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Melvin Van Peebles’ Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death Coming To Broadway

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The electrifying and seminal musical play Melvin Van Peebles’ Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death will return to Broadway for the very first time since its 1971 premiere production. Directed by Tony Award® winner Kenny Leon, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death will open on Broadway in 2022. Filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, Melvin’s eldest son and longtime collaborator, will serve as Creative Producer.

Kenny Leon

Featuring a book and score by Mr. Van Peebles, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death blends early hip hop and spoken word, jazz and blues, humor and pain to offer a raucous celebration of – and clear-eyed look at – America.

Mario Van Peebles

On October 20, 1971, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death had its legendary opening night and perfectly captured the Van Peebles zeitgeist as it stunned its first Broadway audiences  with its heightened, no-holds-barred depiction – equal parts thrilling and intense – of the largely unseen corridors of urban life.  Broadway – and popular music – would never be the same.  

Melvin Van Peebles

“The songs on stage were mirroring the incidents that were happening in the streets,” said Van Peebles. The introduction of Van Peebles’ unique songwriting style to Broadway marked a turning point in the American musical artform, serving as a major influence for future Broadway sensations, including Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da FunkRent; and many more.

Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death went on to earn seven 1972 Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. Given an unprecedented (and unrepeated) more-than nine-minute performance slot on that year’s Tony Awards telecast, the original cast delivered what Time Out New York later called, “The most shocking performance in the history of the Tonys.” Its now-iconic score, steeped in funk, soul, jazz, and blues, is widely considered to have been a groundbreaking precursor to rap and hip-hop.

Mr. Leon stated, “Ever since I heard the name Melvin Van Peebles, I have equated it with excellence, beauty and courage. I am grateful to have this opportunity along with my creative team to introduce to some, and re-introduce to others, the richness of this unique musical experience.”

Mr. Van Peebles’s eldest son and closest collaborator for the past 50 years, the actor/director/producer/writer Mario Van Peebles, said of the project, “Love what you do for a living, love and enjoy the people you do it with, and love what the work says. If you get these three career chakras to line up, you’re rich beyond the economics. Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death is a perfect example of that artistic alignment. For years, people have said Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death was my father’s crowning achievement and ahead of its time and would ask when it would come back to Broadway. Led by the incomparable Mr. Leon, I believe Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Deathis more relevant than ever, and America is finally ready for it.”

One of the most sought-after directors in the world, Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon’s Broadway credits include Children of A Lesser God, the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun (Tony Award), The MountaintopStick FlyFences, the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun, Gem of the OceanRadio Golf, and Holler if You Hear Me. Leon recently directed the docudrama Amend for Netflix and is directing the upcoming Mahalia Jackson story for Lifetime. He is currently nominated for a 2020 Tony Award for his most recent Broadway work, A Soldier’s Play. He is Senior Resident of the Roundabout Theatre Company and is Artistic Director Emeritus of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, the nonprofit regional theater company he co-founded in 2002 to celebrate the rich traditions of Black storytelling while giving voice to bold new artists from all cultures.

Melvin Van Peebles is an American filmmaker, playwright, novelist, composer, and actor. He is most well-known for creating and starring in the groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and also served as the film’s composer and editor. His first feature film was La Permission (1967), a romantic drama released in France in 1967 and in the United States (as The Story of a Three-Day Pass) the following year. Van Peebles made his Hollywood directorial debut with Watermelon Man (1970), a comedy about racial bigotry. He then turned to his pet project, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Using mostly his own money and relying largely on nonprofessional actors and technicians, Van Peebles told the story of one black man’s battle against white authority and created a seminal work in American cinema. He then began a musical career with the album Brer Soul (1969), which featured a mostly spoken vocal style that prefigured rap. He subsequently moved into Broadway musical theatre, adapting some of his recorded songs for the production Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971) and one of his novels for Don’t Play Us Cheap! (1972; film 1973). Thereafter he continued to write, act, compose, and direct for films, television, and the stage. 

Mario Van Peebles made his film debut in his father’s seminal Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, but he burst onto the scene as a filmmaker in 1991 with his gangster classic hit New Jack City. Mario went on to direct and star in several groundbreaking films himself, including his multi-cultural western Posse in which he directed his father. He then collaborated with his father again on Panther, the first controversial award-winning feature on the Black Panther Party. Father and son produced Panther together, while Melvin wrote, and Mario directed. While playing Malcolm X in the feature Ali, Mohammed Ali a fan of Melvin’s, suggested Mario make a bio pick about his maverick father. Mario took up the challenge and wrote Baadasssss, an odyssey that chronicles the making of Melvin’s groundbreaking film Sweetback. Mario wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Baadasssss playing his father in the film. The feature was critically-acclaimed and became one of Roger Ebert’s 10 Best Movies of the Year in 1971. One of Hollywood’s most sought-after filmmakers/actors for over 30 years, Mario moves effortlessly back-and-forth between being in front and behind the camera. “I get bored if I’m just doing one thing to long” jokes Van Peebles. His numerous projects include We The PartyRootsArmedSalt N Pepa; and directing series like “Blood Line” and “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.”

Additional Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death production details, including the complete cast and additional creative team, will be announced at a later date.

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

Stephen Schwartz To Be Inducted into The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame

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Legendary Award Winning Broadway and Movie Music Composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) will be inducted into the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) on Saturday, March 23rd, 2024 at 7pm.

There will also be concert emceed by Musician Paul Shaffer (from the David Letterman Show) who worked with Schwartz early in his career.

Schwartz has won 4 Grammys and 3 Oscars among other awards in his career that spans over 50 years both on Broadway and on the silver screen. Additionally, Schwartz has contributed music and lyrics to several movies such as “Pocahontas” (1995), “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996), “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), and “Enchanted” (2007).He was also involved with the upcoming feature film adaptation of Wicked to be released in the fall.

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Broadway

Ani DiFranco and Lola Tung Join Hadestown

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The Tony and Grammy Award®-winning Best Musical Hadestown is currently stars Grammy Award winner Ani DiFranco as Persephone singing “Our Lady Of The Underground”.

 Lola Tung (“The Summer I Turned Pretty”) as Eurydice, Jordan Fisher (Dear Evan Hansen, Grease: Live,) as Orpheus here singing “All I’ve Ever Known”.

Grammy Award nominee Phillip Boykin as Hades, and Tony Award winner Lillias White as Hermes.

They are joined by Belén Moyano, Kay Trinidad, and Brit West as the Fates. The chorus of Workers is played by Emily Afton, Malcolm Armwood, Chibueze Ihuoma, Alex Puette, and Grace Yoo. The cast includes swings Sojourner Brown, Brandon Cameron, Tara Jackson, Max Kumangai, Alex Lugo, and Tanner Ray Wilson.

Hadestown originated as Anaïs Mitchell’s indie theater project that toured Vermont which she then turned into an acclaimed album. With Rachel Chavkin, her artistic collaborator, Hadestown has been transformed into a genre-defying new musical that blends modern American folk music with New Orleans-inspired jazz to reimagine a sweeping ancient tale.

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Broadway

Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents Goes Live With Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane

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Photo of Bonnie Comley, Stewart F. Lane and Suzanna Bowling

“Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is a new show that is filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. We will run the video on our site every Thursday and then it moves onto the podcast networks.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Broadway royalty and longtime married couple Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane. We talk about the Palace Theatre, Broadway HD and so much more.

We were also so excited because the show and our guests are now featured on the TV screens in the lobby and the hotel rooms.

I am so grateful to my guests Bonnie and Stewart for joining me. Thank-you Magda Katz for videoing and creating the content to go live, the audience who showed up to support us, Rommel Gopez and The Edison Hotel for their kindness and hospitality.

We hope to see you there on February 21st for our guests the creator of Times Square and Hampton Fashion Week Dee Rivera, Celebrity hairstylist Samantha Smoker and Fashion Designer Shani Grosz.

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Book Reviews

Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley

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I am so pleased to announce our guests for Valentine’s Day are Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, the founders of BroadwayHD.com, an online streaming service on a mission to promote and preserve live theatre, extending the reach of Broadway and Broadway-caliber shows to anyone, anywhere. BroadwayHD currently has a catalog of over 300 full-length stage plays and musicals available for streaming on demand, so when you can’t get to Broadway, go to BroadwayHD on your tv, phone, or tablet!

Mr. Lane and Ms. Comley have collectively produced over 40 films and 45 Broadway shows, garnering nine Tony Awards and another 14 Tony nominations. They have also won Olivier Awards, Drama Desk, Drama
League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for their stage productions. Lane has co-owned Broadway’s famous Palace Theater for almost 40 years.

The theater community has honored the couple for their philanthropic work, including The Actors Fund Medal of Honor, The Drama League Special Contribution to the Theater Award, The Paul Newman Award from Arts Horizons, and The Theater Museum Distinguished Service Award. The stage at Boston University’s new theater center is named in their honor, as is the Music Theater Program. The Musical Theater Society Room bears their name at Emerson College, and the 500-seat theater at the University
of Massachusetts Lowell is known as the Comley Lane Theater. Lane is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award at Boston University, and Comley is Distinguished Alumni of both Emerson College and UMass Lowell.

Mr. Lane is a theater historian and playwright and has written the critically acclaimed “Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way” (Square One Publishers), “Jews on Broadway” (McFarland Publishers), “Let’s Put on a Show” (Working Arts Library), and the plays “In The Wings (published in spring 2008 by Hal Leonard), “If It Was Easy” (published by Performing Books and nominated for Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association), and the musical “Back Home Again” (with music
and lyrics by John Denver) which he was awarded The 2011 John Denver Spirit Award for his work.

“Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is a new show that will be filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our first episode click here.

Originally our guest was Maury Yeston, but he had to reschedule. He will be our guest at a later date, however Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, our guests for Valentine’s Day could not be more perfect. They are the epitome or Love and Broadway.

See you at The Edison Hotel.

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Broadway

Chita Will Be Honored As Lights Dim

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Broadway will dim its marquee lights to honor the two-time Tony-winning star of the original West Side Story Chita Rivera. This iconic star died January 30 at the age of 91.

The dimming of Broadway marquees will occur for the traditional one minute on Saturday, February 17 at 7:45 p.m./ET.

“Chita Rivera was Broadway royalty, and we will miss her with all our hearts,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “For nearly seven decades she enthralled generations of audiences with her spellbinding performances and iconic roles. The triple threat actor, singer, and dancer leaves behind an incredible legacy of work for which she was honored with a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.”

Rivera’s Broadway career began in 1950 with Guys and Dolls. Her signature role came in 1957 when she played the original “Anita” in West Side Story. Other Broadway credits include Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, The Visit and The Rink. She was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning for The Rink in 1984 and Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993. She received the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.

We give you the talented Ken Fallin’s drawing of Chita in The Visit.

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