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Broadway Black History Musical

In The Vault: Beyonce’s FELA! Inspired Album

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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.

Broadway Black History Musical

Isaiah Johnson Joins Reading of “Reginald”

Jerrica White

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Isaiah Johnson is set to lead a reading of Reginald: From Baltimore to Billionaire, which is based on the life of Reginald F. Lewis.

In case you missed this day in history class, Reginald F. Lewis is the first Black billionaire. He rose to affluence in the ’80s and died at the age of 50. Over his 5 decades of life, Reginald attended Harvard Law and achieved his status through his corporate acquisitions. He left his legacy through philanthropic efforts, donating millions of dollars each year to a number of institutions, from homeless shelters to neighborhood churches.

Written by Kevin Ray Johnson, Reginald takes us on a journey from childhood to billionaire status, and the struggles of life he faced in between. Isaiah joins the cast as Reginald F. Lewis. Lora Nicolas will play Loida Nicolas-Lewis, the wife of Reginald F. Lewis. The rest of the cast includes: Jessica Frances Dukes (Booty Candy at Playwrights Horizons), Savannah Frazier (Amazing Grace), Troy Hopper, Matt Welsh, Joe Sergio, Emily Bailey and Timothy-Michael Chastain.

The reading will be held Monday August 15th, 7:00 pm at Shetler Studios Penthouse 2.

Johnson is currently wondering how a man can do good, when all he knows is bad, under “Celie’s Curse” as Mister in the Tony-winning best revival of The Color Purple. Before The Color Purple, Johnson was seen in The Winter’s Tale, Peter and The Starcatcher, and The Merchant of Venice as Prince of Morocco.

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A Must See

Smokey Joe’s Cafe Sets Broadway Return

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The longest-running musical revue to play Broadway is making a triumphant return this summer as producers announced the comeback of hit revue Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

The Jukebox musical that garnered Tony award nominations for Broadway Black stars Victor Trent Cook, B.J. Crosby and the illustrious Brenda Braxton, is set for a revival, with rehearsals starting around the end of May, according to an Actors Equity audition posting.  Previews are scheduled for July 19

Original producers Richard Frankel, Steve Baruch, Tom Viertel and Marc Routh are joining original cast Tony-nominated director Jerry Zaks to revive the hit revue.   The show features songs by writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, including fan favorites “Hound Dog,”  “Jailhouse Rock,” “I’m a Woman,” and “On Broadway.”  After Midnight Choreographer,Warren Carlyle, has also signed on, along with musical direction by Sonny Paladino.

Smokey Joe’s opened on Broadway March 2, 1995 and despite harsh critical reviews, had substantial commercial success.   The revue earned five Tony award nominations in 1995 including Best Featured Actress, Best Featured Actor, Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Musical.  It also won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 1996.  After a nearly five year run and a bevy of special appearances, including Gloria Gaynor, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight, the show closed Jan of 2000 after 2,036 performances.

In 2014, nearly 20 years after the first performance, Braxton directed original cast members for reunion concert performance of Smokey Joe’s at the famed Feinstein’s/ 54 Below.

“There’s so much history with us,” Braxton shared with the second of two sold-out crowds. “We weren’t just [together] on Broadway, we were a family.”

Production has yet to announce a venue.

Be sure to check in with Broadway Black for all the latest information!

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