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Meet The Former and Present Residents of Manhattan Plaza: Peter Wise

Meet The Former and Present Residents of Manhattan Plaza: Peter Wise

Peter Wise is an entertainment industry veteran for over 30 years. After a successful career in acting, Wise decided to combine his eye for talent and experience to become a casting director. In 1990, he launched Peter Wise and Associates which soon became one of the most successful independently owned casting agencies with Wise becoming the most sought after casting director on both the East and West coasts. His extensive list of casting credits for film, television and theater have garnered several awards and accolades from peers.

Peter, studied with Wynn Hammond, Lee Strasberg and classmate Michel Wright who lived on top of the pizza shop. Michael’s family own Jezebel’s a hangout space for the residents of Manhattan Plaza. All of us were in the neighborhood.

Coca Cola Street Song – 1976 from Burrell: Advertising Revolution on Vimeo.

Wise was responsible for comprising the cast of Smokey Joe’s Café which was nominated for seven Tony Awards and received a Grammy for “Best Musical Show Album.”  Wise’s cast selections received rave reviews for their performances that contributed greatly to the production becoming the longest musical revue on Broadway to date. As the casting director of record for the national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, he cast Ted Neely, Carl Anderson, Irene Cara and Dennis DeYoung.

Peter Wise & Claudia McNeil in Amen Corner Directed by Woodie King

Wise served dual roles as both casting director and producer for the pre-Broadway workshop of Car Wash, 2014 The Musical:  A Norman Whitfield Story. He received a personal invitation from director Debbie Allen to cast her adaptation of Tennessee Williams’, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  His cast included James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terence Howard, Boris Kodjoe, Anika Noni Rose and Giancarlo Esposito. Off Broadway productions, include The Wiz, Twist, Cheaters, Friends and Lovers, Men Money and Goldiggers. His regional theater work includes Ain’t MisBehavin’, Bigger Than Bubble Gum, The Emotion’s Story, Sisterella, I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change and Evita. In Las Vegas Signed. Sealed & Delivered the music of Stevie Wonder.

Peter Wise First Breeze with Bill Cobbs & Claudia McNeil

In film and television, his production credits include, “OutBreak Z” starring Wesley Snipes, “A House Divided”, “Everything That Glitters”, “Life is Not a Fairy Tale:  The Fantasia Barrino Story,” directed by Debbie Allen, “Unpredictable” a television variety special starring Jamie Foxx and more. Wise has produced several independent films casting Nick Cannon’s feature film “She Ball” and “Somebody’s Child”, to name just a few. 

Peter Wise & Claudia McNeil in Amen Corner Directed by Woodie King

Mr. Wise was recognized for his outstanding achievements in the entertainment industry with the prestigious NAACP Theatre Spirit AwardTrumpet Award and a Grammy, for the Best Broadway Musical.  Seven years ago he launched Peter Wise Actor’s Studio in North Hollywood, California which he plans to franchise. For more information about the studio please visit, www.PWAStudio.org.

T2C: When did you first move into Manhattan Plaza and how did you get into the building?

Peter Wise: I lived in Manhattan Plaza since 1977, when it had just open up. I was the 1st person to live in my apartment in the 400 Building, Apt 38Q.  I got in because i was a member of Equity/SAG/ AFTRA. I was an entertainment kid. I was turning 20. I had been a working actor since I was 17. I was on “The Doctors” with Alec Baldwin, Peggy Cass, Melba Moore and Kathleen Turner. Before Melba, I was the only person of color. I did an after school special for NBC called “A Piece of Cake” and was nominated for an Emmy.

T2C: What made you move out?

Peter Wise: It was 1987. I had a son Christian. My ex-wife Carla Earle and I wanted to move to California. I was doing more TV than theatre. When I moved I did TV shows like “Wonder Women”. I also wanted to give someone else that wonderful opportunity of living there.

Peter & Nick Cannon

T2C: Were you there during the AIDS crisis? Tell us about that time.

Peter Wise: There were so many people being affected. My ex-wife was a dancer/ choreographer and it impacted our industry and building. Manhattan Plaza was a vey resourceful and open place, because it was full of the arts. MP was a place of refuge for all kinds of people such as senior citizens, as well as artists with AIDS. It was an extended family. It was my first place away from my parents and family.

T2C: Who did you make friends with in the building and have those relationships lasted?

Peter Wise: MP was the place where everybody knew everybody. It was like a dorm. Loretta Divine and Saundra McClain, made sure I ate. They were my sisters. Jeffrey Anderson Gunther use to feed me his Jamaican food. Arnold and his carrot cake, Curtain Up, where we all went after the shows. I would do a New Years Eve party every year because you could see the ball drop from my apartment. Chapman Roberts, the cast from The Wiz, Bubbling Brown Sugar, Jeffrey Thompson, Marshall Roumain, Alicia Keys and her mother Terria, Minnie Gentry, Terence Howard’s grandmother, Mary Alice, a wonderful actress who was the oracle in ‘The Matrix” all attended.

T2C: What has been the biggest changes to the neighborhood and your business?

Peter Wise:  The whole upgrade of the area. It went from the underworld to a more refined area. We were able to adapt. We could be with Kings and Queens, as well as prostitutes and bums. We could blend the worlds. We brought class and culture and a new way of living. We brought pride. It wasn’t about color. Most of us all had parents saying “why don’t you get a real job”. Artists were and are an exceptional group of people. It was wonderful seeing xxx rated theaters turn to rehearsal spaces and Off Broadway theaters. Casting directors welcomed you like family. We had a responsibility to each other. I became a casting director because of who I knew.

T2C: What did living in the building allow you to accomplish?

Peter Wise: A living, a career and I am respected because of it. It made my parents proud of me. I became a conduit to do God’s work, because we are the light and the darkness in the industry. I asked God to use me to elevate the light and give opportunities to his children who are gifted and to impact the world.

T2C: What was your greatest accomplishment thanks to living in the building?

Peter Wise: Being able to hire my friends and watch them grow. It wasn’t about being famous, it was about being respected among your peers. We have gotten so disconnected from that. The integrity has gone.

T2C: What would you change from your time living in Manhattan Plaza?

Peter Wise: When you’re young, you don’t see the forest through the trees. You think it will last forever. I would have taken more advantage of the opportunities given to me. As you get older you see things a lot differently. I wouldn’t change a thing though, because we have to go through it and we have to come back. Getting back is how we impact each other’s lives. Through our achievements we bring our brothers and sisters up.

T2C: What is your fondest memory of New York?

Peter Wise: Going up to Equity and bonding with the older actors who came before me. Helping and uplifting the babes new in the industry. From the time I left my parents house, I never had to work a regular job unless I wanted to. I had respect and a chance to make a difference.

T2C: What would you like us to know that we haven’t asked you?

Peter Wise: I wrote a work webbook on acting which was commissioned last year for LA Unified Schools. I cast Nick Cannon newest feature film, “She Ball” soon to release. I am a previous recipient of the Trumpet Award.

That we have a responsibility to give back to our fellow man, to pass on whose shoulders that we stand on. I didn’t realize they were passing the torch to me.

The documentary Miracle on 42nd Street, is available on Amazon and will soon be available to stream. 

Film

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

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