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Playwright Zawe Ashton Joins HBO Pilot

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British playwright and actress Zawe Ashton has joined the cast of HBO’s Salem Witch Trials pilot, The Devil You Know, from Orange is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan.

Described as a provocative period drama, The Devil You Know explores the circumstances around one of the most compelling chapters in American history — the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 17th century New England, where intolerance and repression set neighbor against neighbor and led a town to mass hysteria.

Zawe Ashton 2Ashton attended the Anna Scher Theatre School and studied at the Manchester Metropolitan University School of Theatre, where she gained a degree in acting. Her theatre credits include Rhinoceros, The Arsonists, Gone Too Far! (at the Royal Court), Othello and Frontline (at the Globe Theatre), All The Little Things We Crushed (at Almeida Theatre), This Wide Night (at Soho Theatre), The Cage (at Nuffield Theatre Company, Southampton) and Michael Frayn’s comedy Here at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. In June 2010 Ashton was awarded 2nd prize at the Ian Charleson Awards for her classical performance in Salome (at Headlog Theatre).

In 2006 she was Young Writer in Residence at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. Her first play, Harm’s Way, was shortlisted for the Verity Bargate Award in 2007, and premiered at the Lowry, Salford in 2008 as part of National Youth Theatre’s new writing season. Her other plays have included Skunk, performed by the National Youth Theatre, Soho Theatre and She from the Sea performed at The Lift. Ashton was co-writer of Suddenlossofdignity.com, Bush Futures Programme. One of her plays, For all Those Women who Thought they were Mad, was selected to be part of the Royal Court Playwriting Festival in 2009. Ashton contributed to the writing of The Children’s Monologues adapted from over 300 original stories by Tswana, Zulu and Sesotho children in South Africa and presented by Dramatic Need in 2010. She is currently under commission to the Bush Theatre and the Clean Break theatre company. (via Wikipedia)

We’re very excited for Zawe’s blossoming career, and can’t wait to see what she does next!

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Michaela Coel Stars in London-based Musical “Been So Long” Film Adaption

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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.

Courtesy of Film Constellation

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.

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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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We Were There: Amber Riley Glimmers in West End Production of Dreamgirls

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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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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Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording Gets an April Release Date

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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So, you can’t make it to London anytime soon? No worries! The West End production of the five-time Olivier nominated Dreamgirls has announced an April 14th release date for its original London cast recording.

Sony Classical will release the highly-anticipated cast album in a stunning new double-disc recorded LIVE at London’s Savoy Theatre.

OLCR Dreamgirls

Directed by Casey Nicholaw, with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, the album, produced with Olivier-nominee and composer Henry Krieger, captures the on-stage exhilaration of the original London cast, the 14-piece band, and the audience.

This cast album features Olivier-nominees Amber Riley and Adam J. Bernard as Effie White and James “Thunder” Early, respectively, Liisi LaFontaine as Deena Jones, and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson, with Joe Aaron Reid as Curtis Taylor Jr, Tyrone Huntley as C.C. White, Nicholas Bailey as Marty, and Lily Frazer as Michelle Morris.

The company also includes Michael Afemaré, Jocasta Almgill, Callum Aylott, Hugo Batista, Samara Casteallo, Chloe Chambers, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Joelle Dyson, Kimmy Edwards, Candace Furbert, Nathan Graham, Ashley Luke Lloyd, Gabriel Mokake, Siân Nathaniel-James, Sean Parkins, Kirk Patterson, Ryan Reid, Rohan Richards, Noel Samuels, Durone Stokes, and Tosh Wanogho-Maud.

Pre-order now on Amazon.

And if you just so happen to make it to London in the near future, purchase tickets at Dreamgirls West End.

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Dreamgirls, Harry Potter & Alvin Ailey Receive 2017 Olivier Nominations

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We’re getting close to theatre awards season, and London’s West End has kicked things off by announcing nominations for the 2017 Laurence Olivier Awards, hosted at the Royal Albert Hall on April 9, 2017.

Their premiere production of Dreamgirls, currently at the Savoy Theatre, has received five nominations, including the Mastercard Best New Musical award. Amber Riley, who makes her West End debut as Effie White, will battle Glenn Close (Sunset Boulevard, now on Broadway) and Sheridan Smith (Funny Girl) for the coveted Best Actress in a Musical.

Other nominations include Adam J. Bernard for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical, Henry Krieger for Outstanding Achievement in Music, and Gregg Barnes for Best Costume Design.

The critically acclaimed and highly anticipated Harry Potty and the Cursed Child received a record-breaking 11 nominations, including Virgin Atlantic Best New Play.

Image result for noma dumezweni harry potter

Image: Manuel Harlan

Olivier Award winner Noma Dumezweni, whose casting as Hermione Granger sparked much controversy, has scored her second nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Harry Potter will soon wave it’s wand over Broadway at the Lyric Theatre in winter of 2018.

Kemp PowersOne Night in Miami… received a nomination for Virgin Atlantic Best New Play, and Show Boat received two for Magic Radio Best New Revival and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.

The award-winning Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has earned recognition and a nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for their season at Sadler’s Wells.

See the full list of nominations and live stream the ceremony April 9, at Olivier.

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West End Production of Dreamgirls Eyeing a Broadway Run

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Featured Image: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

According to the New York Post, the current West End production of Dreamgirls, directed and choreographed by Tony winner Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, Something Rotten), could head to the Great White Way.

Reports say that West End producer Sonia Friedman intends to bring the production to Broadway as early as next season.

The cast of the London production includes “Glee” and “The Wiz Live!” star Amber Riley as Effie White, with Liisi LaFontaine (Deena), Ibinabo Jack (Lorrell), Joe Aaron Reid (Curtis Taylor Jr), Tyrone Huntley (C.C White), and Adam J. Bernard (Jimmy Early) rounding out the other principal roles. Marisha Wallace, a Nicholaw favorite cast as Effie in the Dallas Theater Center production of Dreamgirls last summer, serves as Effie alternate.

The West End premiere of Dreamgirls began previews at The Savoy Theatre in London on November 19, 2016, and officially opened on December 14 to rave reviews. Most recently the run extended through October 17, 2017.

Dreamgirls features music by Henry Krieger and a book and lyrics by Tom Eyen. The musical first premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre, officially opening on December 20 and then closing on August 11, 1985, after 1,521 performances.

The musical earned a total of 13 Tony Award nominations in 1982. It won 6 of them, including “Best Book of a Musical”, “Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical” (Jennifer Holliday), “Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical” (Ben Harney), “Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical” (Cleavant Derricks), “Best Lighting Design” (Tharon Musser) and “Best Choreography” (Michael Bennett and Michael Peters).

It’s been 30 years since the musical last appeared on Broadway, after a short-lived Broadway revival at the Ambassador Theatre in 1987 and two national tours. Not to mention, this production would surely make us feel a tad better about the Broadway Black Purge of 2016.

Still, we’re over the moon to head across the pond and check out the revival soon. Purchase tickets here if you can’t wait for the Broadway revival.

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