“Actors are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, actors face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every role, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment.
With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life – the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because actors are willing to give their entire lives to a moment – to that line, that laugh, that gesture, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. Actors are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.”
-David Ackert, LA Times
Accepting The Torch: A New Generation of Leads & Legends
Photos by Felix Kunze @Felixkunze
Creative Direction & Produced by Dual Phocus Productions @dual.phocus
Hair & Clothing Stylist: Chloe Chada’ @quintessentially_chloe
MUA: William Bob Scott @bobscott200
For many, the love of theatre begins with a visual. A performance of some sort, the sparkling twinkle that reflects off a bedazzled costume, a set piece that you just know in your heart you should be walking on, or maybe even a tune with such a striking melody that you can’t get it out of your head. Once it’s planted there, there’s usually no turning back. No forgetting that moment of pure joy and satisfaction in knowing that one day it’ll be you on that stage or you helping to make that kind of magic happen.
Yes, for some, the dream may change at some point but they’ll never forget their initiation. It’s a part of them. However, there are those that push forward through it all. They train and condition themselves to stay on the path and ultimately run the course, hoping to break record time in the relay race of Broadway, catching up to the one in front of them stretching and reaching for the baton. A baton that is on fire. A baton so hot that only a few can hold it, it’s that hot. There’s an insane amount of work to do to even get the chance to grab it but even more work and efforts to hold on to it but also an extreme honor at the same time.
I had the chance to talk with four of the 2016 Tony Award nominees and a previous Tony Award winner about their journey and what it takes to pass and receive the Broadway Black torch. Out of the 18 African-American nominees we chose to talk with Brandon Victor Dixon, (Best Feature Actor in a Musical for Shuffle Along) Saycon Sengbloh (Best Featured Actress in a Play for Eclipsed) , Pascale Armand, (Best Featured Actress in a Play for Eclipsed, Adrienne Warren (Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Shuffle Along) and the torch bearer and trailblazer LaChanze (2006 Tony Award-winner. Best Leading Actress in a Musical for the original mounting of The Color Purple), as they also took part in an exclusive photo shoot with acclaimed photographer Felix Kunze. Each one had some very inspiring and encouraging words to say that I think truly capture what it means to be a part of the Broadway Black community
“We all [Tony Award Winners], we always assume that the next year we’ll get a chance to pass the baton to the next person. I’ve always thought of it as a rite of passage. An acknowledgment that you’re including someone else into the realm of winners or people who are fortunate enough to receive this wonderful accolade. I’ve always imagined it would be sort of a tradition to do that. Something I’ve always thought that only people who’ve won Tonys can really do, pass the torch. There have been so few people of color who’ve won in my category and in the history since the Tonys began. It just feels right to be able to do that this year. I’d tell the nominees, first, sleep. As much as you can, sleep. Also, enjoy yourself, enjoy the moment. Don’t let anything slip by. Do it all. You’ll be able to look back and be glad that you did it.” – LaChanze
“This season is classic and historic. I’m feeling very excited. Excited for myself, As well as to see how Broadway Black is growing. I was born and raised in Atlanta. My mom is American and my Dad is from Libera. Hearing my Dad’s accent or my sister’s accent always penetrated me even though I always spoke with my American accent. So when it was time to call on the Liberian side for this show [Eclipsed], I said “What? when has anyone ever asked me to do that?” So, I welcomed the challenge. That’s what you always have to do. “ – Saycon Sengbloh
“Everyone who knows me knows the struggle has been long and hard. I’ve been at it for a second. I never thought for the longest time that it was a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if,’ like some people. I’ve just been hustling and hoofing it for so long. I never even thought about the Tonys. I wanted to work. For all the times young Pascale sat in a puddle crying thinking “I’m going to find a corporate America job, get my benefits,” and all that. I’d tell her, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, dry all the tears, and keep it at. It’s going to happen you just have to be patient. Wait for it. It’s coming.” There had been so many times where I didn’t know that and was so close to throwing it all away. Then I would look at a student loan bill and think I didn’t pay all this money to quit now.” – Pascale Armand
“It’s a big year. It’s exciting to be nominated. It’s a wonderful year. Extraordinary talent. And I’m glad it’s a diverse body of storytelling and talent that’s on display because these really are my people. My boys, my people, my friends. We’re here! I would go crazy if Adrienne Warren won but I’ll go ham if Renee wins. Leslie’s my boy. Lin’s my boy. It’s just a celebratory time. [Being here] is icing on the cake. We have wonderful shows that are sold out. Broadway is doing really well.” – Brandon Victor Dixon
“I’m so grateful for the show [Shuffle Along] and the story we’re telling. How blessed we are to be able to tell this story, in this way, with these people. We come to work every day and we realize that we have a story to tell to represent these people who have deserved recognition for so many years and now they’re finally getting it. That’s the best gift I could possibly ever get. I’m so proud of everyone that’s a part of this amazing season.” – Adrienne Warren
Kennedy Center Honors Featuring Cicely Tyson Airs on CBS
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson stunned on Sunday as one of the honorees for the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.
The annual celebration has become the star-studded event of the season attracting A-listers from Broadway to D.C. to Hollywood. Tyson was one of six honorees celebrated for their lifetime contributions to the arts and American culture. Other honorees included Rita Moreno, Carole King, George Lucas and Seiji Ozawa.
Broadway Black beauties Viola Davis and Kerry Washington were on hand for Tyson’s tribute to share all the ways the timeless 90 year old had inspired them and their work.
“Cicely Tyson does not merely act,” said Washington. “She soars. She sings. She vibrates. She is music.”
Davis, who recently worked opposite Tyson as her daughter on the hit-series “How to Get Away With Murder,” had this to say about the icon: “my friend, my inspiration, my TV mother…[she] motivates others to follow her lead and her dreams.”
Since her breakthrough performance in the critically acclaimed “Sounder,” Tyson has earned a bevy of Academy, Emmy and Golden Globe nominations over the span of her 60-year career. In 2013, she won her first Tony Award for her captivating portrayal of “Carrie Watts” in A Trip to Bountiful. She can currently be seen on Broadway in The Gin Game with long-time friend, James Earl Jones.
In all, Tyson has nearly 100 acting credits in film, TV and stage, but as Producer Tyler Perry explained, she has always been selective in the works with which she chooses to associate herself.
“She turned down more roles than you could imagine because they didn’t lift or serve us as a people,” Perry said. “For six decades, she has been diligent in her pursuit to better us all.”
When asked how she felt about receiving the presidential honor, she simply responded, “I am still in shock,” the humility ironic against her regal sophistication. “I consider this tantamount to being honored by the queen.”
The 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS on Dec. 29 at 9 P.M.
Kerry Washington gives an amazing introduction for Cece Winans, Terrence Blanchard, & The Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing & Fine Arts Choir singing Blessed Assurance.
Aretha Franklin performs (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman like you’ve never seen before for another honoree, Carole King.
Exclusive: Our New Dorothy, Shanice Williams Shares Her New Life
Broadway Black recently met up with America’s beloved younger sister, Shanice Williams. Her excitement was contagious and she lit up the room with her laughter as she gave us insight into her preparation for the role of Dorothy in NBC’s The Wiz Live!
I think it’s safe to say that we can all connect to Dorothy’s story. We’ve all, at one time or another, felt lost, lonely, and out of our element. More often than not these experiences have led us back to our own version of home, stronger and more resilient.
Shanice certainly relates. Just a couple months ago, she was a Jersey girl who found herself far from home in her first few semesters at AMDA, a performing arts college in Los Angeles, California. Since then she’s made a pretty remarkable journey back home.
After being in Los Angeles for a year she realized “I wasn’t feeling the school and I had to look for a new one.” Although she was following her dreams and studying theatre, she reflects “I remember there were days where I would just cry. No matter what anyone else thinks, I know I can’t be here.” It was time to come home, but in no way did that mean deferring her dream. She auditioned for The Wiz Live! the day after she came home.
“I never got cast in a show at college, but dreams come true and nothing is impossible.” Out of hundreds of new comers, Shanice landed the role of a lifetime and she doesn’t take the importance of this role lightly. She has been profoundly impacted by The Wiz and can’t wait to cultivate the love of this timeless work in the hearts of this generation. Her version of Dorothy reflects 2015 in that her character “handles things the way she does” and as for the entire production, she says “every dance we do now, in the classiest way.” (Did anyone else see the cast do the “Nae Nae” at The Macy’s Day Parade!?)
In the midst of all of the excitement, our favorite Jersey girl remains rooted and makes time for herself and her friends. Her friends jokingly record, “What Dorothy Does In Her Free Time,” which has this 19 year old “always on her A game.”
As for what’s next, Shanice says she’s ready to sleep! The biggest thing she’s learned is to stay humble, keep God first, and that it’s “all about the work.” Speaking wisdom perhaps beyond her age, she reminds us that if you lose sight of this, “it all goes down hill.”
Just like us, she loves all things Audra McDonald and seeks to span her career into film, Broadway, and TV— whatever opportunity that makes sense, just like Queen Audra! We hope her yellow brick road leads to her playing Dorothy on Broadway and many more leading ladies! One thing we know for sure is that her yellow brick road is paved with gold.
The Wiz Live! airs on Thursday, December 3 at 8pm EST on NBC. Join us for our watching party! For tickets click HERE.
Wiz Live! Producers to Present Staged Version of Bombshell Next
“Smash” Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron gave fans of the short-lived TV drama the hope they’ve been waiting for on Tuesday when they announced that a stage version of Bombshell is next on their to-do list.
“I would say that [work on] Bombshell slowed down a tiny bit because Bob Greenblatt asked us to focus on The Wiz,” Zadan told Entertainment Weekly. “The moment The Wiz is up and running, we’ll go back and focus on Bombshell. So once this airs, we’ll be jumping in on Bombshell.”
According to Meron, they are “currently putting together the creative team.”
A musical within a musical, so to speak, “Smash” premiered on NBC in the spring of 2012. According to NBC, “Smash” was a musical drama that celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who all have one common desire – to be a “Smash.” Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the series featured names like Jennifer Hudson, Brenda Braxton and breakout star (and our favorite villain) Leslie Odom Jr. After struggling in its second season, the show was cancelled in 2013, citing low ratings. However, Bombshell, the primary musical featured in “Smash,” has produced somewhat of a cult following. The major demand for an encore resulted in a one-night-only concert version of the production this summer, featuring original cast members and fans’ favorite songs as part of a fundraiser for The Actor’s Fund.
“There is a still a lot of love for ‘Smash’ and a rabid fan base out there, and we’re thrilled to be able to keep the dream alive as we work towards bringing Bombshell to theatre audiences,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment.
Bombshell features a score by Tony Award-winning songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Emmy Award-winning and Tony-nominated choreographer Joshua Bergasse will return to stage his stunning dances for the full production.
While “The Wiz Live!” premieres on NBC Dec. 3, no timeline for a Bombshell premiere has been given.
We’re wondering if maybe Odom and Hudson can pull double duty and do both their shows and Bombshell? I say it’s worth a shot! A girl can dream…
Exclusive! Jeffrey Johnson Talks Ragtime Tour and Playing Booker T. Washington
I was 13 years old when the original production of Ragtime opened on Broadway. A friend of mine played “Little Girl” in the original cast and invited me to her new show. I had recently become obsessed with the score from Once On This Island, so seeing another show composed by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens piqued my interest. But having experienced other “traditional” Broadway productions, I was convinced musical theater was NOT my thing.
The lights dimmed, I restlessly prepared for what could be an agonizing next three hours, and the overture began. To say it truly was “the music of something beginning” could sound cliché, but honestly, the stirring in my spirit was palpable. From the start, it was simply the most beautiful combination of expression I had ever experienced. A stunning score, paired with brilliant direction, simply raised to supremacy by an outstandingly capable cast (side note: in addition to a love for theater, this experience would also incite an eternal obsession with one Ms. Audra McDonald), and most of all, a great story.
Nearly 20 years later, the cast of the Ragtime national tour is telling that story, based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, in theaters all across the country. The tour, which recently opened in Las Vegas, has shows scheduled throughout the U.S. through the spring of 2016.
I recently had a chance to catch up with actor, friend and certified hoot, Jeffrey Johnson II (Dreamgirls, Hair, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ragtime, Hairspray) to discuss his newest task of taking on the role of Booker T. Washington in the national cast:
Broadway Black (BB): Tell us about your role.
I play Booker T. Washington in the national tour of Ragtime. I’m one of the historicals interwoven into this fictional story. In a search for justice, Coalhouse decides to take over the Morgan Library and Booker T. comes in as the mediator. He’s the voice of reason after this tumultuous situation.
BB: What have you learned about Booker T. Washington since taking on this role?
We all know he’s such a great influence, not only in Black history but really in American history. He had such an incredible sense of honor and labor. He somehow found his way to Hampton University and worked as a janitor to get into school. Even the Tuskegee Institute, he built that school. If they weren’t in class, he and his students were literally building that campus.
BB: Did you already know these things about him or did you do some research?
I researched. Taking on this role, I wanted to know exactly what I was stepping into. I picked up the book “Up From Slavery” thinking ‘oh, this will be a good summer read.’ I finished it in three days! It was just so interesting!
BB: What have you learned about yourself as a performer since taking on this role?
*Johnson was originally called in for the ensemble but, after auditioning, offered to read the part of Booker T. Washington for the assistant director, ultimately securing him the principal role.*
I feel like the director took a big leap entrusting me with this role. I knew I was younger than some of the men who had played this part before, but I knew I could do it. I had to trust my gut. Sometimes you gotta show up, do what you do and hope for the best.
BB: Marcia Milgrom Dodge helmed the Tony nominated revival in 2009. How was it working with her for this production?
Marcia is incredibly knowledgeable about theater and she is incredibly knowledgeable about this script and this score. It was a little daunting, but also thrilling because I don’t know anybody who could tell this story this well. [In reference to those commenting on Dodge’s stripped down adaptation] I’m a vegan so I think in terms of – she’s juiced it. She’s taken all the necessary pieces and leaves the audience with everything it needs.
BB: Why do you think this story needs to be told?
When Ahrens and Flaherty created this show, they were referencing subject matter from the early 1900’s, and they thought we were past it. You know, race, immigration… But life is cyclical and we’re back at the place where we have to talk about these issues. I hope it will generate conversations in the communities we are able to reach because we really got a long way to go.
To find Ragtime playing at a theater near you, visit HERE.
Arts and Activism in America: Malika Oyetimein
Director Malika Oyetimein is on a mission. She has focused her career in the theater to “Create change. To affect people with my work. To change hearts.” As the Artistic Director of Ademide Theater Ensemble, a member of the Lincoln Center Theater’s Directors Lab, and a MFA candidate at the University of Washington, she has already set a firm foundation for herself. There are two major projects Oyetimein is working on that put her directly at the nexus of arts and activism: Robert O’Hara‘s Bootycandy, and a new play by Kia Corthron, Force Continuum.
The production of Bootycandy at the Intiman Theatre Festival in Seattle will be the first time the play will not be directed by writer Robert O’Hara — a fact Oyetimein does not take lightly. This play explores one man’s experience of growing up Black and gay in America, a story not often told in mainstream theater. Oyetimein feels, “It’s beyond time for us to start seeing the world through more than just the white gaze. Pushing people out of their comfort zone and forcing them to ‘step into someone else’s shoes’ is necessary and exciting!!” It is this type of commitment to expand the mindset of not only theater audiences, but society as a whole, that is crucial for the growth and healing of this nation.
The second work, Kia Corthron’s Force Continuum, is a somewhat different glimpse into the world of police brutality by focusing on the conflicts of a black cop at a crossroads of identity and allegiance. Oyetimein strongly believes that, “This play is more than just controversial or timely. To me, it is essential…This play was written 15 years ago and monologues from it will have audiences wondering if it was ripped from the headlines this year.” While still in the pre-production phase, it is important to Oyetimein that this play is seen and received as the call to action that it is. This work is a clear artistic representation of the genocidal war waged against Americans of color. Helping to make these type of theatrical pieces is Oyetimein’s battleground.
While it is despicable that this fight is still very necessary, it is good to know that artistic warriors, or “Artivists” as she says, like Malika Oyetimein are dedicated to using their skills to change the world. When asked how she believes the arts, especially theater, can be used in activism, Oyetimein writes, “In this life, we have to seize every opportunity to speak about the things that matter. We have to speak. We must use our voice. My voice is my art.”
Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara and directed by Malika Oyetimein will run September 17- October 3 at the Intiman Theatre Festival in the Cornish Playhouse Studio at Seattle Center. For tickets and more information, visit www.intiman.org
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