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Uzo Aduba, Christopher Jackson and More for Opening Act’s Annual Benefit Reading

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Opening Act, which for more than a decade has provided free after-school theater programming to New York City’s most under-served public high schools, announced today that Jasmine Cephas Jones (Hamilton), Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), and Tom Pelphrey (Iron Fist), have joined the cast of Opening Act’s 11th Annual Benefit Play Reading “A Night of YES!” at New World Stages on April 25th, 2017.

Previously announced cast members Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), and Auli’i Cravalho (Moana) will headline the night of performance and song. Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon (HAIRSPRAY LIVE!, A Raisin in the Sun) also returns to direct scenes from works by renowned playwrights Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) and Ike Holter (Exit Strategy).

Additional cast members include Dominique Fishback (The Deuce), Heather Alicia Simms (A Raisin in the Sun), Melle Powers (Chapelle’s Show), Marcus Denard Johnson (A Tale of Two Cities The Musical), Malia Braithwaite (Opening Act Alum), and Caleb Grandoit (Opening Act Alumi).

“At this time, when so many of the issues Opening Act’s work addresses – social justice, education, the arts, equity – are gaining urgency, this year’s Play Reading is especially critical,” said Suzy Myers Jackson, Executive Director of Opening Act. “We’re always blown away by the caliber of talent that participates in this event and this year is no exception.”

Tickets are on sale now at www.openingact.org/tickets. In addition to celebrity and student performances, the event will include a raffle for tickets to Hamilton: An American Musical. The winner will have a choice of two house seats and an exclusive backstage tour of the Broadway, Chicago, or California productions.

Opening Act’s past Play Reading actors and Artistic Advisory Board Members include Aja Naomi King, Kristen Bell, Anika Noni Rose, Joshua Jackson, Cynthia Nixon , John Slattery, Tonya Pinkins, Edie Falco, Beau Bridges, and Courtney B. Vance.

Opening Act is an innovative nonprofit that brings free, long-term theater programs to 40 of New York City’s most under-served public high schools. Through theater, Opening Act students gain confidence, pride, and the knowledge that they can succeed at anything in life. Opening Act’s vision is to see that every New York City public school student has access to an artistic space where they can develop commitment, community, and leadership through their artistic achievement.

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Across The Pond

Marisha Wallace Leads The Color Purple as Celie in London Benefit Concert

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Marisha Wallace

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.

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Concert Night

Daniel J. Watts Presents The Jam: Love Terrorists Benefit For Orlando

Alicia Samuel

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On July 31 WattsWords Productions in association with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Presents Daniel J. Watts’  The Jam: Love Terrorists (A Benefit for Orlando) at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall in NYC for one night only.

“In light of the recent events, most notably the horrendous mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that rocked the world last month, we need to galvanize the masses to speak openly, honestly, and sincerely about our fears and differences so that ultimately we can come together as a society,” said poet/performer/activist Watts. “I aim to do that with this original THE JAM: LOVE TERRORISTS. It is paramount that we support each other and use our talents to the betterment of humanity.”

A play-on-words, THE JAM pays homage to Watts’ great-grandmother who, after making jam from scratch, would share with others what she was unable to consume herself. THE JAM is Watts’ continuation of that legacy featuring his original spoken word, often set to music and/or dance.

Check out this throwback to past The Jam event!

 

THE JAM: Love Terrorists is a veritable call to arms, demanding any and all to terrorize with love. The final lines of the title poem read:

Life is a blessing and then you die.

What better way to die than from loving to death?

Love is a weapon of mass construction.

Use it at your leisure.

These are our demands.

Watts (Hamilton) will be joined by his band The InnerView, including lead vocalist Derrick Baskin (Hulu’s “Difficult People,”Whorl Inside A Loop), Hamilton’s Ephraim Sykes (HBO’s “Vinyl”) on drums and vocals, Taharqa Patterson (Lights Out On Broadway) on guitar and vocals, Hamilton’s Voltaire Wade-Greene on bass and vocals, and Taylor Williams (The Color Purple, She Loves Me) on keys, with Preston Dugger III (Motown the Musical, Memphis) aka DJ Duggz spinning through the evening. Beyoncé’s music director and bassist Divinity Roxx (ImPossible, The Roxx Boxx Experience) joins the bill, as well as special performances from the casts of Hamilton, On Your Feet and Shuffle Along. The official after party features DJ Duggz.

The doors for what is sure to be an incredible event will open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm. It is a night you won’t want to miss! Visit www.WebsterHall.com for more information and tickets!

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Concert Night

Bay Street Cancels Prince of Egypt Concert Following Diversity Concerns

Tristan Halstead

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ICYM this week’s episode of “White People Need to Stop,” the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor raised eyebrows when they announced their casting for its staged reading of Dreamworks Theatrical’s The Prince of Egypt, based on the animated musical film.

The cast would feature Casey Cott (CW’s “Riverdale”) as ‘Moses,’ Stark Sands (Kinky Boots, American Idiot) as ‘Ramses,’ Solea Pfeiffer (Hollywood Bowl’s West Side Story) as ‘Tzipporah,’ Marin Mazzie (The King and I, Ragtime) as ‘Queen Tuya,’ Shuler Hensley (Young Frankenstein) as ‘Pharaoh Seti,’ J.C. Montgomery (Shuffle Along, The Scottsboro Boys) as ‘Jethro,’ John Cariani (Something Rotten) as ‘Aaron,’ with Ryan Knowles as ‘High Priest Hotep,’ Julia Motyka as ‘Miriam,’ Joanna Howard as ‘Nefertari,’ Desi Oakley as ‘Yocheved,’ and Dakota Quackenbush as ‘Young Miriam.’ Ensemble members included Alysha Deslorieux, Brian Flores, and Destan Owens.

Which once again begs the question: were there no more Black or Middle-Eastern actors available? Even for a one-night only concert reading? Clearly, Stewart/Whitley has been taking Hollywood’s ‘Whitewashing the Middle East 101’ course; isn’t that right, “Exodus?” “Gods of Egypt?” “Noah?” “Prince of Persia?” “The Passion of the Christ?” Or perhaps they’re just following the source material:

 

Prince of Egypt

 

Naturally, most sane people on social media weren’t having it, and responded accordingly:

It saddens me that after such a wonderful multicultural season on Broadway a piece set in AFRICA has not one POC. #PrinceOfEgypt 😔

— Cynthia Erivo (@CynthiaEriVo) July 23, 2016

#princeofegypt yet ANOTHER missed opportunity to represent our colorful world #representationmattershttps://t.co/OVnA9SCR7i

— Denée Benton (@DeneeBenton) July 24, 2016

After a year of Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Eclipsed, Waitress, Spring Awakening, The Color Purple, Allegiance — a season so rich in diversity, it’s disheartening that we’re back at it again with the whitewash. Hell, another theater in Chicago landed themselves in hot water after casting a white actor in the Dominican role of Usnavi in their production of In the Heights.

Earlier this week, director Scott Schwartz (son of composer Stephen Schwartz) released a statement on Bay Street’s website:

I know a conversation has been happening about the casting of the upcoming concert of the new stage adaptation of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT. It is a conversation that is both timely and of great importance. I want to take a moment to join this dialogue, and to respond to the issues that have been raised.

Let me first say that I hear you, and I take the concerns raised about racial authenticity and diversity in casting very seriously. I always have, and am known for directing and producing shows with highly diverse casts. The other creators of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, from composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer Philip LaZebnik to the producers and team at DreamWorks Theatricals, all have a long history of diversity in casting. We all care deeply about making theater and art that is reflective of the multicultural society in which we live. Bay Street Theater as well is committed to hiring artists of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The upcoming presentation of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT is a one night, free concert reading. It will have an extremely limited rehearsal period and it is NOT a full production. There will be no costuming, makeup, or design of any sort, and the music will be performed on just one piano. This show is early in its development, and the focus of the team has been on the script and score, working to make this new musical the best it can be in its writing. We have done a couple of non-public readings of the show, and the cast has been different at each. I am proud to say that we have had diverse casts in all of our developmental steps so far.

Some have written that the cast for this upcoming concert is “all white,” but that is simply not the case. In fact, we have an Equity cast of fifteen actors and five of them are people of color. So while some may not agree with specific choices we may have made for specific roles, I want to assure everyone that having a diverse cast was and is a priority for us.

All of that being said, please rest assured that your concern about the need for diversity and authenticity in this project is something we hear and take seriously. All of us on the creative and producing team hope to continue this conversation, not just about THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, but about diversity and authenticity in casting in all the art we create.

Sincerely,
Scott Schwartz

Wow.

But if having a diverse cast is such a “priority,” then why are only four of the 15 cast members Black, with two of them as part of the ensemble? Add in Flores, who’s Latino, and only 1/3 of the cast includes performers of color. In a story that takes place in Egypt.

That’s not diversity, it’s lazy, whether or not it’s a workshop, or a concert, or a full-fledged stage production.

And I still haven’t forgiven him for Hunchback.

In the age of Hamilton, #BlackLivesMatter, and presidential nominee Donald Trump, race and representation in the media for nonwhite actors is obviously still a major, complex subject.

After a long, dark history of white actors taking and playing cultures and characters that aren’t their own, excluding nonwhite actors from roles they should be playing, and being cast in a role where the character’s race is unspecified 99% of the time, it feels like another slap in the face for performers of color still struggling to find work.

God forbid award-winning actress Norma Dumezweni gets cast as Hermione Granger. God forbid Hamilton casting directors only seek actors of color to portray the roles created for them. And rarely, especially for a show featuring non-Black people of color, is there any authenticity in casting. Just look at Aladdin. It all reeks of hypocrisy.

The entire debacle didn’t go unscathed, however, as Bay Street decided to cancel the August 13th performance all-together, issuing a non-apology on Facebook.

As if this couldn’t get any more bizarre, Schwartz penned another lengthy novel on Bay Street’s Facebook page, detailing how and why they made the decision to cancel the performance. He essentially boiled it down to online harassment of the performers.

Online bullying, especially toward actors much more accessible through social media, is unacceptable, and I commend Schwartz and Bay Street for wanting to protect them. But for him to once again deflect responsibility instead of apologizing for the casting in the first place and acknowledge why people had a problem with it, it seems to contradict any earlier statements he made regarding diversity and reveals his disinterest in racial authenticity.

Finally, the creative team and producers at DreamWorks Theatricals all believe that the story of Moses is one that is embraced and owned by millions and millions of people from every country, race and culture – and we hope that the project we are developing will honor the passion of those who love it. It has always been our aim to create the piece in a way that people of all races and cultures can one day tell the story.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that only white people have been given the opportunity to tell this, or any Biblical story, taking place in the Middle East, which is what people have a problem with. The mainstream can still relate to this or any story with a predominately Middle-Eastern or Black cast.

So, miss me with the excuses. Admit you screwed up, actually listen to what people are saying, take what you learned and apply it into the show’s development.

In the same letter, he announced that Bay Street will now offer a free concert of its production of My Fair Lady, August 13th.

 

 

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Broadway Black Exclusive

Audra McDonald, India.Arie & More Will Join In Support of Broadway for Black Lives Matter Special Event #BWAY4BLM

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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*BROADWAY BLACK EXCLUSIVE*

“Get Up, Stand Up. Stand up for your right.”

Bob Marley was on to something when he released “Get Up, Stand Up” in the early 1970s. A phrase that can still be used today, even 40 years later. Black Americans have been fighting the fight for equality for centuries and it’s time for us all to step up and do our part to continue that fight. We all want to live in a society where seven-year-old black girls aren’t killed in their sleep- #AiyanaStanleyJones, where a 17-year-old can walk home with skittles- #TrayvonMartin, where a 12-year-old child can play in the park- #TamirRice — a place where Black Lives Matter.

An overwhelming number of friends and colleagues in the Broadway community have expressed a deep desire to participate in an open dialogue about the social and racial justice issues that are troubling our nation. The event will bring Broadway performers together with policy reformers, educators, clergymen, public officials, and community leaders to discuss a plan of action. The evening will spark conversation and encourage people to discover their roles as active participants in a movement towards positive change.Broadway for Black Lives Matter

A group of Broadway community artists, now called the Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective, immediately responded to the call to action they felt and were able to create Broadway For Black Lives Matter, a special event to present a night of unity and solidarity through artistic expression and conversation. This community event, free and open to the public, will occur on Monday, August 1st, 2016 at Columbia University’s Lerner Hall Roone Arledge Auditorium 2920 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Doors open at 8:00pm with the arts & activism showcase beginning at 8:30pm.

Guest appearances include six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, four-time Grammy Award winner India.Arie, Tony Award winners Billy Porter (Shuffle Along, Kinky Boots), Jeanine Tesori (Artistic Director Of NYCC) & Tony Kushner (Angels of America). Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Passing Strange), Professor Kendall Thomas (Columbia Law School), Joshua Henry (Shuffle Along), Camille A. Brown (A Streetcar Named Desire), Professor Frank Roberts (NYU), Daniel Beaty, Daniel J. Watts (Hamilton), The Broadway Inspirational Voices, & New York City Center’s cast of THE RUNAWAYS. The evening with consist of performances, Q&As, and discussions of tangible ways in which we can be ACTIVE in our pursuits for change.

Tickets can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis by registering at:  BroadwayBlack.com/BWAY4BLM.

Pre-registration does not guarantee you a seat or access to this event. Also, this event will be live-streamed, and there will be photographers and videographers present. By entering the venue, you consent to appear in photos and on video for later use at the discretion of the event organizers and sponsors

We, Broadway Black, a digital platform dedicated to highlighting the achievements of black theatre artists, will livestream the event. Watch here: broadwayblack.com/bway4blm and follow @BroadwayBlack #BWAY4BLM to join in the conversation community and become Agents of Change across the country.

Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective consists of a group of arts activists involved in the Broadway community. These members include Amber Iman (Shuffle Along, Soul Doctor), Aisha Jackson (Beautiful, Waitress), Mykal Kilgore (Hair, Motown), Britton Smith (After Midnight, Shuffle Along), Douglas Lyons (Book of Mormon, Beautiful), Andrew Shade (Broadway Black Founder), Jacquelyn Bell (Bell Arts Entertainment), and organizations, Broadway Black & The Oneness Project.

All #BWAY4BLM Artwork Created by Terrance Campbell of Tre’club Designs Please feel free to contact Tre’club Designs if you’re looking for an innovative graphic design professional prepared to add experience, and fresh creativity to your projects.

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Leads & Legends

Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon Join Ragtime!

Tristan Halstead

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In riches, and rags,
And in rhythm and rhyme
The people called it Ragtime!

Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, currently of Shuffle Along, will star in the one-night-only concert of Ragtime on Ellis Island, August 8th. Mitchell originated the role of pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr., in the 1998 original Broadway production, which earned him his first Tony nomination. This time, he’ll narrate the evening’s performance.

He passes the torch on to Brandon Victor Dixon (Shuffle Along, The Scottsboro Boys), recently announced as the new Aaron Burr in Hamilton. Aisha Jackson, currently in Waitress, will play his tragic lover, Sarah.

Adapted from the novel by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime fuses three stories of three different groups in early 20th-century America: the white upper-class suburbanites, Black Americans, and the Eastern European immigrants. Various real-life historical figures appear throughout.

The performance, directed by Sammi Cannold, is billed as a “developmental concert” by invite-only, and will feature a selection of songs from the Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty score. In this immersive experience, audiences take a private ferry from Battery Park to Ellis Island, explore the museum exhibits in the main building after the show, and take the ferry back to Battery Park, passing the Statue of Liberty against the nighttime NYC skyline.

The rest of the company includes Laura Michelle Kelly (Mother), Andy Mientus (Younger Brother), Michael Park (Father), Robert Petkoff (Tateh), Shaina Taub (Emma Goldman), Georgia Engel (Houdini’s Mother), Bradley Gibson (Matthew Henson), Cooper Grodin (Harry K. Thaw), Joe Harkins (Grandfather), Phillip Paul Kelly (Admiral Peary), Hudson Loverro (Edgar), Jeremy Morse (Harry Houdini), Elexis Morton (Sarah’s Friend), Annie Sherman (Evelyn Nesbit), Rod Singleton (Booker T. Washington), Phillip Slade Smith (J.P. Morgan), and Aviva Winick (The Little Girl).

David Andre, Kyra Atekwana, Douglas Baldeo, Matt DaSilva, Dwelvan David, Tess Davison, Vincent D’Elia, Alison England, Louis Lagalante, Drew Martin, Abena Mensah-Bonsu, Christopher Michael McLamb, Monet, Chelsea Moss, Marilyn O’Connell, Robert Poole, Sam Simahk, Melina Soberg, Nadia Soberg, Ali Stoner, Franca Vercelloni, Aurelia Williams, Jessica Tyler Wright, Katherine Wright, Jaden Waldman, and Carly Waldma round out the ensemble cast.

The original Broadway production opened in 1998 at the Ford Center of the Performing Arts (now the Lyric Theatre), directed by Frank Galati. Subsequently, it received thirteen Tony nominations, winning four including Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Audra McDonald, Original Score, Book, and Orchestrations. A revival, starring Quentin Earl Darrington, opened on Broadway in 2009.

For more information about the experience, visit Ragtime on Ellis.

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Behind The Scenes

EXCLUSIVE: Broadway Black Behind The Scenes Dreamgirls 35th Anniversary Concert

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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It’s been 35 years since The Dreamette’s “moved” their way into our hearts, and if you had the childhood I had, your home stereos. Which is why Broadway Black was more than thrilled to learn about the Dreamgirls 35th anniversary concert that would reunite its original stars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, and Jennifer Holliday. I mean thrilled, to the point I was trying to figure out how to not pay bills thrilled. On July 10th, the ladies performed at their one night only (Ha!), sold-out show in Hollywood, and they were even joined by some of our other favorite performers Frenchie Davis and Mary Wilson!

A night that was sure to be one for the books, it’s a shame that everyone in the world wasn’t able to witness it. However, this is Broadway Black and in true Broadway Black fashion our readers should know by now, WE GOT YOU. Check out an EXCLUSIVE behind the scenes look of the Dreamgirls 35th Anniversary Concert below, brought to you ONLY by Broadway Black.

 


If you still can’t get enough of Dreamgirls, remember it’s coming to London this fall (and hopefully Broadway after that!).

 

 

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