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BroadwayBlack Flashback Friday: Hallelujah, Baby! 1968 Tony Awards

Andrew Shade

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Tony Winner Leslie Uggams is shown here performing on the 1968 Tony Awards in the role she won her Tony for. Alongside her are Lillian Hayman, Robert Hooks. Uggams recently followed us on twitter. Talking about keeping up with the times you can find her twitter —–>>> HERE and more about what she’s currently up to on her website. LeslieUggams.com

Hallelujah, Baby! 1968 Tony Awards

Peter Ustinov introduces Hallelujah, Baby! at 1968 Tony Awards (“Smile, Smile” – Leslie Uggams, Lillian Hayman, Robert Hooks)

Founder/Editor-In-Chief of BroadwayBlack.com | Actor | Artist | 1/3 of @OffBookPodcast | Theatre connoisseur | All Audra Everything | Caroline over Change | I'm Not Charl Brown | Norm Lewis is my play cousin | Producing an all-black production of Mame starring Jenifer Lewis in my head

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Broadway Black History Musical

In The Vault: Beyonce’s FELA! Inspired Album

Debra Freeman

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Somewhere in a locked vault is a Beyonce album with about 20 tracks on it, and it might sound a bit different than what is playing on mainstream radio, as every song is inspired by the music of Fela Kuti.

According to Genius.com, producer The Dream wrote that he recorded an entire, unreleased album with Beyonce prior to 2011 LP 4. “We did a whole Fela album that didn’t go up,” Terius Nash (his real name) wrote in a lengthy annotation to the lyrics of “End Of Time.” “It was right before we did 4. We did a whole different sounding thing, about twenty songs,” he continued. “[Beyonce] said she wanted to do something that sounds like Fela. That’s why there’s so much of that sound in the ‘End of Time’.”

Michelle FelaBeyonce’s connection to the music is more than just as a casual fan; her husband, Jay-Z, was one of the producers of the musical, and former member of Destiny’s Child, Michelle Williams, was Sandra Isadore in the national tour.

A bit of backstory; Fela! is a musical with a book by Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis, based on music and lyrics by the late Nigerian singer Fela Kuti, and is based on events in the life of groundbreaking Nigerian composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It portrays Kuti in the days when he was the target of 1,000 governfelament soldiers assigned to end his public performances at the legendary Lagos nightclub The Shrine.

In Fela!, according to producers, “audiences are welcomed into the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Using his pioneering music (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies), and explores Kuti’s controversial life as artist, political activist and revolutionary musician.”

The Broadway production received eleven 2010 Tony Award nominations and won Best Choreography, Best Costume Design of a Musical, and Best Sound Design of a Musical.

Watch a part of FELA! below. Also check out Beyonce’s Grown Woman video to see how some of the influences spilled over into the album that came after 4.

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Broadway Black History Fact

A Look Back: Raven-Symoné in Sister Act The Musical

Debra Freeman

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These days all the buzz about Raven-Symoné tends to be be more about her personal opinions. From her comments on her race (“I’m an American. I’m not an African-American; I’m an American”) to her opinion when a reporter said Michelle Obama looked like a monkey (“I don’t think what he’s saying is racist. Some people look like animals… Is that rude? I look like a bird”), she is definitely not afraid to take an unpopular opinion and stick to it. It was recently announced that Symoné has been named the newest co-host on television talk show The View. But before all the media hoopla, Raven-Symoné performed on Broadway in the musical Sister Act, and was getting more press from her talent, rather than her made-for-Twitter commentary.

Raven Symone & Chester Gregory In Sister Act The Musicak

Raven Symone & Chester Gregory In Sister Act The Musical

In 2012, Symoné took on the role of lounge singer-turned-nun Deloris Van Cartier (famously played by Whoopi Goldberg in the film of the same name), who witnesses a murder and is put in protective custody in a convent.  Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with both the rigid lifestyle and an uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique dance moves and singing talent to inspire the choir, Deloris breathes new life into the church and community, but in doing so blows her cover.

In the Broadway production, the role was originally played by Patina Miller, who earned a Tony Award nomination; Sister Act was also nominated for Best Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical.  In an interview with Huffington Post, Symoné said she fell in love with the musical the moment she saw it. “I was definitely one of the audience members dancing in the aisles.  I think it’s a wonderfully scored and directed and written musical. I’m very excited to be part of this.”  She concluded by saying, “I’m really not the kind of person who worries about every single review. My thing is my family’s going to watch, and I don’t want to look stupid on stage. So I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Sister Act ultimately ran for a little over a year on Broadway, to largely positive and enthusiastic reviews.

 

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A Must See

The Wiz: The Musical That Almost Wasn’t

Debra Freeman

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Actors (L-R) Andre De Shields, Tiger Haynes, Hinton Battle, Stephanie Mills Ted Ross in a scene fr. the Broadway musical "The Wiz".

Actors (L-R) Andre De Shields, Tiger Haynes, Hinton Battle, Stephanie Mills Ted Ross in a scene from the Broadway musical “The Wiz” 1974 Photo by Martha Swope courtesy of THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DIGITAL COLLECTIONS

Everyone thinks of The Wiz as an iconic production; the music, casting, and conceptualizing of The Wizard of Oz from a classic movie to an urban tale has been so successful that it’s storyline is practically woven into our collective consciousness. However, the Broadway production of The Wiz was nearly a disaster when it first opened.

A bit of background; in 1972 Ken Harper came up with the idea to modify the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz” to a black musical. Twentieth Century Fox became interested in the idea, and after Harper presented the idea, Fox signed on. In exchange for first option for film rights, publishing rights and album rights, they agreed to put up an ante of $650,000 with a 20 percent overcall. Shortly afterward, Harper brought on Geoffrey Holder as costume designer (who eventually became the director), 16 year old Stephanie Mills as DorothThe Wiz 2y, and 18 year old Hinton Battle as the Scarecrow.

Once The Wiz opened in New York, the show only grossed $46,000 in previews (and the weekly production cost was $67,000); things were so bleak that on opening night a closing notice was posted backstage. The reviews after opening night were mostly negative, but Fox allowed the production to continue for another month, provided that ticket sales increased on weekends.

A radio and television booking blitz followed, and word of mouth started to build. The result? A week later, The Wiz sold out the Saturday matinee, and Fox decided to add $120,000 in advertising money. The decision was made to do a television commercial, which was a novelty at the time. The $30,000 commercial featured the song, “Ease On Down the Road,” and within another two weeks after the commercial aired, every performance sold out.

As we now know, The Wiz won seven Tony Awards, has been seen all over the world, and turned into a movie; later this year, there will be a live presentation on NBC, with Stephanie Mills playing the role of Aunt Em, and will be presented as a Broadway revival for the 2016-2017 season.

Ease On Down The Road and watch this video from the original Broadway musical below.

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Behind The Scenes

Broadway Black History: Remembering Cole and Johnson

CCH

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J. Rosamond Johnson and Bob Cole are two names that are, sadly, not as talked about in most theater history classes, but their contribution to the Broadway stage is invaluable. Both were multi-hyphenate artists whose impact in arts and activism still resonates today. With more recent productions celebrating the early age of Broadway and many 20th century classic shows planning to be revived, it is important to know the key players of this time in American theater history.

John Rosamond c&jJohnson (1873-1954) was a Florida born composer who is best known for his song Lift Every Voice and Sing which went on to be known as the “Black National Anthem”. His brother, James Weldon Johnson, penned the lyrics. The two brothers travelled to New York City in 1899 to pursue a life in show business where they met composer Bob Cole (1868-1911). Cole had already seen some success with the vaudeville group, Black Patti Troubadours, and with his first creative partner, Billy Johnson; but an end to that relationship saw Cole in need of a new collaborator.

Cole and the Johnson brothers created their own vaudeville act in 1901 in which they performed their original compositions and dances. These shows led to the wildly successful song, Under the Bamboo Tree. The royalties from their songs and vaudeville shows gave them the means to produce something on a larger scale. In 1906, The Shoo-Fly Regiment, an all-black operetta, debuted on Broadway. The two wrote, produced, and starred in the show, and did the same two years later in The Red Moon. Cole and Johnson collaborated on many more songs and projects until Cole’s death in 1911.c&j_red_moon

Johnson went on to star in more Broadway productions such as Porgy and Bess and Cabin In the Sky, as well as compose hundreds of spirituals and musical theater songs. These type of creative ventures were prevalent in the early age of Broadway, especially among the underrepresented in the theater. The work of Bob Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson inspired the Harlem Renaissance, the Golden Age of Broadway, and the appreciation of the theatrical tradition; for this, we celebrate them.

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Broadway Black Cinema

School Daze: The Musical

April Reign

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In late November 2014, an anonymous hacking group that calls themselves “Guardians of Peace” breached Sony Entertainment’s servers, leaking a massive trove of documents, including hundreds of thousands of emails that have made their way online. An email dated April 4, 2014, from Bart Walker, Spike Lee’s agent at ICM, to Doug Belgrad, President of SPE Motion Picture Group, details the revised script for Lee’s School Daze Too, a planned sequel to the 1988 film Lee wrote and directed. It’s allegedly being packaged as a starring vehicle for rapper Drake and Kevin Hart.

“This is a new draft that Spike has written after meetings with Drake, who will play the lead role of PE*NIS, and Kevin Hart who will play DAT NIGGA JIGGA. The budget is $ 9 million (net, after Georgia tax credits), not including historic costs, star salaries, creative producer fees,” the email read. “I believe in the film both as an entertainment — a college film — and as a provocative and exciting piece about the conflict of traditional values (education, college) and hip hop/star/celebrity culture.  Why go to college to get a job to make money when you can make more money rapping, stripping, and creating salacious music videos even if they demean women? 
”

school daze movieAlthough much could be written about Lee’s colorful names for his characters and the stark characterization of the movie’s plot, this article focuses on the overall premise of a new or revamped School Daze project. While the original School Daze movie focused on issues of colorism and the conflict between Black Greek Letter Organizations and “Conscious” students at a fictional historically Black college, an updated version of the film might delve into the value of a college degree versus the quick fame and money that some have experienced by becoming rappers. One can almost imagine a “Twerk Off” that pits rap video vixens against young women who recognize that some elements of twerking can be traced back to African dances hundreds of years old.

Since the email is now over a year old and there has been no industry buzz about School Daze Too, it appears that this idea has been shelved, at least for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t stop Broadway Black from imagining a musical based on School Daze. The original movie was a musical; many of its key scenes would translate well to the stage. Casting for a new “Spike Lee Joint” might also be very imaginative.

Use the Comment Section below to share your thoughts:

Who would you cast in School Daze: The Musical?

What issues could a School Daze: The Musical tackle?

What one thing would make you want to see School Daze: The Musical at its premiere?

We want to hear what our Broadway Black Stars think!

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