2011: A magnificent year in Black theater Part 1
LINDA ARMSTRONG Special to the AmNews | 1/4/2012, 6:42 p.m.
Kyra Da Costa, Erica Dorfler, Christina Sajous and Erica Ash took to the stage at the Broadhurst Theater, along with Allan Louis and Geno Henderson. The ladies performed as the Shirelles and did a great job bringing their songs like "He's So Fine," "Soldier Boy" and "Mama Said" to life in "Baby It's You."
A minister with a medical death sentence had his faith tested in playwright/director Jackie Alexander's powerful production, "The Right Reverend Dupree in Exile" at the Billie Holiday Theatre. The play had an incredible cast that included Ralph McCain, Marcelle Gover, Brandon Jones, Rege C. Lewis and Eboni Witcher.
While much was happening for African-Americans in theater, you wouldn't have known it at the Tony Awards, where only one African-American won. Nikki M. James came away with Best Featured Role in a Musical for "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway. Broadway also saw the debut performance of Patina Miller, who plays Deloris Van Cartier in "Sister Act." She is joined by the one and only Chester Gregory, Kingsley Leggs and Demond Green. This production is playing at the Broadway Theater and is a heavenly habit to partake in.
2011 saw Vy Higginsen remount her gospel musical, "Mama I Want To Sing: The Next Generation" and it was phenomenal. The beloved storyline, which tells of her sister Doris Troy's singing career, featured magnificent voices with rich life lessons and took the audience to church. The production starred Higginsen's daughter, Ahmaya Knoelle Higginsen, along with a cast of great singers that included Tyrone Flowers, Sandra Huff, Elijah Ahmad Lewis and Bettina Pennon. It also featured the Gospel for Teens Choir, another of Higginsen's projects through her Mama Foundation.
Nilaja Sun wrote and performed her one-woman show, "No Child," which exposed the horrible things occurring to young people in the New York City school system, where many minority youth are written off and prepared for incarceration. Sun performed the play at the Barrow Street Theatre. A new playwright, Fariso Jordan, decided to boldly tackle the topic of rape in relationships with her one-woman show "Georgia" at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
Uptown, the New Haarlem Arts Theater, part of the theater program at City College of New York, presented a stunning production of "It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues." In addition to stunning performances by several cast members, the show paired seasoned actors with acting students. The combination was glorious.
2011 revealed the tragic life of singer Bessie Smith in a production entitled, "The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith." The show starred Michel Braden and was written by Angelo Parra. Presented at the St. Luke's Theatre, it showed how Smith was an alcoholic drug user who was sexually free. It was quite an eye-opener about the life of the blues singer.