This week, The New Group announced additional casting for its upcoming off-Broadway revival production of the award-winning musical Sweet Charity, which will launch the company’s 2016-2017 theatrical season.
Newly announced for the limited engagement are James Brown III (Ensemble), Darius Barnes (Ensemble), Donald Jones, Jr. (Ensemble), Sasha Hutchings (Rosie / Ensemble) and Asmeret Ghebremichael (Nickie). Other cast members include Yesenia Ayala (Ensemble), Lori Ann Ferreri (Swing), Ryan Worsing (Swing), Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Ursula / Ensemble), Emily Padgett (Helene), Joel Perez (Herman / Vittorio / Daddy Brubeck) and Tony winner Shuler Hensley (Oscar). Additional casting to be announced. Performances will begin on November 2, 2016 at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center; opening night is set for November 20, 2016. Performances will continue through December 11. Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse and directed by Leigh Silverman, the production will feature sets by Derek McLane, costumes by Clint Ramos, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, sound design by Leon Rothenberg, orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and music direction by Georgia Stitt.
Oddly enough, under the direction of Scott Elliott, the Artistic Director of the artist-driven theatre company, Sweet Charity is perhaps the most diverse and multiethnic cast The New Group has had since the company’s first musical, Avenue Q, went on to win three Tony Awards, for Best Book, Best Score, and Best Musical, in 2004. In recent years, most of the cast members in the majority of the shows produced by the award-winning theatre company have been composed of white actors in lead roles or speaking parts. Often, various diverse thespians hired by the company are tapped to play supporting characters who must be played by diverse actors. In its 2015-2016 season, Guatemalan actor Tony Revolori (Dope, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Asian-American child actor Bradley Fong, played torture victims in Philip Ridley’s nihilistic dystopian play, Mercury Fur. In its 2014-2015 season, with The Spoils by Jesse Eisenberg, Kunal Nayyar (who plays astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali on “The Big Bang Theory”) played the emotionally abused cronie to Jessie Eisenberg’s lead character. In the same season, Tony winner Tonya Pinkins acted in the Cynthia Nixon-directed Rasheeda Speaking by Joel Drake Johnson, where she played a secretary having to deal with an abundance of white fragility. Most of the directors at the helm of these shows have been male and none are of color. Which is why the latest revival of Sweet Charity, is such a welcomed inclusion in the milky-white off-Broadway. Directed by Leigh Silverman (Violet on Broadway; Lippa’s The Wild Party at Encores! Off-Center)—one of a few Tony nominated women directors—the cast also boast one of the most diverse casts on Broadway and off.
That’s what makes the casting of Ghebremichael and Perez, in particular, so exciting. Ghebremichael has appeared on stage previously, performing leading roles in The Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde and Wicked. Perez ends his run with the acclaimed Broadway musical Fun Home in September. Both have been praised as future leading Broadway stars and being cast in these showstopping supporting roles could be the parts that make this viable options for bigger and splashier productions. As Nickie, one of the protagonist’s best gal pals, Ghebremichael will perform signature hits “Big Spender” and “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” In the part of Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck, the enigmatic leader of a counterculture church, Perez will lead the Act II showstopper, “The Rhythm of Life.”
Starring two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Anything Goes) as Charity Hope Valentine—according to press notes, “the sassy, diehard romantic dancehall hostess whose naïvety and overeager embrace of every man she meets keeps getting her in hot water”—Sweet Charity will be staged in a three-quarter thrust. Based on the original screenplay of Federico Fellini’s 1957 drama Nights of Cabiria (co-written with Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Plaiano and Pier Paolo Pasolini), Sweet Charity features a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Originally conceived, staged and choreographed by iconic showman Bob Fosse, since the musical premiered on Broadway in 1966, the show has had two award-winning revivals (1986, 2005) and a star-studded film adaptation; it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Music, Score of a Musical Picture (Original or Adaptation). The New Group production marks the 50th Anniversary of the classic musical.
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