarded actress who agrees to teach six inmates how to tell their stories behind the bars of a men’s maximum security prison. Sharing intimate and sometimes hilarious details of their former lives, this unlikely group forms a bond — even as the actress’ life outside spins out of control. And when what happens in prison doesn’t stay there, no one is sure who to trust. From the team that brought you Everyday Rapture, this new play features Sherie Rene Scott and six men playing two dozen characters in a constant shifting of scenes, ages, genders and races. Whorl Inside a Loop explores the fine line between convicted felons and the criminal inside each of us, the viability of forgiveness and the unreliability of redemption.
This is obviously a step in the right direction and with there being more than a few theaters vacant on Broadway right now, I’m sure Whorl Inside A Loop will be able to (rightfully) find a home.
We’re excited about the possibility of this amazing show getting a much deserved Broadway run! If it does make it to Broadway, this also means Broadway is getting serious about its diverse storytelling and that’s a beautiful thing.
Chester Gregory Will Lead The Broadway Revival of Motown The Musical (Full Cast Announced)
Well, it’s that time! Time to go back to dancing in the streets this summer. After touring the country since 2014, the touring company will land on Broadway Tuesday, July 12 at The Nederlander Theatre for a strictly limited 18-week-only engagement through Sunday, November 13, 2016.
The original production of Motown The Musical opened on Broadway April 14th, 2013 and closed January 18th, 2015, with plans to return. Those plans have finally come to fruition.
Leading the cast and making a big Broadway return is musical theater veteran Chester Gregory (Hairspray, Tarzan, Cry-Baby, Sister Act) who will star as “Berry Gordy”.
Another great tidbit is the graduation of three original Broadway ensemble members who will now star in leading roles: Allison Semmes as “Diana Ross”, Jarran Muse as “Marvin Gaye” and Jesse Nager as “Smokey Robinson”.
The smash hit production, featuring the music of the legendary Motown catalogue and a book by Berry Gordy, will also star J.J. Batteast and Leon Outlaw, Jr. as Young Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson.
The 33-member ensemble cast will feature Nik Alexander, Erick Buckley, Chante Carmel, Chadaé, Lynorris Evans, Anissa Felix, Talya Groves, Rod Harrelson, Robert Hartwell, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Trisha Jeffrey, Jamie LaVerdiere, Elijah Ahmad Lewis,Loren Lott, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Krisha Marcano, Marq Moss, Rashad Naylor,Ramone Owens, Olivia Puckett, Nicholas Ryan, Jamison Scott, Joey Stone, Doug Storm, Martina Sykes, Nik Walker and Galen J. Williams.
Congratulations to every member of this cast, many of whom will be making their Broadway debuts!
The show is billed as:
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, Motown The Musical is the real story of the one-of-a-kind sound that hit the airwaves in 1959 and changed our culture forever. This exhilarating show charts Motown Founder Berry Gordy’s incredible journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more.
Featuring all the classics you love, Motown The Musical tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America. Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat.
More about the creative team for our #BroadwayBlack creatives:
Motown The Musical’s creative team features choreography by Patricia Wilcox (A Night with Janis Joplin) and Warren Adams (Toy Story), scenic design by David Korins (Hamilton), costume design by Tony Award nomineeESosa(On Your Feet!) lighting design by Tony Award winner Natasha Katz(An American in Paris), sound design by Tony Award nominee Peter Hylenski(Something Rotten!) and projection design by Daniel Brodie (Aladdin).
Motown The Musical features arrangements and orchestrations by Tony and Grammy Award nominee Ethan Popp (School of Rock, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), who also serves as musical supervisor for the orchestra that reproduces the classic “Sound of Young America” for the stage, with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Tony Award nominee Bryan Crook (“Smash”), dance arrangements by Zane Mark (Holler if Ya Hear Me) and music direction by Joseph Joubert (The Color Purple ).
Find out more information about dates, times, & tickets HERE
Denee Benton Makes Broadway Debut In 1812
So in a year that should probably be called, “Everyone is Going to Outpace You in Diversity, Oscars,” Denee Benton is making her Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. She will be reprising the role of “Natasha” alongside Josh Groban, Grammy winner and also first time Broadway-er.
Benton may be a familiar face to you if you live outside of NYC. You may have been blessed with her performance as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, during their U.S. Tour. I can tell you from experience she was one of the stars of the show and grabbed you the second she stepped on stage.
The Great Comet credits its book, music, and lyrics to Dave Malloy, and is directed by Rachel Chavkin. Benton reprises the role she played in the limited engagement at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. The story draws from just 70 pages of Tolstoy’s classic “War and Peace.” Performances begin in September.
Check out her BroadwayCon 2016 performance of “From Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.”
Shuffle Along Gets Behind-the-Scenes Treatment on CBS
CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” with Maurice DuBois, gave those of us anxiously awaiting previews for Shuffle Along a little sneak peek to hold us over until March.
In this divine union of Black Broadway brilliance, Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed is the reimagining of the classic 1921 musical. The star-studded cast, including Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter, chatted with “Sunday Morning” about the process and the progress.
“I actually threw some tap shoes on a few months back just to see what would happen, and my timing was very awful, you know,” joked Mitchell. “But it came back after a while!”
Now, Shuffle Along is back, nearly 100 years after becoming one of the first hit musical comedies starring, written and directed by African Americans. For all of the strides and successes it made in its time, its significance remained unearthed for decades following its closing.
“And then history stepped in and said, ‘Thank you — and maybe we’ll remember you, and maybe we won’t,” said Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe.
The all-star team is lead by Wolfe and his Jelly’s Last Jam protegé, famed choreographer Savion Glover. By all accounts, Glover’s unique tap style is less than old hat for the Broadway Vets.
“I learned how to tap traditionally… I can say this: I learned how to tap from the white folks!” Porter cackled. “I was at a ballet bar. It was very technical. Now, it’s like learning a whole ‘nother language.”
Even the seemingly flawless Ms. McDonald is still trying to find her groove.
“Because Savion doesn’t necessarily say, ‘This step is a left flap-ball-change-shuffle.’ He goes, Ba-da-da ba-da-da … it’s just call-and-response with him. That’s how he teaches.”
But in true professional fashion, each of the players are up to the challenge.
“I’ll say, like, ‘Oh, I can simplify that for you.’ And they say, ‘No, give me the harder one. I wanna learn that,'” Glover said. “That makes me feel great!”
Glover and Wolfe have been successfully working together for 23 years, since Glover was a teenager. Wolfe directed the piece in which Glover earned his first Tony award for choreography, Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.
“In our early years of working together, I was there, I was present, but the need to want to learn more wasn’t there,” Glover said of his younger experiences. “Versus this time, I’m learning as we’re working.”
Now, the duo is working together to retell this backstage story about the making of one of the first all-Black Broadway musical hits. The original production, which launched the careers of greats including Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson, made fans of then New York City shakers George Gershwin, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, and Langston Hughes.
The large cast of 30, which also includes Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry, Felicia Boswell, Amber Iman and Adrienne Warren, begins official rehearsals in January and we’re not sure who’s more excited, them or us!
“It is such an honor and such a gift to be able to actually exist inside of your dreams,” Porter told DuBois. “This is actually the dream. I am living the dream. It’s extraordinary; it really is.”
New Hip Hop Musical iLLA Is Creating A New Beat
iLLA: /ilə/ adjective. Exceedingly ill. Greater than. More superior. “His beat is ill, but mine is illa.” Do you have what it takes to be iLLA?
Hip Hop is once again taking the theater by storm in the form of the newest hit contemporary musical iLLA! After premiering at this year’s annual New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), iLLA received the 2015 Award for Excellence for the NYMF Developmental Reading Series.
iLLA! follows Robert, a classically trained dancer, who dreams of becoming a famous rap star. After suffering a humiliating defeat at a leading open mic competition, Robert struggles to redeem himself in the eyes of his peers. He falls hard for a girl named Stacy but his family’s prejudices threaten to tear them apart. Can Robert overcome his fears and troubled home life to achieve his Hip Hop dreams? It’s a journey of Swagger, Struggle and Self-love that we all must travel.
The fresh production touts musical influences ranging from hip hop to R&B to gospel with music by Jevares C. Myrick and book and lyrics by Ronvé O’Daniel. Alumni of Wright State University, the writing duo are both theater veterans, having collectively performed in shows including Book of Mormon, Seussical the Musical, Ragtime, Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Altar Boyz.
In more exciting news, iLLA! was recently selected as the first NYMF Next Link Project for 2016. An exclusive writer service opportunity, Next Link entitles the production to subsidize production slots at the festival, training sessions that optimize the creative team’s access to funds and professional contacts, and a qualified dramaturg to assist the writer in improving the show.
It’s thrilling that shows like Hamilton are setting the stage and opening up new doors for innovative takes on a traditional art form. Congratulations to the cast and crew of iLLA! Stay tuned for all the latest news on this HOT new musical. You heard it here, it’s gonna be FIRE!
Danai Gurira Talks Eclipsed And Friendship With Lupita On The Tonight Show
Actress, playwright, and sword-wielding zombie killer, Danai Gurira, stopped by the The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to talk about the monumental success she’s earned in 2015.
Author of a show headed to Broadway? Check.
Awarded “Person of the Year” at the African Diaspora Awards? Check.
Leading role on a popular prime time Television series? Check.
While all of these great things were in the works, Danai still found the time to give back. Her giving back was in the form of mentoring her friend (and one of our favorites!) Lupita Nyong’o, through the selection process of which graduate program to attend. Although Nyong’o didn’t choose Gurira’s alma mater, Tisch School of The Arts, the two were still on the same page artistically. In Nyong’o’s first year at Yale, she understudied the role in Eclipsed she would go on to play at The Public Theatre this past fall. As previously reported, Nyong’o will reprise her role when Eclipsed opens on Broadway in February. And to say we cannot wait, is an understatement!
Gurira has a lot to be proud of. Eclipsed, which she penned in 2009, had an extraordinary run at The Public Theatre— it was extended twice and sold out. Her team is equally as impressive and diverse, which adds on to the relevance of her high pressure story telling the personhood of Liberian women “navigating survival during a vicious civil war.” The show is produced by two African-American lead producers, Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey. Director Liesl Tommy, who staged the play’s premiere at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington in 2009, is from South Africa. Lupita Nyong’o identifies as Mexican-Kenyan. Lastly, Gurira herself, was born in the United States and raised with her family in Zimbabwe.
Outside of the playing “ Michonne” in The Walking Dead, Guira appeared in the films “The Visitor” and “Mother of George.” Her stage credits include the role of “ Isabella” in Measure for Measure for which she received the Actor’s Equity Callaway Award. As a playwright, she received an Obie Award, Outer Critics Award, and Helen Hayes Award for In the Continuum. For Eclipsed, Gurira won an NAACP Image Award, the Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play, and the Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Production of a Play. Her latest play, will premiere in New York at Playwrights Horizons in February 2016.