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Ruben Santiago-Hudson Discusses Broadway’s Musical Legacy for City Center Encores! Unscripted

Broadway Black



New York City Center continues its work of “bringing the backstage center stage” with City Center Encores! Unscripted. Partnering with The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WNYC, City Center presents a new live-streamed series that goes beyond the “talkback” and nostalgia to look about how Broadway musicals have reflected and shaped American life. The first conversation – hosted by Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel – kicks off Dec. 14, with “Sexism. Racism. Show Tunes. Discuss.”

Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson – who boasts a 40-year career – will examine sexist and racist attitudes rooted in classic musicals with fellow award winners Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home).

For City Center’s announcement about the events, Viertel stated:

“At Encores!, we’re always asking questions about the American musical: where it’s been, where it’s going, what we can learn from the songwriters of Broadway’s Golden Age, and about the attitudes of any given era, which might be very different from our own. This series opens up that conversation to everyone. There’s no one else who does what we do at Encores! in terms of restoring and presenting great musicals as they were originally intended. Our hope is that Encores! Unscripted will explore the connections between the shows we do here –from Cabin in the Sky to 1776 – and the shows currently playing on Broadway.”

Santiago-Hudson has stated: “Whether I’m acting, writing or directing, I want to tell the truth about human beings – especially my folk.” His roots, which spring from an Puerto Rican father and African-American mother, began in New York. Santiago-Hudson made his Broadway debut with George C. Wolfe’s Jelly’s Last Jam (1992-1993). His last Broadway appearance was during 2011-2012 in the Kenny Leon-directed Stick Fly (written by Lydia R. Diamond) as “Joy LeVay,” along with Dulé Hill, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms and Condola Rashad. Other acting work has included August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Seven Guitars; the latter garnered him a Tony Award.

The Lackawanna, NY native wrote the 2001 autobiographical play Lackawanna Blues and portrayed 20 different characters as well as himself; it was adapted in 2005 as an HBO film and earned him the Humanitas Prize as well as Emmy and Writers Guild of America award nominations. His follow-up “truth” play was Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, which was produced by Two River Theater in New Jersey this year. For his direction, he was awarded, in 2013, the Lucille Lortel Award and Obie Award and nominated for the Drama Desk Award for his work in the Off-Broadway production of Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. In 2009, he received the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award for his role as “Mayor Joe Starks” in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Jennifer Sendrow, executive producer at WYNC, also discussed the events. As noted on City Center’s website page, she said: “The Greene Space and Encores! know that our audiences not only delight in the electricity of a live performance, they want to dig deeply into the stories and ideas that propel their favorite shows. We’re convening some of the brightest minds on Broadway to make a must-listen oral history of a fiercely creative time in American theater that will inspire and challenge future generations of artists and fans alike.”

The three-part series will conclude March 14, with “Who Tells Their Stories? Historical Narratives on Broadway” featuring Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson composer Michael Friedman, Hamilton The Musical star Leslie Odom, Jr., along with cast members from the Encores! production of 1776.

Tickets are on sale now. All shows will be webcast live and available as archived videos and podcasts.

Santiago-Hudson presented a TEDx talk at his alma mater Binghamton University on the theme of “staying the course.”

Stray the path…the story of my life: Ruben Santiago-Hudson at TEDxBinghamtonUniverity

Ruben Santiago-Hudson earned his bachelor of arts degree from Binghamton University and a master of fine arts degree from Wayne State University, and holds an honorary doctorate from Buffalo State College. His acting credits span stage, television and film. He has starred in many films including American Gangster, Mr. Brooks, Shaft and Domestic Disturbance.

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A Must See

We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White



[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle.  Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.


Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days.  I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle.  Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan.  The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.

Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream.  But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself?  Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire.  What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.

Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend.  There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity.  Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.

Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows.  Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.

Her Portmanteau

Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed.  Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.

This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar.  The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.

Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.

Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed.  We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked.  We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.

It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy.  Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family.  The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.

Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions.  I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice.  I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted.  I left changed.

For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth.  For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative.  For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.

We thank you Mfoniso.  We thank you.

Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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A Must See

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White



Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.

Image result for Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.

Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.

The cast includes Jenny JulesLakisha Michelle MayAdepero OduyeChinasa OgbuaguHubert Point-Du Jour, and Chinaza Uche.

As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!

Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th! 

Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!

Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.

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Twitter: @BroadwayBlack

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