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Holiday Hit “The First Noel” Returns to the Apollo, Beams On Main Stage

Tavia Riveè



Last year’s Harlem-based holiday musical The First Noel returns to the famous Apollo, but this year the “21st Century Dickens” shines on the main stage.

The Apollo Theater proudly presents The Classical Theater of Harlem’s production of The First Noel which follows three generations of a Harlem family affected by the tragic loss of a loved one. Time is slow to heal this family’s wounds until an unexpected visit from Grandma reveals some long-absent Christmas joy. This story is about how a community is healed, one family at a time, as everyday people do extraordinary things to help one another receive the gift of love during the holiday season.

After outstanding feedback from the show’s 2015 premiere, which resulted in a sold-out, extended run in the Harlem landmark’s smaller soundstage, The First Noel is making an unprecedented leap to the main theater graced by infinite Black legends.

“The upstairs was our ‘out-of-town’ engagement,” Co-Author Jason Michael Webb laughed.  “This year is the main event!”

First Noel Creatives

l-r Jason Michael Webb, Lelund Durond Thompson, Kamilah Forbes, Ty Jones, Brian Harlan Brooks, and Steve H. Broadnax III

The heartfelt musical features original music and reimagined classic carols – ranging from pop to jazz to gospel.  Running December 10-18, The First Noel features an original book, music and lyrics by Webb and Co-Author Lelund Durond Thompson, Choreography by Brian Harlan Brooks, and Steve H. Broadnax III as Director.

“We didn’t think it would happen so quickly, but coming to the main stage is just size,” Broadnax shared.  “The voices were always huge…the baby just got too big for it’s shoes. It was always designed to be on a main stage.  If you dream it, it will come through.”

Apollo Theater Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes and Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Producing Artistic Director Ty Jones couldn’t be more thrilled about the show’s expansion this holiday season and what that means for both the production and the community.

“This is part of a bigger vision of our involvement in musical theater. The dream of this show is to compliment the holiday season along with all the other great things that you may see downtown.  We want to build the brand of The First Noel.”

Ashley Ware Jenkins, Zariah Singletary

Ashley Ware Jenkins, Zariah Singletary

Cast of The First Noel

Cast of The First Noel

The First Noel features a stunning cast including principals Brian D. Coats, Tina Fabrique, Ashley Ware Jenkins, Donald King Jr, Lizan Mitchell , Ken Robinson, Soara-Joye Ross, with Nia Caesar and Zariah Singletary as Young Noel. The ensemble features James Alexander, Angela Birchett, Jesse Corbin, Darius Crenshaw, Tamara Jade Fingal, Ayana George, Latrisa A. Harper, Adam Hyndman, Sarita Amani Nash, Tiffany Webb, Helen White and in his New York stage debut, Broadway Black’s fearless leader, Drew Shade.

With the “strictly limited run” closing just short of Christmas week, Broadway Black had to ask if there was any word on another extension this year.

Forbes smiled, “There’s always a possibility.”

To learn more or purchase tickets, visit ApolloTheater.Org.

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Happening Now! A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare in the Park

Rachel Jarvis



The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park continues with the Bard’s classic romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now through August 8, the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park will be open to the public to enjoy Shakespeare’s classic tale about four lovers who mistake each other for the wrong person after consuming a magical love potion concocted by a meddling forest sprite. With true love, mischief and a talking donkey head-chaos ensues.

Courtesy of The Public Theater

The Public’s second free production of the summer features Phylicia Rashad (Titania), De’Adre Aziza (Hippolyta), Patrena Murray (Snout), Shalita Grant (Hermia) and Kyle Beltran (Lysander); as well as Annaleigh Ashford (Helena); Vinie Burrows (First Fairy, Peaseblossom); Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom); Justin Cunningham (Philostrate); Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer); Austin Durant (Snug); Keith Hart (Third Fairy); Alex Hernandez (Demetrius); Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute); Robert Joy (Peter Quince); Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy); David Manis (Egeus, Cobweb); Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy); Kristine Nielsen (Puck); Bhavesh Patel (Theseus); Richard Poe (Oberon); Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling); Judith Wagner (Mote); Warren Wyss (Mustardseed); Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy). Direction by the Public’s Resident Director and Founder of the Public Works program, Lear deBessonet with choreography by Chase Brock.

Click here for info on how to get your free tickets visit

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3 Shows You’ll Want To See At The New York Musical Festival

Rachel Jarvis



For a one month period every summer, The Theatre District in NYC welcomes aspiring and up-and-coming playwrights, composers, directors and performers to the New York Musical Festival. This year, from July 10 to August 6, theatre artists from around the world will gather to introduce new projects to the community, with the hope of someday producing a full length musical and/or concert, ultimately transferring their show to Broadway.

In years past, shows such as In Transit (NYMF ’04) and Next to Normal (NYMF ’05 as Feeling Electric) made their public debut at NYMF before making their way to Broadway. This year’s festival includes 20 full length productions, 14 concerts and beta musicals, and 10 developmental readings in addition to educational workshops and panels hosted by the Honest Accomplice Theater. This years honorary chair is none other than 6 time Tony Award winner, and Broadway Black legend, Audra McDonald.

Here are Broadway Black’s top 3 must-sees if you plan on attending this year’s festival:


1.Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical (Full Length Production)

Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical: We have Civil Rights era musicals (The Wiz, Raisin, Purlie, to name a few), but do we have an actual Civil Rights musical- or at least one about the Freedom Riders?

Set in the Jim Crow South, Freedom Riders follows the story of the real-life Civil Rights activists Diane Nash, John Seigenthaler, John Lewis, and the Congress of Racial Equality’s original 13 riders who from May 1961 to December 1961, led the nonviolent protest to desegregate public interstate buses. Book, music and lyrics by Richard Allen and Taren Gray.

Performance Dates: August 1st through August 5th, 2017

Location: The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row

Individual tickets for $27.50


2. #BlackGirlJoy: Star Johnson in Concert (Concerts and Beta Musicals)

#BlackGirlJoy: Star Johnson in Concert:

 #BlackGirlMagic just got a little more magical!

DC-based singer, songwriter and composer, Star Johnson’s #BlackGirlJoy is a musical revue featuring songs from her shows How to Quit Your Day Job, Flattops, F Words and others. Go for the mix of “Stephen Sondheim and Lauryn Hill” stay for the #BlackGirlMagic.


Performance dates: July 27-29

Location: The Green Room 42 @ Yotel

Individual tickets: $27.50

3. FORA (Developmental Reading)

FORA: How often do we get to enjoy the West-Indian/Afro-Caribbean diaspora on stage?

This developmental reading of FORA follows the story of Gigi, a 17 year old native of the fictional island of Forafu. While her homeland is experiencing unsettling changes because of a Great Migration, Gigi “discovers the true meaning of love in all its forms.” Book and Lyrics by Jae Antoinette Broderick; Music by & Jae Antoinette Broderick and Matthew A.C. Cohen



Performance dates: July 18 and 22

Location: Playwrights Horizons Rehearsal Studio

Individual tickets: Available with festival pass


For more information on productions, events and festival passes visit

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Encores! Off-Center Brings Bubbly Black Girl… back to NYC starring Nikki M. James

Malia West



Kirsten ChildsThe Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin is set to take the stage tonight. New York City Center summer concert series, Encores! Off-Center, unites theatre’s finest with lesser known musicals each summer. The shows are known to make Broadway transfers and often times garner quite a few Tonys when they do.

Child’s premiered The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin off-Broadway in 2000. LaChanze originated the show’s lead Viveca, a bright eyed girl we follow from a childhood in 1960s LA to life as a professional dancer in 1990s NYC. Childs wrote the book, lyrics, and music for the show, filling the musical with simplicity and charm in response to its difficult subject of race.

Tony Award winner Nikki M. James (Book of Mormon) will take on the leading role for this Encores! production opening tonight (July 26th) and finishing its quick stint July 27th. Catch it while you can.

Also included in the Bubbly Black Girl cast: Penelope Armstead-Williams, Tanya Birl, Kaitlyn Davidson, Josh Davis as Director Bob, Yurel Echezarreta as Modern Teacher, Lauren E.J. Hamilton, Korey Jackson as Gregory, Kingsley Leggs as Daddy, Jo’Nathan Michael, Kenita R. Miller, Julius Thomas III as Ballet Teacher, Shelley Thomas as Mommy, and Alex Wong as Jazz Teacher. Choreography by Byron Easley and music direction by Annastasia Victory.

You can scope out calendar information and available tickets HERE.

Follow @NYCityCenter on Instagram for all the latest on their summer happenings!

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In Wack News: Motown The Musical Is Closing July 31

Alicia Samuel



Yes, you read that headline correctly. Motown The Musical is closing a mere 19 days after its opening.

The show based on the history of Motown Records, the Detroit-based record company that gave the world Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and so many others, was set to have a limited run. It was initially set to end the limited engagement Nov. 13. Now producer, Kevin McCollum, has announced the show will be closing July 31.

The musical was recently on Broadway back in 2013 and ran for 775 performances to great reviews, but this second go-round the build up and hype for the show wasn’t there (sips tea), so the show only reached about 37 percent of its grossing potential last week.

*Stands on soap box*

It’s a sad time on Broadway for us. With some of our favorite shows closing abruptly and the upcoming season looking melanin deficient, we can only keep our fingers crossed that things will turn around. Everyone wants to take a chance on a “Hamilton”, but it appears to be disingenuous and “just business.” If “diversity” doesn’t make a dollar right away, it’s shelved and we end up right back where we started. Shows written and performed by people of color are not “trendy”. They are a reflection of our lives and our lives matter. We deserve to be represented and, more importantly, we deserve to be FAUGHT FOR.

So here is our call out. Calling all aspiring Broadway producers, writers, actors, media OF COLOR! Now is the time to get inspired and step up to the plate! It is a fact that people only fight for what they believe in. We believe in ourselves. It’s time to prove it.

*Steps down off soap box*

You have little more than a week to catch Motown The Musical before it closes! Get your tickets now!



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We Were There: Sophie Okonedo Bewitches in The Crucible

Tristan Halstead



Ivan van Hove’s topical, bleak production, Tony-nominated for Best Revival of a Play, left me breathless, exhausted and disturbed.

Due in part to Sophie Okonedo‘s heartbreaking performance.

The British actress makes her return to Broadway this year shortly after winning her first Tony Award for A Raisin in the Sun. This time, she trades in her ironing board for a poppet as she takes on Elizabeth Proctor, the housewife of protagonist John Proctor (played by Ben Whishaw), accused and convicted of witchcraft in the 1962 Salem Witch Trials.

From the moment we meet Okonedo’s Goody Proctor, there’s an immediate sense of her despair and isolation in this vast, barren space, which resembles a classroom. Or perhaps a prison.

There’s isolation from her husband, who she believes still lusts after the younger, calculating Abigail Williams (played by Saoirse Ronan) long after an affair, also the catalyst for these events. And then there’s isolation from her village, as the Proctors and their children live on the outskirts of town and will soon become social pariahs once accusations and paranoia start flying.

Even having read and known the text in high school, all I could think was, “Dear god, please don’t let anything bad happen to her. Don’t break her anymore.”

We’ve good reason to believe Elizabeth doesn’t think much of herself. She’s swimming in her fuzzy, oversized grey sweater (a costume piece designer Wojciech Dziedzic loved so much during rehearsals, he convinced Okonedo to wear it in the show). She slouches as she awkwardly fiddles with her hands, and she stands almost pigeon-toed in large, clunky black boots.

Exertion and stress and fear have taken its toll on this woman, and we know it’ll only get worse as the dark events of this story unravel.

Yet despite the one-time affair, and despite her unwavering suspicion, this is a virtuous, God-fearing woman who loves her husband, and would do anything in her power to keep him safe — all of which will aid in their downfall.

Add Okonedo’s oft terror-struck eyes, and you’re done for.

Okonedo’s brilliant, draining performance as Elizabeth earned her a Tony nomination alongside Best Leading Actress in a Play nominee Lupita Nyong’o and winner Jessica Lange.

She’s powerfully mastered the role of a woman trapped in this paranoid and judgmental town driven mad by fear— from those tender moments with Whishaw’s Proctor, where we see a glimpse of their prior happy life, to those flashes of snark and spite (“Adultery, John.”), and even hatred toward the girl who’s destroyed their lives: “Then go and tell her she’s a whore!” she screams at Proctor, “Whatever promise she may sense, break it.”

And there may be nothing more bone-chilling than the final disheveled and bloodied appearance of Okonedo downstage center, lit from below, as the cast enters to take their bows.

The Crucible plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre until July 17th.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

2016 Tony Awards® nominations: Best Revival of a Play Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Sophie Okonedo Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Bill Camp Best Lighting Design of a Play: Jan Versweyveld Arthur Miller’s most-produced work returns to Broadway in a new production.

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BeBe Winans’ ‘Born For This’ Set For World Premiere

Leah Marché



Announced more than a year ago and a musical in the making for as many as nine years, Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story will make its world premiere April 13, at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Ga, and run through May 15.

Co-written with Charles Randolph-Wright, director of Motown the Musical, the production – which features an original score by Benjamin “BeBe” Winans – is described as “a hilarious and heart-warming journey toward self-discovery.” Co-produced with Arena Stage in Washington D.C., it will move to the nation’s capitol to kick off the theatre’s 2016-2017 season July 1 and run through Aug. 28.

The story wouldn’t be complete without Winans’ sister CeCe Winans. Together, they were introduced to the world as teenagers through the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord Network television show when they left their native Detroit for North Carolina to work for an organization of 4,000 employees and only four being African-American.

“We’re all born for a purpose,” the six-time Grammy Award-winning singer said. “This musical celebrates the journey of finding it.”

The newest generation of Winans singers, siblings Juan Winans and Deborah Joy Winans (star of megachurch drama “Greenleaf” coming to the Oprah Winfrey Network in June) respectively portray their uncle and aunt as the youngest siblings of the Winans legacy. Whitney Houston, a close friend of the Winans, will be included in the musical which is titled after a song BeBe recorded with Stephanie Mills in 2002.

Moderated by Alliance Theatre Artistic Director Susan V. Booth, a special behind-the-musical event featuring creators Winans, Randolph-Wright and music supervisor Donald Lawrence took place March 15 at the Peachtree Street venue. Nearly a year prior a reading of the play was held, with Oprah Winfrey and Cicely Tyson among the attendees, when it was set for a January 2016 debut.

In February, Winans, 54, and his nephew Juan performed the title song from the musical during the Go Red luncheon supporting the American Heart Association.

BeBe Winans & Juan Winans perform Born For This

On Feb 12, BeBe Winans and his nephew Juan Winans performed the title song from the upcoming musical, “Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story” during the Go Red luncheon supporting the American Heart Association. “Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story” will have its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA, April 13 – May 15, 2016.

April 19, May 3 and May 10 are free conversations before the play (10:45am) about behind-the-scenes production elements. April 19 special guests will be Winans and Randolph-Wright. After each Saturday matinee (4:30pm), audience members have the opportunity to interact with cast members during a moderated Q&A.

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