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Audra McDonald Returns to Broadway in Ohio State Murders

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Emmy, Grammy, and Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway starring in Ohio State Murders by Adrienne Kennedy, directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon (Fences, A Soldier’s Play).

Obie Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, and a member of the Theater Hall of Fame, Adrienne Kennedy will make her Broadway debut with this production at age 90. A well-known prize-winning playwright as well as lecturer and author who has been contributing to American theater for over six decades, Kennedy is best known for her plays such as Funnyhouse of a Negro (Obie Award), June and Jean in Concert(Obie Award), Sleep Deprivation Chamber (Obie Award) and numerous other plays and books.

“I am so thrilled. It’s only taken me 65 years to make it to Broadway!” said Kennedy.

Ohio State Murders is an unusual look at the destructiveness of racism in the United States. When Suzanne Alexander (McDonald), a fictional Black writer, returns to Ohio State University to talk about the violence in her writing, a dark mystery unravels.

Dates, casting and the creative team will be announced in the coming months.

The producing team for Ohio State Murders is led by Jeffrey Richards, Rebecca Gold, Jayne Baron Sherman and Irene Gandy. 

Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald (Suzanne Alexander) is unparalleled in the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both a singer and an actor. The winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards and an Emmy, in 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and received a National Medal of Arts—America’s highest honor for achievement in the field—from President Barack Obama. In addition to her Tony-winning performances in CarouselMaster ClassRagtime, A Raisin in the SunThe Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill—the role that also served as the vehicle for her Olivier Award-nominated 2017 debut in London’s West End—she has appeared on Broadway in The Secret GardenMarie Christine (Tony nomination); Henry IV110 in the Shade (Tony nomination); Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed; and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (Tony nomination). A Juilliard-trained soprano, her opera credits include La voix humaine and Send at Houston Grand Opera, and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at Los Angeles Opera, where the resulting recording earned her two Grammy Awards. On television, she was seen by millions as the Mother Abbess in NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! and played Dr. Naomi Bennett on ABC’s Private Practice. She won an Emmy Award for her role as host of PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center and has received nominations for WitA Raisin in the Sun and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Having first appeared as Liz Lawrence on CBS’s The Good Wife, she can now be seen in The Good Fight on Paramount+ as well as in Spectrum’s pandemic-themed drama, The Bite. On film, she has appeared in Seven Servants, The Object of My Affection, Cradle Will Rock, It Runs in the Family, The Best Thief in the World, She Got ProblemsRampartRicki and the Flash, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, the movie-musical Hello Again, and MGM’s Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect. Her upcoming film projects comprise Higher Ground’s Rustin and FilmNation’s Down Low.  McDonald has issued five solo albums on the Nonesuch label as well as Sing Happy with the New York Philharmonic on Decca Gold. She also maintains a major career as a concert artist, regularly appearing on the great stages of the world and with leading international orchestras. A founding member of Black Theatre United, board member of Covenant House International, and prominent advocate for LGBTQAI+ rights, her favorite roles are those performed offstage, as an activist, wife to actor Will Swenson, and mother.

ADRIENNE KENNEDY (Playwright). Award-winning playwright, lecturer and author Adrienne Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh in 1931 and attended Ohio State University. Her plays include Funnyhouse of a Negro (Obie Award, Petit Odeon directed by Jean Marie Serreau), June and Jean in Concert (Obie Award), Sun (Commissioned by Royal Court London), A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and WhiteMomHow Did You Meet The Beatles?A Rat’s MassThe Owl AnswersMotherhood 2000Electra and Orestes (adaptation), She Talks to Beethoven, An Evening with Dead Essex, A Lesson in a Dead Language and The Lennon Play. She is the recipient of an Obie Award for Sleep Deprivation Chamber, which she co-authored with her son Adam. It premiered at the Public Theater and was produced by Signature Theatre Company, which devoted an entire season to Ms. Kennedy’s work. Other awards include a Guggenheim Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, the American Book Award for 1990, and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame. Her published works include Heart in a Box in Spring 2021 with the Modern Language Association, In One ActAlexander Plays and Deadly Triplets, all published by University of Minnesota Press, and People Who Led to My Plays (a memoir), originally published by Knopf and now in paperback by Theatre Communications Group, which also published He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box and Other Plays. Her plays are taught in colleges throughout the country, in Europe, India and Africa. She has been a visiting lecturer at Yale University, New York University, and University of California at Berkeley, where she was Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecturer in 1980 and 1986. She was also commissioned to write plays for Jerome Robbins, the Public Theater, Mark Taper Forum, Juilliard School and the Royal Court in England. She was a distinguished Hutchins Fellow in 2016-2017. Ms. Kennedy has lived in Africa, Italy and London and has taught in Harvard University’s English Department for six semesters.  In 2018, Ms. Kennedy was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame for “Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater.”

KENNY LEON (Director) is a Tony and Obie Award-winning; Emmy-nominated; Broadway and Television director. Most recently, he directed Lifetime’s Emmy-nominated Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia. Currently on Netflix, Kenny directed Amend: The Fight for America, a six-part docuseries hosted by Will Smith. Last year, he directed the Tony Award–winning Broadway premiere of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, A Soldier’s Play starring Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier at Roundabout Theatre Company for which he also received a nomination for Best Director. He also directed the acclaimed production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Delacorte/Shakespeare in the Park. His Broadway credits include the recent production of A Soldier’s PlayAmerican Son starring Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale which was also adapted for Netflix, the revival of Children of a Lesser God, the Tupac musical Holler If Ya Hear MeA Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington (Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play and Best Revival of a Play), The Mountaintop starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, Stick Fly produced by Alicia Keys, August Wilson’s Fences (which garnered ten Tony nominations and won three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Play), Gem of the Oceanand Radio Golf, as well as A Raisin in the Sun starring Sean “Diddy” Combs, Phylicia Rashad, and Audra McDonald. He also directed Smart People and The Underlying Chris for Second Stage.  Leon’s television work includes “Hairspray Live!”, and “The Wiz Live!” on NBC. He recently released his memoir Take You Wherever You Go. He is the recipient of the 2016 Mr. Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing and the 2010 Award for Excellence in Directing from the Drama League. Mr. Leon serves on the board of New York’s Public Theater and is Artistic Director Emeritus of Atlanta’s Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company. He is currently serving as Senior Resident Director at Roundabout Theatre Company.  Prior to co-founding True Colors Theatre Company, he served 11 years as Artistic Director of The Alliance Theatre, where he produced the premieres of Disney’s Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida, Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky and Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Other directorial credits include Alicia Keys World Tour, Toni Morrison’s opera Margaret Garner, the world premiere of Flashdance The Musical, and the complete August Wilson Century Cycle at the Kennedy Center.  Leon is a sought after motivational speaker that has done acting and theatre workshops at universities and corporate offices around the country, South Africa and Ireland.  He has directed in the UK, and extensively throughout the US, including Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Boston’s Huntington Theatre, Baltimore’s Center Stage, Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group and New York’s Public Theatre.  Leon is a graduate of Clark Atlanta and is an honorary Ph.D. recipient of Clark Atlanta and Roosevelt Universities and has served as the Denzel Washington Chair at Fordham University.

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Broadway

The Wiz’s Eases Back Onto Broadway

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There is much to love about the Broadway revival of The Wiz, which opened tonight at the Marquis Theatre. This beloved musical originally opened on Broadway in 1975, was made into film in 1978 and is back with a score by Charlie Smalls, that sparkles due to the orchestrations by Joseph Joubert and vocal arrangements by Allen René Louise. I love the Lalo Schifrin sound.

Nichelle Lewis, Melody A. Betts Photo By Jeremy Daniel

Directed by Schele Williams and an updated book by Amber Ruffin, what this revival has is heart, what it is missing is style.

Deborah Cox


Now Dorothy (a terrific Nichelle Lewis, a newcomer making her Broadway debut) has moved to Kansas to live with her Aunt Em (Melody A. Betts, who shines as  the beloved Aunt, but isn’t evil enough as the wicked witch Evillene, due in part to the sound designer Jon Weston and costume designer Sharen Davis). Dorothy has lost her parents and apparently her dog (no Toto), is being bullied, feels lost and alone, until a tornado sends her hurling to Oz. Her house still kills the wicked witch of the East, but Dorothy is introduced to golden glittery Glinda (Deborah Cox), by Addaperle ( a vocal glorious Allyson Kaye Daniel). She is sent to meet the powerful Wizard (a phenomenally grounded Wayne Brady) to get back home. Along the way meets the scarecrow (Avery Wilson) in need of a brain, the tinman (Phillip Johnson Richardson) wanting a heart and a lion (Kyle Ramar Freeman) in need os some courage.

Avery Wilson, Nichelle Lewis, Phillip Johnson Richardson Photo By Jeremy Daniel

All shine in their performances and vocals though the sound design threatens to derails them. Ms. Cox who is gloriously in voice, is not well mic’d, nor is anyone else. I was in the sixth row and it was hard to hear and I really did want to as the vocals were terrific.

Wayne Brady and Emerald City Photo By Jeremy Daniel

The choreography, by JaQuel Knight, is clunky with numbers seeming not to gel with each other. Each number looks like it belongs in a different show. However the individual performances take the movement to levels that work. Mr. Wison’s scarecrow, is all limbs and displays his flexibility and acrobatic tricks to the nth degree. Mr. Richardson gives the tinman a heart with his soulful “What Would I Do If I Could Feel”. Freeman’s lion, is an amusing scaredy cat who breaks though.

Kyle Ramar Freeman, Nichelle Lewis, Wayne Brady, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Avery Wilson wanting a heart and a lion Photo By Jeremy Daniel

Wayne Brady is a standout as The Wiz and I was wow’d by him.
Lewis is a find as the teenager trying to find herself. “Home”, is now the final song and she nails it making us fall in love with this revival despite it’s designer flaws.

The Oscar-winning production designer Hannah Beachler and costume’s look like they were designed on acid with no filter and no funding. The color choices and styles all look tacky. I really wanted to rip the tablecloth looking skirt off the lion and still do.

I have such fond memories of this show and I left with them intact. Sometimes things do not have to be perfect in order to shine.

The Wiz: Marquis Theatre, 210 W 46th Street, until April 18th.

 

 

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Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman and More At The Museum of Broadway As Harmony Is Honored

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On Thursday, April 18th Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman, The Comedian Harmonists Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman and Steven Telsey, as well as Company members including Chip Zien, Kate Wesler, Kyla Stone, Matthew Mucha, Stuart Zagnit, Zak Edwards, and more TBA will be at The Museum of Broadway to unveil a brand-new window display dedicated to the Broadway musical Harmony. Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman brought the long-forgotten story of The Comedian Harmonists, a German singing group of six young men whose fame was abruptly cut short by the rise of Nazism, to life in the 2023 hit Broadway musical Harmony.

The Museum of Broadway will honor their story with a dedicated window featuring exclusive items donated by Manilow and Sussman, and historical items dating back to the 1920s.

The program will include a special a cappella performance by the OBC Comedian Harmonists.

Harmony, featured an original new score by legendary Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award® winner Barry Manilow with lyrics and book by Drama Desk Award Winner, Bruce Sussman. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle (The Music Man, Hello Dolly!), this timely and captivating rags-to-riches story lost to history came to dazzling life with a sensational cast of Broadway favorites.

Based on an unbelievable true story, the musical told the tale of the most successful entertainers you’ve never heard of. . . until Harmony. In the 1920s and 30s, The Comedian Harmonists sold millions of records, made dozens of films, and sold-out the biggest theaters around the world. Their heavenly harmonies and musical comedy antics catapulted these six talented young men from singing in the subway tunnels of Berlin to international superstardom.  What happened next was the story of Harmony.

The female-founded award-winning Museum of Broadway is the world’s first-ever permanent museum dedicated to the storied history and legendary artists, creators and stars of Broadway musicals and plays, past and present. Offering unrivaled “backstage” access, the Museum of Broadway goes behind-the-scenes to show guests of all ages how a Broadway show is made from conception to curtain call.  A one-of-its-kind entertaining and educational celebration of Broadway for the theatre enthusiast and insider alike, the Museum of Broadway transports visitors visually through centuries of time.  Experience a stunning, ever-evolving curation from the 1700s-present day one dazzling, unforgettable exhibit, costume, prop, rendering and rarity at a time. Through each piece, the Museum of Broadway honors the legacies of those who paved the way for today’s Broadway and the next generation of theatregoers and creators.

Founded in November 2022, the Museum of Broadway highlights more than 500 showstopping and hidden gem productions across three floors of exhibits.  Open seven days a week and welcoming thousands of guests weekly from all over the world, the museum also offers free educational programming, special events with your favorite Broadway casts and creatives, a membership program, merchandise from your favorite shows, and so much more. A portion of proceeds from every ticket sold is donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Be sure to follow @MuseumofBroadway on all social channels for the latest artifact drops, special offers, events and happenings and visit themuseumofbroadway.com to complete your perfect day on Broadway.

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Lempicka Brings An Artist Work Back To Life

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In 1984, I saw the interactive show Tamara based on the life of the artist Tamara de Lempicka in LA and fell in love with it, so much so that it has stayed one of my favorites to this day. Lempicka is a new musical based more on her sexual choices than her stylized Art Deco portraits that changed and inspired generations. She was one of the first feminists, as Tamara choose art, sexual freedom and a lifestyle in a time of war and destruction.


The musical starts out on a park bench in LA as an older Tamara (Eden Espinosa) reflects on her life. Flash back to Warsaw, Poland as Tamara is to be wed to Lempicka (Andrew Samonsky) an aristocrat and is to live a life of luxury. Then the Bolshevik’s in prison her husband, she uses sexual favors to free him and they flee to Paris with their daughter. When her husband is unwilling to work she becomes a painter and uses the name Lempicka. There she is befriended by a wealthy art patron (Nathaniel Stampley) and his wife (Beth Leavel), is influenced by Marinetti (George Abu), the founder of the Futurist art movement, and is inspired and in love with Rafaela (Amber Iman). Both Lempicka and the musical come alive at this point. Tamara finds friendship and solace with a nightclub owner, Suzy (Natalie Joy Johnson), who gives her and others like her a refuge, until the Nazi’s invade. In the end, while breaking ground Lempicka’s life style becomes rather self centered or should I say one of self preservation as she loses her husband, her daughter and her lover.

Amber Iman, Eden Espinosa Photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman

Matt Gould’s music and Carson Kreitzer’s lyrics are well sung and the show sounds glorious. This is a new take on pop music. The problem here is the minor characters get the songs that make the show come alive. Iman, Abu and Johnson almost steal the show with their numbers. Level gets the 11 O’Clock number and breaks our hearts. Though Espinoza has some good numbers and sells them, none of them really stand out.

George Abud photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman)

Kreitzer also conceived the book and wrote it with Gould. Again the show does and doesn’t work. Instead of focusing on Lempicka’s art, the changing world around her and the fact that she was one of the first feminists, the story is more focused on lesbian repression. The show is billed as a triangle of love, but her husband once they get to Paris is in his own world until she gets together with Rafaela a prostitute. Rachel Chavkin’s direction makes the scenes between Rafaela and Lempicka beautiful and in a strange sense if feels a little like Indecent, however the show as a whole doesn’t jell.

Photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman

I did like Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography that seemed to evoke the changing world around.

Riccardo Hernández’s set of steel, seems like the world is on the verge of collapse and rebuilding. The lighting by Bradley King and projections by Peter Hylenski and Justin Stasi added to that effect. Paloma Young’s costumes missed the mark and seemed like they were in two different stories.

The reason to see Lempicka is it is sung and acted gloriously.

Once you see Lempicka, you will realize how much Tamara de Lempicka’s art change and influenced the world of art. This was a woman who survived at all costs and that should always be admired.

Lempicka: Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street.
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Ken Fallin’s Broadway: The Outsiders

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These boys are taking Broadway by storm Jason Schmidt, Sky Lakota-Lynch, and Brody Grant. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1967, the hardened hearts and aching souls of Ponyboy Curtis, Johnny Cade and their chosen family of “outsiders” are in a fight for survival and a quest for purpose in a world that may never accept them. A story of the bonds that brothers share and the hopes we all hold on to, this gripping new musical reinvigorates the timeless tale of “haves and have nots”, of protecting what’s yours and fighting for what could be.

The Outsiders opened on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.

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We Say Good Bye To Costume Designer Extraordinaire Carrie Robbins

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I met Carrie Robbins at an art gallery with Louis St Louis, Baayork Lee and Judy Jacksina. The four of us stayed well into the morning talking, laughing and having a fabulous time. Carrie and I bonded after that as she turned to playwriting. It broke my heart to learn that on the evening of April 12, 2024 Costume Designer extraordinaire Carrie Robbins passed away.

Carrie’s work has been featured in over 30+ Broadway shows, including Class Act, Grease (original), Agnes of God, Yentl, Octette Bridge Club, Sweet Bird of Youth (Lauren Bacall), Frankenstein, Happy End (Mary Streep), Boys of Winter, Cyrano (Frank Langella), & Shadow Box (Mercedes Ruehl).

Her awards and nominations included: 2012 recipient of the Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Theatre Development Fund & the tdf/Costume Collection with the support of the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund. 2 Tony (Noms.), 5 Drama Desks, Maharam, USITT/Prague International, L.A. Dramalogue, Henry Hughes, F.I.T-Surface Design, & Audelco, among others.

Robbins’ costumes for the Irving Berlin musical White Christmas played major cities in the USA, Broadway, and Great Britain. Her regional work included M. Butterfly and On the Verge, for director Tazewell Thompson (Arena Stage) and the Gershwin musical American in Paris by Ken Ludwig for director Gregory Boyd (Alley Theatre, Houston) as well as The Tempest (Anthony Hopkins as Prospero) & Flea in Her Ear (director Tom Moore at Mark Taper Forum), many productions for the Guthrie (MN), Williamstown, and many others from Alaska to Buffalo.


Locally, in NYC, Robbins designed for many productions for The Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, Chelsea Theatre at BAM, Acting Company at Juilliard and NY Shakespeare Festival.

She also designed for the Opera and they included Death in Venice for Glimmerglass (’08 Prague International Design Exhibit), Samson et Dalila (San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand, more), and many productions for Sarah Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston. Her work has also been seen at the Hamburg StatsOper.

For film Robbins designed the movie “In The Spirit” (Elaine May, Peter Falk, Marlo Thomas); TV design included: Saturday Nite Live, PBS Arts in America, & several unseen pilots.

Robbins has designed clothes for several seasons of Queen Esther Marrow and The Harlem Gospel Singers’ European Tour. She also did the designs for The Cincinnati Ballet’s new Nutcracker, in December of 2011

Robbins was an MFA grad from the Yale School of Drama and was Master Teacher of Costume Design at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts for many years. She is extremely proud of the extraordinary number of award-winning, successful young costume designers and costume teachers across the country who came out of her classes.

Besides being a costume designer Carrie also was a playwright. In August 2010, her play, The Death & Life of Dr. Cutter, a Vaudeville, based on the true stories told by her husband Dr. R.D.Robbins, had its 4th reading at the Snapple Theatre Center; it was chosen by Abingdon Theatre Co, NYC, to be part of its First Readings Series in Fall, 2009. In 2011-12 the  League of Professional Theatre Women chose The Dragon Quartet as part of its 30th year anniversary celebration. In 2012-13, La MaMa (oldest off-off-Broadway theater in NYC at 51 years) chose The Diamond Eater for its “Concert Reading Series”. In 2013: TACT (The Actors Company Theatre, chose Sawbones for part of its newTACTics New Play Festival. In 2014 both The Diamond Eater and Sawbones  received 6 Nominations from N.Y. Innovative Theatre Awards (the most nominations given out in the 2014 season). In 2015, Le Wedding Dress, was a semi-finalist in NYNewWorks Theatre Festival. In 2016: Obsessions Of An Art Student chosen by NYNewWorks Theatre Festival. In 2016, The Actress, was a finalist in NY Thespis Summer Festival. In 2017, My Swollen Feet, chosen by NY Summerfest Theatre Festival/ Hudson Guild Theatre. In 2018 The Diamond Eater , semi-finalist at the 14th St. Y competition War + Peace/2018/19 season and The Dragon Griswynd, was chosen by Theater for the New City for its “Dream-Up Festival” In 2019 Pie Lessons, was invited by Crystal Field, Exec. Artistic Director of Theater for the New City, to be part of “Scratch Night at TNC”.

The last thing Carrie was working on was For The Lost Children Of Paris. This play was about how the Nazis, with help from the Vichy Government, collected French-Jewish schoolchildren and delivered them to Auschwitz. Excellent German record-keeping revealed 11,400 children were taken. At the liberation, only 200 were found alive. This is the story of one classroom’s collection day and its aftermath.

She did this play using puppets as the children.

Carrie had a voice that she used in a multiple of ways. She was a caring friend, a dedicated teacher, a prolific writer and costume designer, who always cared about others first. Carrie you will be missed.

 





 

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