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Opening Night

We Were There: Kinky Boots Opening Night + Reviews

Andrew Shade

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This is one for the history books. Kinky Boots opened last night to raving audience members and so-so reviews (which we don’t understand because WE LOVED IT). The energy was through the roof and everybody was saying YEAH YEAH!!! We had the pleasure of attending the show and the opening night party and we had the best time of our lives! This was thee best opening night party we’ve been to (with Detroit ’67 a very close 2nd) The cast was on the dance floor and the champagne was pouring from everywhere but most of all the love was overflowing. Billy Porter is SURE to win a Tony for this show. There is no doubt in our minds. Remember we said it! It was so inspiring to see him back on the Broadway stage. His voice is still timeless
Check out pictures from last night and reviews below!

REVIEWS

“…the real star is Porter, who delivers a touching, sassy, nuanced performance, often in 8-inch heels.” – Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

“The show, which opened Thursday night at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, is the sort of party for which you will be more than pleased to find yourself on the guest list.” – Peter Marks, The Washington Post

“…boasting a powerhouse performance from Billy Porter as Lola, the drag queen who’s also a trained boxer, the damn thing works.” – Erik Haagensen, Backstage

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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Limited Engagement

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

Broadway Black

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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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Its A Hit

We Were There: Motown’s Back On Broadway!

Jerrica White

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The grapevine’s been talking, and I heard Motown: The Musical is a smash hit production. Y’all weren’t lying. When I tell you I lived my best life from the third row last night. CHILE!

Back with more relevance than ever, Motown: The Musical opened to a packed house, swaying left and right with excitement levels that matched the neon, bright lights of David Korins’ beautiful set.

Based on Berry Gordy’s autobiography, Motown dramatizes the inception of the record label and Gordy’s relationship with Diana Ross.

Going into the theater knowing this is a jukebox musical, sets the right expectation as to the show you’re going to get. Berry Gordy is the mastermind that brought us classics from Diana Ross and The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and more. Well those classics are here, and they had us singing along from the audience.

We start with a fun play off between The Temptations and The Four Tops, where ensemble standout, Nik Alexander, was singing for the blood of the lamb, in preparation for the televised Motown reunion. We flashback to the moment Berry (Chester Gregory) knew he wanted to pursue record making, to the mounting of Hitsville, USA, and the story starts moving in full force from there.

Allison Semmes shines as Diana Ross, taking us on her journey from school girl to fierce front  runner in the world of 70/80s pop. She steals the show with her warm rendition of “Reach Out And Touch,” where she brings up members of the audience to sing along with her.

Let me tell you. Two of God’s beautiful black children were called up and sang in the harmony and innocence that baby girls of about 6 and 2 could give you.

And then there was a Sir. Sir (an audience member) was also called up to the stage. From the way he was suggesting he was ready to participate.. you would have thought he was, well, ready! But he was not ready at all. He did not have the range.

But these cast members did have the range! Leon Outlaw Jr., played young Stevie/ Berry/ and Michael. He showed up and showed out in the Jackson 5 section as Michael Jackson! The audience was so energized, I thought they were going to be forced to encore.  Jarran Muse’s Marvin Gaye stopped me in my tracks with the political anthem “What’s Going On.”

Outside of the Motown classics, there were a couple of songs penned just for the show. Gregory’s 11 o’clock number, “Can I Close The Door?” took us home, humming the tunes of Black Excellence. The tunes that are part of our history and forever part of American culture.

We had vocals. We had gowns. We had choreo. And most importantly we had fun.

Last night was the most enjoyable moment I’ve had in the past couple of weeks in light of current events. I was reminded of the sociocultural impact that Motown music had in the late 60s and 70s. From Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album, to documenting Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream Speech,” Motown artists took a stance. We’re asking the same questions that were asked then. What’s going on? Can love really conquer hate? Do our lives matter?

Motown is a reminder that music is a healer, a unifer, and a catalyst for change. It’s really got a hold on me and my spirit.

Peace, Love & Understanding. ✌🏾

The smash hit production, featuring the music of the legendary Motown catalogue and a book by Berry Gordy, stars musical theater veteran Chester Gregory (Hairspray, Tarzan, Cry-Baby, Sister Act) as “Berry Gordy”. As he did with previous productions, Charles Randolph-Wright directs.

Three original Broadway ensemble members now shine in leading roles: Allison Semmes as “Diana Ross”, Jarran Muse as “Marvin Gaye” and Jesse Nager as “Smokey Robinson”. J.J. Batteast and Leon Outlaw, Jr. alternate as Young Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson.

The 33-member ensemble cast features 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.

The original production of Motown The Musical opened on Broadway April 14th, 2013 and closed January 18th, 2015. After touring the country since 2014, the touring company landed on Broadway Tuesday, July 12 at The Nederlander Theatre, for a strictly limited 18-week-only engagement through Sunday, November 13, 2016.

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A Must See

We Were There: Opening Night Skeleton Crew

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Broadway Black was in attendance Thursday night for the opening of Dominique Morisseau‘s  Skeleton Crew. Following a sold out run at Atlantic Stage 2, the show with its original cast returns to Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. The show, which is Morisseau’s third  play in her Detroit trilogy, follows a family of auto plant workers who deal with the possibility of their plant closing its doors for good. Power dynamics come into play, loyalties are tested and some will do whatever it takes to survive. This past week we celebrated the birthday of some of the greatest black playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and last month August Wilson, I’d say with works like Skeleton CrewDomonique Morisseau is a love child of the two and is setting up a legacy of her own. Her writing is sharp, filled with rich dialogue, as the characters literally come to life in front of you. As I watched, I felt that I was transported to Detroit in 2008, due to the strong writing of her work and the excellent performances by the amazing cast of four.

The show opens with a dancer (Adesola Osakalumi), billed in the playbill as Performer, who makes appearances throughout the show and his movements are mechanical to go along with the sound and projection visuals, it only adds to the whole experience, as  all of our senses are filled up within the first 5 minutes of the show. Under the direction of the brilliant Ruben Santiago-Hudson, we are in for a night of amazing theatre.

As we are introduced to the characters one by one, it’s clear that Faye is the heart and soul of the auto plant. Faye (the impeccable Lynda Gravatt), is the “do what she wants” matriarch, and she pretty much can because she’s been working at the factory longer the most of them have been alive. From her bedazzled Obama sweatshirt that I think every black mother and grandmother snagged in 2008, (costume designer Paul Tazewell did such an amazing job, here) she was the engine that kept the whole train going. I’m almost positive everyone knows a Faye, and even at my age I found myself relating to her the most. A hardworking woman that just wanted the best for the people she worked with, the people she loves but rarely asked for help. Owning the title of superwoman, when in reality sometimes you have to understand can’t do everything on your own. She holds secrets, tells you what you don’t want to hear but need to, and her impact on her co-workers and boss is felt throughout the entire show.

Characters like Dez (Jason Dirden), the ambitious bad boy with a heart of gold. Great intentions, but not always the best methods for carrying those out. Shanita (Nikiya Mathis) second generation,  no-nonsense worker who feels like her work at the factory is the only thing that she’s good at. She works tirelessly while pregnant and fighting off Dez’s advances and finds the upmost pride in her work. Then there is Reggie (Wendell B. Franklin), the conflicted manager. Caught between doing what’s best for his workers while still trying to please those in positions higher than him.

I’d say for this show, my ignorance truly showed. I never thought much about factory careers honestly, because we’ve been so ingrained to look down on them. Unless you were the one’s making decisions, no one cared what happened on the floor. This play really takes us inside of the lives of the people who literally piece everything together. On the outside this work is just blue collar, working class but to these workers it was everything. While each of them had different reasons for working at the auto plant, each story added to the development of their character and made me invest in them much more as an audience member. What’s such a pleasure to watch, is how Morisseau is able to capture so many complex and layered relationships within the span of the two-hour show. There is the mentor-mentee, mother-children, brother-brother, even a touch of romance and sexual tension.

 

There’s a moment when Reggie is constantly questioned about his loyalties to the people he works for. Dez vents after an intense altercation with Reggie “once someone made up their mind about you, there is nothing I can do to change it” a concept that is even more prevalent today. In a day and age where there are a number of shootings of young innocent black and brown children and adults alike whose lives were taken due to assumptions. The assumptions are on both ends, both Reggie and Dez have preconceived notions about each other and it’s this moment that blurs the lines between what is white collar and blue collar. While Reggie is wearing business suits and meeting with HR he still has a lot to lose, his position as manager doesn’t make him any different from Dez in the eyes of other people. A message that Reggie will have to eventually learn the hard way.

Ultimately, all of these characters are doing what it takes to survive, as black men in America, as a single-mother, as blue-collar workers that are undervalued and sometimes unappreciated, they are doing what it takes to survive. This was a story about loss, hope, and survival which I  believe personally sums up what it’s truly like to be a working class citizen in America. For these characters it wasn’t about the “American Dream” it was them living out their own dreams, and for them the factory and the people in it were enough.

Skeleton Crew runs until June 19th and the Linda Gross Theater, you can purchase tickets here.

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A Must See

We Were There: Shuffle Along Opening Night

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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It’s ambitious. It’s daring. It’s fun. It’s a history lesson. It’s full of Jazz. It’s Tap-TASTIC. It’s Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. 

Theatrical prodcutions adapt books, films, comics (I’m sleep on that one!) to Broadway, but if you ever wondered what a documentary would look like on stage, look no further than Shuffle Along.The most ambitious, the most daring show finally opened on Broadway last night and what an opening it was. The highly anticipated, star-studded Shuffle Along is now open for business, and to win all of the awards of course.

Carefully crafted by the genius that is George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along includes all the makings for a great musical. The show, which I’d argue has the most talented cast of the Broadway way season (yes, I said it!), has syncopated rythms, catchy tunes, rapid tap-dancing and star power- you really can’t go wrong, even if the show is close to 3 hours long. WHO CARES! Watching Shuffle Along is like being on the tea cups at Disney World, everyone wants go on the ride, you get dizzy but you had the time of your life and you want to ride over and over again.

Out of all the things to highlight in Shuffle- the one thing that no other show can boast about- is the level of top-tier, syncopated, rhythmic, aggressive tap dancing. This is no surprise as Savion Glover is well known for his skills, grabbing the Tony back in 1996 for his work on Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk. There is a moment where all the amazing ensemble members come to gather to mimic the sound of a train, and my God if you closed your eyes you would have thought you were at a train station. Alas, you look out and instead, it’s the furious tap-dancing of some of the most talented dancers I’ve seen on Broadway ever.

In addition to the choreography the performances by lead and supporting alike, are the bright spots for this show. Six-time Tony Winner Audra McDonald proves once again why she is the real-life Superwoman, as it seems there is nothing she can’t do. She charms us as the diva-esq “Lottie Gee”, and it’s such a treat to watch Audra take on a character that actually gets to be happy, hilarious and sassy all at once. McDonald knocks it out of the park. When Lottie needs to be vulnerable, Audra plays her as such. When she needs to be over-the-top Audra does that, too. It’s a constant reminder that McDonald, truly is one of the greatest thespians of our time, or anytime really.

Brian Stokes Mitchell proves he’s still got it as “F.E Miller ” (No seriously, does he age?). He’s the perfect leading man material, his voice is rich, his character charms, and his powerful monologue in the second act will emotionally stun you.

Billy Porter tosses away his Kinky Boots and throws on his best suit as the often cynical, yet determined “Aubrey Lyles“. He completely stops the show with his 11 o’clock number “Low Down Blues” , taking me all the way to my COGIC roots.

Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon embody  “Noble Sissle” and “Eubie Blake“. Looking at old pictures of the actual Sissle and Blake compared to Henry and Dixon, gives me goosebumps. The resemblance is uncanny. The two have great chemistry and just knowing their story (they both finally get to be onstage together instead of being each others replacements) makes this more of a treat. These two truly are worthy of the leading man status they are given in this musical.

Adrienne Warren completely captivates as both “Gertrude Sanders” and “Florence Mills” her ability to channel them is mind-blowing, especially knowing how her actual voice sounds, the attention to details she brings to both characters is sure to earn her attention for the Tony’s.  Amber Iman is also a star in her own right. She’s funny, she taps and the girl can SANG. Not sing- but SANG.

With Shuffle, there is a lot going on. A lot that needs to be said and George C. Wolfe is determined to fit it all in. It’s easy to get lost in the plot because there is so much. The first act is a mere telling of how the show got there, mixed with actual scenes from the original Shuffle Along, the first act is hopeful, it’s truly sensational. It’s fun, it’s insipring, and it’s joyus. It’s that second act that hits you in the gut. It’s the second act that you fully understand the “all that follows” portion of the show.

The second act is a true history lesson, while the tapping and the acting are just as excellent, the story switches its narrative. The honeymoon phase of this show is now over and these doe eyed writers and musicians find that reality is hitting them hard.  Noble, Sissle, Lyles, and Blake are no more, Shuffle Along is now gone, just a footnote in someones theatre history book. These names forgotten, the show non-existent, this point made clear by Brooks Ashmanskas character (he plays every white character in the show).

Forgotten until George C. Wolfe brilliantly brings it back to life, with a new energy. The original Shuffle Along opened in 1921 and was the hottest show on Broadway (well on 63rd) it was able to turn a two-way street into a one way, it integrated audiences for the first time,  it had a Black love story on stage, and  it was written, directed and featured music from black artists. It starred black actors who got their start because of this show. As Langston Hughes credits, Shuffle Along was the start of what we know as the Harlem Renaissance.

This show literally changed the landscape of theater. While the legends behind the show were almost forgotten, Wolfe and company bring them back to life with the legends of our present. It only makes sense that we have this particular starry cast, telling this particular story. For every African-American that has crossed or seen a Broadway stage, Shuffle Along is apart of that theater lineage, it’s a history that we have to acknowledge.

In 1921 Miller, Sissle, Lyles, and Blake took a chance, they risked it all. They literally carved out a way for themselves, that gratefully and luckily worked. It allowed black artists to be where they are today. Without Noble, Sissle, Lyles, Blake and everyone involved there would be no Broadway Black. We’d have nothing to report, nothing to hightlight.

For that alone this show will always have a special place in our hearts, and we hope a lot of other peoples hearts too. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, whether or not Wolfe could have predicated this -we don’t know. It’s no secret it’s Broadway’s most diverse season yet, but there is also the current state of America and its issues with equality, race and gender. This show has extra meaning for us.

It would be impossible to leave the theater without taking something away, Wolfe has given us more than we can chew, but you’re bound to swallow something. I know I left the theatre more intrigued about who these four men were and what they contributed to the theater.  To know the struggles- the fight that Noble, Sissle, Blake and Lyles had to have to put this show up only makes me appreciate this production more. If they could be alive to see this production, I’m sure they’d give it their stamp of approval. They were more than overdue for a show that accurately embodies who they were and what they did. I couldn’t think of anything better than this production. George C. Wolfe and company dare to right the wrongs in history, and if I may be so blunt to say that with this production they most certainly have.

Be sure to get your tickets to this Broadway Black favorite here! But before you buy, check out these photos from the show!

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A Must See

First Look: Shuffle Along Opens on Broadway!

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Photo by Lelund Durond Thompson for Broadway Black

Broadway Black is here to provide you a look inside the highly anticipated, star-studded Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.  The production, which stars Tony Award Winners Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Billy Porter, as well as Tony Nominees Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon officially opens tonight at Music Box Theatre.

This marks the final opening of a show for the 2015-2016 Broadway season, and what a diverse and fun season it’s been. It’s only right that a show of this caliber close what has been on of the best seasons Broadway has seen in years. Check out the photos below and if you haven’t already, purchase your tickets for one of the hottest shows in town.

In May 1921, the new musical Shuffle Along became the unlikeliest of hits, significantly altering the face of the Broadway musical, as well as that of New York City. By the time Shuffle Along stumbled into town after a back-breaking pre-Broadway tour, it was deeply in debt and set to open at a remote Broadway house on West 63rd Street. But with an infectious jazz score and exuberant dancing, Shuffle Along ignited not just Broadway, but all of New York City. Because of Shuffle Along, Uptown and Downtown met — and became one.

The 2016 Shuffle Along, created anew by a remarkable constellation of artists, brings the original show back to glorious life, while simultaneously telling the heretofore unknown backstage saga of its creation — and how it changed the world it left behind

George C. Wolfe directs and writes a new book for the production, which features choreography by Savion Glover. Shuffle Along also features Adrienne Warren, Amber Iman, Brooks Ashmanskas, Phillip Attmore, Alexandria Bradley, Darlesia Cearcy, Darius De Haas, C.K. Edwards, Leo Ash Evens, Afra Hines, Curtis Holland, Jason Holley, Adrienne Howard, Lee Howard, Kendrick Jones, Lisa Latouche, Alicia Lundgren, JC Montgomery, Erin N. Moore, Janelle Neal, Brittany Parks, Arbender Robinson, Karissa Royster, Britton Smith, Zurin Villanueva, Christian Dante White, Joseph Wiggan, Pamela Yasutake and Richard Riaz Yoder.

 

Photos by Lelund Durond Thompson for Broadway Black

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A Must See

We Were There: Opening Night of Exit Strategy

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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As a teacher, at what can be considered an amazing charter school, I am a bit ignorant to the woes of my fellow public district schools. I get angry when a kid talks back, but for some teachers, administrators and students their problems are much bigger. Problems such as what happens when your inner-city schools get told its doors are closing at the end of the year? Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy is an uproarious, passionate play that deals with the issues of our current U.S education system, and how one Chicago public school deals with the tragic loss of something so dear to them.

The title Exit Strategy makes sense early on in the show and is the essential running theme through the entire night. Each character has been forced to design an “exit strategy” in the event that their beloved school actual does close its doors. The “exit strategies” range from the complete drastic to extremely content, and all of them bound to take the audience on a wild ride.

In the opening scene, we are met with characters I know all too well, the young administrator Rick (Ryan Sphan) and the veteran teacher Pam (Deirdre Madigan), that is equally loved and hated by staff and students alike. This moment essentially sets the tone of the show, and through Holter’s sharp, hilarious dialogue we can guess where he stands on the issue of the U.S government failing our inner-city public schools.

The rest of the play is told in the teachers lounge where we meet a handful of other teachers that range in age, gender and race, which was something that really excited me– to see all the diversity on the stage. The teachers are meeting over the summer to decide how they break the news to students that the school is closing after their current school year, in a speech lead by a cynical senior teacher named Arnold (Michael Cullen). After they’ve settled that order of business Sadie (Aimé Donna Kelly), introduces her “exit strategy”, a plan to foster community support to keep the school open, starting with a public march. The other teachers, with the exception of Luce (Rey Lucas), shut her down almost immediately not wanting to give the false hope that their school will actually stay open past the year. Arnold  and Jania (the hilarious Christina Nieves) both tell Sadie they have tried before — and failed.

Giving up on that dream, the teachers seem resigned to the fact they will have to start looking for jobs for the next year, until we meet the senior that plans to change everything, Donnie (the brilliant Brandon Pierce). Having hacked the school’s website (he turned it into a Kickstarter page to raise funds to keep the school open), he is now up for a possible expulsion. It is during this moment where one of the most powerful scenes is on display, Pierce delivers a passionate, angry monologue about his journey through the public schools system that includes one that was so poorly financed that the students had to go to his teachers for toilet paper. Ricky is so impressed he doesn’t suspend or expel him, instead,  he names Donnie his “creative associate” in charge of social media for a newly formed group called Team Winning, which will gain public support for the school. With this new group, the hope is to cause enough of a stir in the media to keep their school up and running. Everyone–teachers, administrates and students are hopeful, joyous even. Even if only for a moment.

It’s one of those shows that isn’t nicely wrapped up with a bow at the end. The ending actually challenges you to push your thinking about this issue further, what do we do next? What can we do next, to prevent awful things like this from happening? Perhaps that was Holter’s intention because I left the performance with more fire in my belly. In part because of the strong, believable performances of the cast and the intelligent writing of Holter’s script, but especially because this piece was so close to the work I do, and I couldn’t imagine what I would do if my school just — wasn’t my school anymore.

Well, I have an idea of what I’d do, and it’s a line that really stuck with me from the show as I traveled back to Brooklyn that night. The young Donnie is crying out as he watches his school get destroyed in front of his very eyes, a place that was his home,  Christina Nieves’ character says, “You fight, and you fight, but you don’t beg.

Exit Strategy a limited engagement only running until May 6, 2016, at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street New York, NY). The performance schedule is as follows; Tue-Fri 8, Sat 2&8, Sun 3, and added 2pm matinee Wednesday, May 4 and there are no performances available: April 12, 13, 20. The official run time is 95 minutes with no intermission. Tickets can be purchased here.

 

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