Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker – Diva Diamond Jubilee
Sexy, sensational, and often scandalous, The Black Ensemble Theater continues their Dance Theater Season with a wildly enjoyable world premiere musical, Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker. For those not in the know, Baker was a remarkably successful cabaret performer, known the world over beginning in the 1920’s. By today’s standards, Josephine was a one of a kind amalgamation of Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Taylor and Angelina Jolie, years before any of these pioneering women were even conceived. Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906 to a working-class family in St. Louis, Baker’s ambition to rise above her station in life was white hot and developed early on. Written and directed by Daryl D. Brooks, Black Pearl follows a similar template of most of The Black Ensemble Theater’s productions, however this one sparkles like a diamond. To capture the larger than life personality of Josephine, two triple threat actresses were cast. Aerial Williams is simply dazzling as the younger Josephine, all legs and arms, with a million wattage smile. To portray Josephine as a “woman of a certain age,” Joan Ruffin conveyed class, charisma and confidence to winning results.
Josephine was born around the turn of the century to parents who were initially vaudeville performers. Settling in the St. Louis area, her Mother (Rhonda Preston) gave up her own dreams of being an entertainer to take care of her family as a washerwoman. Her father, drummer Eddie Carson, abandoned the responsibility of parenthood and walked out on them. As early as 8 years old, Josephine was tasked to work for abusive and cruel white families in order to help her mother provide. The ultimate knock-back, a wealthy white woman put her cigarette out on the young woman’s arm, forever scaring her as punishment. Running away from home and with no desire to look back, Josephine found work as a waitress and soon after as a dancer with the Dixie Steppers. This lead to her being cast as part of the ensemble in the original cast of Shuffle Along on Broadway. Not one to be relegated to the background, she caused problems with the other cast members, often usurping the lead while breaking character to demonstrate her signature comic touches during the Charleston. Quickly catching the eye of a casting director, Baker was next cast as the lead in “La Revue Negre” at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in France. At the peak of Europe’s obsession with American jazz music, Baker quickly became the toast of the town. Highly sought after and handsomely paid, Baker enjoyed a very decadent public lifestyle. Multiple marriages, disposable lovers and all-consuming passions quickly ensued. This is when the United States came calling with a fantastic offer, return and headline The Ziegfeld Follies. Confident her homeland would welcome her back, Baker agreed to the tour, but not so subtle racism, sexism and hostility met her instantly upon her return. Columnist Walter Winchell (William Rowland) tried to kill her career through skewed and slanderous media reporting, his hostility based on the color of her skin, not her talents. Defeated and professionally humiliated, Baker went back to Europe where she was again welcomed as a luminary.
Taking place at the beginning of act two, a recreation her most iconic work, The Folies Bergère banana skirt dance. Alexia Rutherford’s opulent costume design proved wholly sublime. Williams’ was raw, defiant yet utterly alluring, when recreating Baker’s routines. Knowing she was home in Europe, Baker radically redefined notions of race and gender through the performing arts and was well received for do so. This lead to the renouncement of her American citizenship, instead becoming a French nationalist in 1937. Baker even worked as a spy for the French resistance during World War II, hiding coded messages in her band’s sheet music and once, notoriously slipping documents in her underwear. Anything to help defeat the Nazi’s and bring an end to the second World War. Relocating her family from St. Louis to her chateaux in France after the War, Josephine’s next obsession became motherhood. She ended up adopting 12 multiracial and multinational children from around the world, colorfully nick-named her “rainbow tribe.” The very public adoptions demonstrated children from a multitude of ethnicities could get along, so Baker’s interests switched from performing to promoting civil rights in the United States. During the 1950’s and 1960’s Baker devoted herself to fighting segregation and racism in her homeland, insisting every venue she performed in have integrated audiences and the citizens equal protections under the law. Motherhood and racial equality consumed her time, so unfortunately the large amounts of money she commanded from her performances stopped rolling in. After another divorce, her lavish lifestyle and a multitude of children, her accounts were completely wiped out. Before losing her French chateaux in foreclosure, Baker received a personal invitation from Princess Grace to relocate with her entire family to Monaco. Still craving the spotlight, Baker once again returned to the stage in 1973 at Carnegie Hall. Openly overwhelmed and visibly weeping on stage, this New York comeback was a highly touted celebration. Sadly Baker passed on shortly after, dying quietly in her sleep.
Set to a soundtrack of classic songs including “La Vie En Rose,” “My Way,” “Blue Skies” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” musical director Robert Reddrick kept the pace fervently rolling. Aaron Quick’s background projection design featured dozens of photos of the real Josephine through all aspects of her wild existence. The first female International superstar of color, Josephine Baker was brought back to reputable and respectable life by The Black Ensemble Theater. I must admit, I am a true fan of this “Creole Goddess” as she was often called. I attended the opening with high expectations, and I am happy to report, they were both met and exceeded. Black Pearl was fun, flirty and fabulous from beginning to end. Black Ensemble newcomer Aerial Williams has an impressive future ahead of her based on this dynamite debut performance. Coco Chanel once famously remarked “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” Paving her own road, triumphing over her past and her country’s racist attitudes, Baker built a remarkable, unique and uncharted lifestyle for herself. I wondered what Baker herself would have thought about the Black Ensemble Theater’s treatment of her life story in Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker? I am confident she is a proud guardian angel, widely smiling and enthusiastically kicking up her heels over this entire production.
Black Ensemble Theater Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker is now playing through June 25, 2017
Theatre News: Smash, I Need That, Good Night, Oscar, Funny Girl, This Beautiful Lady and In The Trenches: A Parenting Musical
The NBC television series Smash is coming to Broadway for the 2024-2025 season. Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron and Steven Spielberg will produce. The musical will feature a book co-written by three-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice and Tony winner Bob Martin. Tony and Grammy winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Some Like It Hot). The team earned three Emmy nominations for their songs from the “Smash” series will pen the score, which will feature numbers from the TV show.
Five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman (New York, New York) will direct and Tony nominee and Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse will choreograph.
The series was created by Theresa Rebeck and Spielberg, launch the series. Spielberg is also one of the co-producers of Good Night, Oscar, which begins performances at the Belasco Theatre on April 7.
Official dates, theater, creative team and casting for the “Smash” stage musical will be announced at a later date.
Speaking of the Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Theresa Rebeck, Danny DeVito and Lucy DeVito are set to star in her new play I Need That at the Roundabout. The new comedy will be directed by Tony nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel which will open at the American Airlines Theatre in October. The cast will also include Ray Anthony Thomas. … Also newly announced for Roundabout’s new Broadway season is a spring 2024 revival of Samm-Art Williams’ 1980 Tony-nominated play “Home.” Tony winner Kenny Leon will direct
Speaking of Good Night, Oscar, Doug Wright’s play was named finalist for 2023 new play award by The American Theatre Critics Association. The other six finalists for the 2023 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award include: Born With Teeth by Liz Duffy Adams, the ripple, the wave that carried me home by Christina Anderson, Sally & Tom by Suzan-Lori Parks, Spay by Madison Fiedler and
Swing State by Rebecca Gilman.
Paolo Montalban and Anne L. Nathan are joining Lea Michele in Funny Girl as Florenz Ziegfield and Mrs. Strakosh. Montalban and Nathan will replace original cast members Peter Francis James and Toni DiBuono, who take their final bows on March 26th.
Elizabeth Swados’ This Beautiful Lady will play at La MaMa this May. Previews will begin May 5 for the Off-Broadway run ahead of the May 8 press opening, with performances set through May 28 in the Ellen Stewart Theatre.
In The Trenches: A Parenting Musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Graham & Kristina Fuller, will receive industry readings on Friday, March 24th at 11am & 3pm at Ripley Grier Studios. The readings will be directed by Jen Wineman (Dog Man: The Musical) and will feature music direction by Rebekah Bruce (Mean Girls) and arrangements by Dan Graeber, Graham & Kristina Fuller.
The cast of In The Trenches features Amanda Jane Cooper (Wicked), Jelani Remy (The Lion King, Ain’t Too Proud), Christine Dwyer (Wicked), Caesar Samayoa (Come From Away), Max Crumm (Grease, Disaster!), and Vidushi Goyal.Join two bleary-eyed young parents as they trudge through the trenches and discover their new post-baby identities. In an evening of new-parent greatest hits, a foul-mouthed toddler zeroes in on “the most dangerous thing in the room”, tap dancing towards bleach, knives, and tide pods; a chronically-overlooked younger sibling sings the “second child blues”; a mom trio celebrates yoga pants in an R&B love song to the “official mom uniform”; dad discovers he’s not the “ice-cream and movie-night cool parent” but rather the “do your homework real parent” amid a kiddo sugar-crash; and mom retrieves a sticky, hair-covered pacifier from the floor of a LaGuardia bathroom while her baby screams bloody murder and her flight boards without her.
Jason Robert Brown, Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Sutton Foster, Lillias White and More To Perform at TheaterWorksUSA Spring Gala
TheaterWorksUSA, currently presenting the hit family show Dog Man The Musical at New World Stages, will host its annual Spring Gala on Monday, April 24 (cocktails begin at 6 PM) at The Current at Chelsea Piers.
100% of the net proceeds from the event will support our mission to create exceptional, transformative theatrical experiences that are accessible to young and family audiences in diverse communities across New York City and North America.
This year TWUSA will honor Lisa Chanel (TWUSA Board Chair 2019-2022), Andréa Burns (Award-winning Broadway actress & educator), Peter Flynn (TWUSA alumnus and award-winning director, writer, and educator), and Holly McGhee (Founder and Creator of Pippin Properties, New York Times best selling author). The event will feature appearances by some of Broadway’s biggest stars, including Jason Robert Brown, Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Kevin Del Aguila, Sutton Foster, Lillias White and more.
On behalf of TheaterWorksUSA’s Board of Directors, we are thrilled to celebrate the people who have generously supported our mission, making it possible for us to bring high-quality theater to young audiences of all backgrounds throughout the country. We look forward to recognizing Lisa, Andréa, Peter, and Holly publicly at this very special event. – Tracy A. Stein, Board Chair
It’s a privilege to honor these individuals for playing such an important role in the work we do. Their vision, creativity, and ongoing commitment to our mission is truly something to celebrate. They are very much a part of our TheaterworksUSA family.- Barbara Pasternack, Artistic Director
TheaterWorksUSA (Barbara Pasternack, Artistic Director; Michael Harrington, Executive Director) has led the Theater for Young and Family Audiences movement in New York City and across North America for over half a century. At TWUSA, we believe that access to art—and theater, in particular—is vital for our youth. Since 1961, the 501(c)3 not-for-profit has captured the imaginations of 100 million new and veteran theatergoers with an award-winning repertoire of over 140 original plays and musicals. Acclaimed alumni include Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Disney’s Frozen), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent), Jerry Zaks (The Music Man), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen), Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton), Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America), and Chuck Cooper (Tony award-winning actor, The Life). WWW.TWUSA.ORG
Theatre News: Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, Parade, The Shubert Organization Donates to ECF and Millennials Are Killing Musicals,
Tovah Feldshuh, Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton at Opening Night of Bob Fosse’s DANCIN’. Photo by Emilio Madrid
The curtain was raised last night at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street) as Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, the American showbusiness legend’s landmark musical tribute to the artform that defined his life, opened on Broadway 45 years after the original smash-hit production premiered. The production’s direction and musical staging is by Tony Award-winner Wayne Cilento, one of the stars of the original Broadway production, and is produced in cooperation with Nicole Fosse.
In attendance on opening night were Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nicole Fosse; original A Chorus Line cast members Baayork Lee, Donna McKechnie, Priscilla Lopez; Chita Rivera; Erich Bergen; Jordan E. Cooper; Tovah Feldshuh; J. Harrison Ghee; Jane Krakowski; Adam Lambert; Ralph Macchio; Abby Lee Miller; Audra McDonald; Casey Nicholaw; Justin Peck; Tiler Peck; Bernadette Peters; Tonya Pinkins; Tony Roberts; David Rockwell; Krysta Rodriguez; Christopher Sieber; Jennifer Simard; Will Swenson and more.
Dancin’is Fosse’s full-throated, full-bodied celebration of dancers and dancing. Utterly reimagined for the 21st century, this Dancin’brims with a level of warmth, emotion, and color seldom seen in modern interpretations of Fosse’s influential style and features some of his most inventive and rarely performed choreography. With New York’s hottest cast performing wall-to-wall dance, including Fosse classics such as “Mr. Bojangles,” and “Sing Sing Sing.” Dancin’ delivers the quintessential Broadway experience for Fosse fans and first-timers alike. You think you’ve seen dancing, but you’ve never seen Dancin’like this.
The cast, consisting of some of the best of Broadway’s elite dancers includes Ioana Alfonso (Hometown: Miami via DR/PR), Yeman Brown (Hometown: Tallahassee, FL), Peter John Chursin (Hometown: San Francisco, CA), Dylis Croman (Hometown: Dallas, TX), Jovan Dansberry (Hometown: St. Louis, MO), Karli Dinardo (Hometown: Melbourne, Australia), Tony d’Alelio (Hometown: Roanoke, VA), Aydin Eyikan (Hometown: Fairfield, CT), Pedro Garza (Hometown: Abilene, Texas), Jacob Guzman (Hometown: Brockton, MA), Manuel Herrera (Hometown: Charlotte, NC), Afra Hines (Hometown: Miami, FL), Gabriel Hyman (Hometown: Chesapeake, VA), Kolton Krouse (Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona), Mattie Love(Hometown: Layton, UT), Krystal Mackie (Hometown: Brooklyn, NY), Yani Marin (Hometown: Miami, FL), Nando Morland (Hometown: Colombia / Denver, CO), Khori Michelle Petinaud (Hometown: Centreville, VA), Ida Saki (Hometown: Dallas, TX), Ron Todorowski (Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA), and Neka Zang (Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ).
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ is produced by Joey Parnes, Hunter Arnold, Kayla Greenspan, Rodger Hess & Michael Seago, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Bob Boyett, The Shubert Organization, James L. Nederlander, Tim Forbes, Carson Gleberman, Park West Productions, McCabe Ventures, Fran Kirmser & Jodi Kaplan, Greg Young, The Fabulous Invalid, Julie Hess & Tommy Hess, and The Old Globe in cooperation with Nicole Fosse.
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ originally opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on March 27, 1978 and later transferred to the Ambassador Theatre. The production ran for 1,774 performances. Dancin’ was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and brought Fosse his seventh Tony Award for Best Choreography.
This production of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ premiered at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre from April 19, 2022, to June 5, 2022.
Interscope Records is proud to announce the cast album for the “brilliant” (Variety) 2023 revival of Parade — Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s award-winning musical, which opened on March 16 at New York’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre to rave reviews. Parade (2023 Broadway Cast Recording) features the vocal talents of Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award® winner Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond and conducted by composer Jason Robert Brown, and will be released on Thursday, March 23. Pre-order it HERE.
Leo and Lucille Frank (Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond) are a newlywed Jewish couple struggling to make a life in the old red hills of Georgia. When Leo is accused of an unspeakable crime, it propels them into an unimaginable test of faith, humanity, justice, and devotion. Riveting and gloriously hopeful, Parade reminds us that to love, we must truly see one another.
The current revival of Parade, which is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Michael Arden, has received overwhelming acclaim since its debut. Entertainment Weekly called it “a phenomenal production that feels more poignant and powerful than ever,” while Variety said, “Ben Platt stuns in a powerful Broadway production of an essential American musical.”
Platt (Dear Evan Hansen, The Book of Mormon) and Diamond’s performances (The Cher Show) were singled out for praise. Deadline gushed “Ben Platt has no trouble reminding us just why he’s become one of Broadway’s most beloved performers. His vocals here are stunning in a pitch-perfect performance,” while The Guardian raved that “Micaela Diamond’s singing voice is luminous.” “Micaela Diamond, as Lucille Frank, breaks your heart with no affectation whatsoever, and a voice directly wired to her emotions,” wrote The New York Times in its Critic’s Pick review. Tickets are available now at www.paradebroadway.com.
Parade (2023 Broadway Cast Recording) showcases their voices, as well as other members of the all-star cast, while capturing the essence of a musical that, Entertainment Weekly writes, “is the most gorgeous production on Broadway.” Viewers will get a special preview of the musical on March 23 when Platt and Diamond perform its signature ballad “This Is Not Over Yet” on NBC’s Today accompanied by Jason Robert Brown on piano.
Out of the Box Theatrics (Elizabeth Flemming, Founder and Producing Artistic Director; Ethan Paulini, Associate Artistic Director) is pleased to announce that Grammy and Emmy Award winner Kristolyn Lloyd (Dear Evan Hansen) will star in the Off-Broadway developmental production of Millennials Are Killing Musicals, written by Drama League songwriting contest and NAMT Challenge winner Nico Juber. The production, to be directed by Ciara Renée(Waitress, Frozen), will play a limited engagement from May 7-28, 2023, at Theatre 71 at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament (152 West 71st Street). Opening night is May 15. Tickets are on sale now at Ovation Tix.
The Entertainment Community Fund, formerly The Actors Fund, the national human services organization supporting the needs of those working in the entertainment and performing arts industry, today announced that The Shubert Organization has made a $5 million gift to the Fund to support expansion of The Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, and affordable housing and a community arts center at The Hollywood Arts Collective in Los Angeles.
The $5 million gift will be used to expand doctors’ offices and services at The Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, with additional support to the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ. Funds will also be used to bolster the construction and programs of The Hollywood Arts Collective, a new affordable housing and community arts center located in the heart of Hollywood where the Central Gardens will be named in honor of The Shubert Organization.
The Shubert Organization has long supported the Fund’s ongoing work to help people in performing arts and entertainment. In 2017, The Shubert Organization unveiled The Shubert Pavilion: an expansion to the Actors Fund Home, an assisted living and skilled nursing care facility located in Englewood, New Jersey. The Shubert Pavilion houses a 25-bed short-stay rehabilitation center available to the general public and intended for people who are recovering from illness or surgery, as well as 14 assisted living beds. The facility also includes a fully equipped gym for physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Robert E. Wankel, Chairman and CEO of The Shubert Organization, also serves as Chair of The Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation Board of Directors, a role in which he supports and guides the development of affordable housing for the performing arts and entertainment community to improve lives, create jobs, foster economic development and revitalize communities. In 2022, Wankel received the Entertainment Community Fund’s Medal of Honor, an award presented at the Fund’s annual gala that recognizes individuals who have had a profound impact on the entertainment community.
“The Entertainment Community Fund is honored by the long-standing commitment of The Shubert Organization and the countless ways it supports our work to provide a safety net for people in the performing arts community,” said Fund Board Chair Brian Stokes Mitchell. “A special thank you to Bob Wankel for his continued leadership not only at The Shubert Organization, but also with the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation Board of Directors.”
“The Shubert Organization is proud to strengthen the Entertainment Community Fund’s ability to provide affordable housing, medical care, emergency financial assistance and so much more to those in our industry,” said Robert E. Wankel. “We look forward to all that’s to come in our ongoing collaborations, from Englewood to Times Square to Hollywood and beyond.”
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