Marisha Wallace, currently the alternate Effie in Dreamgirls in London, will star as Celie in a new one-night-only concert performance of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Color Purple at London’s Cadogan Hall, May 21st at 6:00 P.M.
The concert staging will raise funds for the British Theatre Academy, a unique performing arts program that has inspired and nurtured the talent of thousands of young performers who cannot afford to train in performing arts. The evening will also feature a chorus of over 40 current British Theatre Academy participants.
Based on the novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of a woman who, through love, finds the strength to triumph over adversity and discover her unique voice in the world.
The musical features a book by Marsha Norman, and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.
Last seen in London at the Menier Chocolate Factory, directed by John Doyle and starring Tony-Award winner Cynthia Erivo, the production later transferred to Broadway and earned the 2016 Tony for Best Revival of A Musical.
In addition to Wallace as Celie, the cast of the benefit concert includes Wendy Mae Brown (Ghost) as Sofia, Cavin Cornwall (London’s Aladdin) as Mister, Tyrone Huntley (Dreamgirls) as Harpo, Rachel John (The Bodyguard) as Shug, Hugh Maynard (London’s Miss Saigon) as Pa, and Seyi Omooba (Junkyard) as Nettie.
The performance, produced by Matthew Chandler and Danielle Tarento, features musical direction by James Taylor and choreography by Mykal Rand.
Tickets now on sale.
Michaela Coel Stars in London-based Musical “Been So Long” Film Adaption
Michaela Coel, creator, writer, and star of the BAFTA award-winning Netflix original series, “Chewing Gum”, stars in the London-based musical “Been So Long,” a film adaptation based on the 2009 stage musical by Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill.
Coel plays Simone, a young single mother charmed into a magical night in the city by a handsome stranger with a questionable past- played by Arinzé Kene (One Night in Miami). This modern day love story set in London’s “musical hot-bed” of Camden Town promises a soundtrack with a mix of RnB, Nu Soul and UK dance, as well as music from guest producers.
Coel is joined by an all-singing and all-dancing cast that includes George Mackay (“Captain Fantastic“), Ronke Adekoluejo (“Chewing Gum”), Ashley Thomas (“24”), Joe Dempsie (“Game Of Thrones”), Luke Norris (“The Duchess”), Rakie Ayola (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and Mya Lewis (“Olaf’s Quest”). It is Directed by BAFTA award-winner Tinge Krishnan (“Junkhearts”) and produced by the BAFTA-nominated Nadine Marsh-Edwards (“Bhaji on the Beach”) and Amanda Jenks (“The Girl”) of Greenacre Films.
Filming began earlier this year, shortly after season 2 of “Chewing Gum” was released on Netflix, and while she is making waves as a comedienne, Coel admits she is a stranger to musicals. However, Coel is no stranger to the stage and is quite theatrically and musically inclined having performed her one-woman show Chewing Gum Dreams in various theatres across London (2012-2014) before turning it into the hit series we know and love. She also wrote and recorded six of the tracks from season 1 of “Chewing Gum,” including the theme song.
Still, of singing and dancing on screen Coel shares, “It is a big stretch for me…I’ve never done anything like this in my life. It’s either going to be really amazing or just like, ‘What the f–k was that?’” (Screen Daily).
Either way, we’re rooting for her and can’t wait to see her on the big screen.
“Been So Long” made its rounds at the Cannes Film Festival in May and is set for international release in 2018. “Chewing Gum” season 3 is yet to be confirmed.
We Were There: Amber Riley Glimmers in West End Production of Dreamgirls
Dates chosen, flights booked and a journey across the sea to see what’s easily one of my top ten favorite musicals of all time, Dreamgirls, was on the horizon. Only seven agonizing months of playing the waiting game and I was on a red-eye to London before I knew it.
I knew the music. I watched Jennifer Holliday’s performance of “And I Am Telling You” on YouTube a million times in high school. I was first in line (and first row in the movie theatre) to see the film adaptation. I have the script, recordings, books, but NOTHING compared to seeing a live production of Dreamgirls and I didn’t regret a single moment.
The lights dimmed and four of the most gorgeous, chocolatey women emerged on stage in the most beautiful gowns (costume designs by Greg Barnes) crooning “I’m Looking For Something” and I could have passed out in my seat right there, but would have missed the next 2 hours of glitzy costumes, bejeweled set pieces, and dazzling lights (designed by Hugh Vanstone).
Even in the midst of all the glitz and glamor, the show belongs to Amber Riley. Playing the soulful lead singer Effie White, soon demoted to a backing vocalist, Riley proves she not only has the powerhouse voice that keeps ringing in your ears well after she sings that last “me”, but also the heart and soul Effie needs to remain a character we want to root for. I expect more than a few awards for Ms. Riley.
Image: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg
It’s not a hard task as White, the stand-out talent in their small-town girl group, The Dreamettes, she’s the voice that gets them noticed by cunning “manager” Curtis Taylor, Jr. (the gorgeous Joe Aaron Reid). Originally backup singers for the soul star Jimmy “Thunder” Early (hilariously played Adam J. Bernard) — a solo artist with a knack for doing things his own way — Curtis’ plans for the Dreamettes extend beyond backup gigs, to mainstream success of their own. Meaning a new sound, a new look and a new name. Curtis bumps docile group member, Deena Jones (Liisi LaFontaine), to lead at Effie’s expense in order to appeal to the cross-over audience. Only Effie’s not really on board.
The dancing is incredible, namely during “Stepping To The Bad Side.” The trio of Curtis, Jimmy and Effie’s songwriter brother C.C (my new favorite Tyrone Huntley) is unmatched. I could listen to the three of them sing harmonies all day.
The West End premiere also includes “Listen”, the song sung by Beyoncé in the 2006 film, but instead sung here as a powerful duet between Effie and Deena. Listening to both LaFontaine and Riley sing that song together, your eyes are bound to get a little misty.
As expected, showstopper “And I Am Telling You”, brought audience members to tears and their feet, but I’d argue Riley’s take on “I Am Changing” was just as — if not more– of a powerful moment. A declaration of Effie coming to terms with her imperfections and her willingness to accept change is a theme relatable for many, myself included.
Under all the lights and glitter there’s still a message and story to tell, one of the flaws of assimilation and originality. While there are financial and social gains in appealing to the white gaze, they also come at the cost of one’s integrity and identity – of their soul — as Jimmy Early might say.
If you find yourself in London anytime soon, go see this show. If you can’t make the trip buy the cast recording when it’s released next month and if you’re like me hold out hope for a Broadway transfer soon.
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