NEW YORK CITY, October 3, 2023 — The Fled Collective will present its second developmental workshop of its 2023 Season this month. Step Kids is written by Tyrone L Robinson with additional music by Postell Pringle and directed by Raz Golden. Tickets are available for performances on October 26th, 27th and 28th at 7:00 PM at The Flea Theater. The performance on October 27 is Black Theater Night followed by a talk-back with the cast and creative team.
Tickets are $15 and will be available through Eventbrite.
ABOUT: Step Kids is a one act hip hop musical that tells the story of a group of college students auditioning for the elite and competitive step dance team, The All Stars. Competition is tough and no mis-step goes unnoticed by “The Voice of God” (Erin Cherry). After much scrutiny and questioning, our heroine, Yessica (Kamiah Vickers) shares her love of Step. In her explanation, she goes into the history of Step Dancing in America and its African Roots, leading her to find her own voice.
The audience gets a beautifully recounted history lesson on the history of Step in America along with a High energy show full of music and dance. In an effort to bring step to communities across NYC, this past spring, The Fled Collective hosted a Step workshop at Kings Elementary School in Brownsville, NY, where scholars ages 5-10 were given firsthand the opportunity to learn the vocabulary of basic Step routines ahead of their graduating recital, Stepping Up! The goal of this workshop was to teach the students about the history of Step and the significant role it played throughout Black History and how it evolved into the artform it is today. Following a brief presentation of the history of Step (which you can view HERE), the students were taught some basic stepping phrases and ultimately the workshop will end with the students having learned a short routine.
Book, Music & Lyrics by Tyrone L. Robinson Additional Music & Lyrics by Postell Pringle Choreography by James Alonzo White
The grandiosity of opera culture—the stars, the spectacle, the stage machinery—often obscures the form itself, which depends on the fine details of things like harmony, dynamics, and individual performances to succeed.
The great value in small opera companies like On Site Opera is in their smaller scale, and how chamber sized productions are all about intimate details and nuances. With On Site Opera, those all take on a greater significance because the company’s purpose is not to bring audiences into an opera house, but to bring opera to people, wherever they might be able to stage a performance.
On Site got their new season started early Friday afternoon in just such a fashion: their latest production, the world premiere of Lisa DeSpain’s Song of the Nightingale, debuted in the outdoor public courtyard at Brooklyn Commons, the first in a series of free performances open to the public (and the elements). The opera was commissioned and produced by On Site Opera and Brookfield Properties Arts & Culture.
The results were impressive all around. DeSpain’s opera is a graceful, elegantly crafted piece for a cast of five singers, a modern fairy tale about the collision between contemporary materialism and nature. It bears no relation to Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol other than sharing the songbird as a subject and being full of melodies. Outdoor performances are already difficult, so the energy, concentration, and skill of the singers when it was 89º (with dense humidity), and the five-piece ensemble conducted by Geoffrey McDonald was near unbelievable.
The opera, with a libretto by Melisa Tien, opens with The Collector (mezzo Chrystal E. Williams) and The Curator (tenor Bernard Holcomb), discussing her desires. She relies on him for taste, he relies on her for money—the sweetness of the music belies their toxic codependency. The music is highly lyrical throughout, so even when the Williams sang lines like “Everything wants to be gathered,” the sound of it makes her nearly sympathetic.
But this is a fairy tale, after all. The two head out to the woods in search of a “famous performer,” enchanted by the sounds of nature. They run into the Frog (soprano Nicole Haslett, in costume designer Kara Harmon’s smart outfit of green hiking vest and backpack canteen) and the Cow (bass-baritone Eliam Ramos), and eventually find The Nightingale (soprano Hannah Cho). They convince the Nightingale to come to the Collector’s home as a featured performer. As beautifully as she sings—and Cho was ringing and expressive in the character’s two enchanting arias—the city is not for her.
She is rescued by Frog and Cow, the former disguising herself as a mechanical, singing statue, who with the press of a button delivers “I sing for you / I sing for me / I sing this tune / For all eternity.” This ditty is one of the subtle strengths of the opera, it’s pretty but it eventually, and convincingly, grows jejune for the Collector, who realizes the emptiness of her pursuit (the Curator himself leaves the city for the woods, and happiness).
DeSpain’s new opera hit all the marks with a fine shape and pace, and a chorus at the end that wrapped it all up in satisfying fashion. Performing in the round, all the singers were terrific, projecting through the elements via Beth Lake’s fine sound design, with excellent articulation and an unflagging feeling of fun and joy. This all happens at close quarters, and director Katherine M. Carter had the cast moving fluidly about and around the crushed gravel circle and the central tree (McDonald himself was peeking around the trees to throw cues to the singers).
This was a winning combination of a score that was a pleasure because of its modesty and direct communication, a skillful cast that brought out every last bit of feeling and loveliness in the music, and On Site Opera’s intelligence, flexibility, and commitment to engage the public.
Song of the Nightingale will be repeated 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Brooklyn Commons; September 21-23 at Manhattan West; and September 28-30 at Brookfield Place. brookfieldproperties.com
NEW YORK (AP) — Two men who stepped into 6-inch heels for “Kinky Boots” on Broadway will play the title character behind the curtain when “The Wiz” tours the U.S. starting this fall and lands on Broadway in 2024 — Wayne Brady and Alan Mingo Jr.
“Me and Wayne go way back to where we were friends in Los Angeles as actors,” says Minho. “So what better way to share a gig with your friends?” Adds Brady: “It’s a dream. It truly is a dream.”
Brady will star as the Wiz in San Francisco from Jan. 16-Feb. 11 at the Golden Gate Theatre, and in Los Angeles from Feb. 13–March 3, before hitting Broadway in spring 2024.
Mingo will play the Wiz in the remaining cities of the national tour, starting with the launch in Baltimore and including Cleveland; Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta; Greenville, South Carolina; Chicago; Des Moines, Iowa; Tempe, Arizona and San Diego.
The two actors were last on Broadway in “Kinky Boots” playing Lola. Brady handed the role to Mingo and “now I’ll go on the road and then hand him the baton,” says Mingo.
“The Wiz” was one of two shows that a young Brady always dreamed of one day performing in. “I always wanted to be in ‘The Wiz.’ I always wanted to be in ‘Dreamgirls.’ Those were two of the classics that, as a kid, were kind of the North Star of theater. It was like, ‘Hey, if you can be in one of these shows, then that means that you’ve made it.’”
The cast will also include Kyle Ramar Freeman as the Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tin Man and Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow. Schele Williams will be directing, saying she hopes the show becomes a “touchstone for a new generation.”
The show is adapted from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls.
“The Wiz” opened on Broadway in 1975 and won seven Tonys, including best musical. It has such classic songs as “What Would I Do If I Could Feel” and “Ease On Down the Road.”
A 1978 movie version of “The Wiz” starred Diana Ross, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor as the Wiz. Michael Jackson co-starred as the Scarecrow, with Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man and Ted Ross as the Lion. NBC televised a live version in 2015 with Queen Latifah, Ne-Yo and David Alan Grier.
Both Brady and Mingo say the show — featuring Black actors front and center — has a new resonance as it eases on down the road over the coming months.
“I think of all these people of color on this stage telling the story of a young woman who’s lost and looking for something. She’s disenfranchised and she happens to meet three other young people who are all looking for something and they can’t get the answers from the older people around them because the world is in chaos. She has to step up to the plate and find her way — absolutely now is the time.”
Mingo, who was in the original runs of “Rent” and “The Little Mermaid,” said “The Wiz” had an important part in inspiring his career.
“It sparked me to get into this business,” he says. “I love to share our art with a new set of audiences. Hopefully they’ll turn into wonderful patrons, if not turn to the arts themselves.”
The original Broadway production featured Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, Dee Dee Bridgewater as good witch Glinda and Andre De Shields as the Wiz.
Brady, who won a Primetime Emmy Award with “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” says he’ll pitch his Wiz somewhere between Prior and De Shields.
“I already know that I’ve got two places that I can pull from for inspiration. I loved Richard’s dark turn and I loved Andre’s star turn and his panache and all the grandiosity,” he says. “So I think somewhere in the middle will I lay my guy. I think I can bring a certain charm and light to it.”
The upcoming Broadway-bound touring revival of Charlie Smalls’ The Wiz has found its Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow. Kyle Ramar Freeman, soon to be starring in A Strange Loop in London, will be the mean ole Lion opposite Sharper star Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tinman and The Voice‘s Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow. More casting will be announced in the coming weeks.
Schele Williams is directing the new production, set to launch at Baltimore, Maryland’s Hippodrome Theatre September 26. 2023 Tony Award nominee Amber Ruffin will provide additional material to William F. Brown’s original book. The gig is Ruffin’s second theatrical outing, following her work co-writing the Tony-nominated book to Broadway’s current Some Like It Hot with Matthew López. Joseph Joubert will provide music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements, with scenic design by Hannah Beachler, costume design by Sharen Davis, lighting design by Ryan J. O’Gara, and wig design by Mia Neal. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting.
Kristin Caskey, Mike Isaacson, Brian Anthony Moreland, Ambassador Theatre Group, and, as recently announced, Kandi Burruss and Todd Tucker are producing.
The Wiz premiered on Broadway in 1975, transforming L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel into an all-Black “super soul musical,” as it was originally billed. A surprise hit of the season, the musical won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Score, Featured Actor in a Musical (Ted Ross), Featured Actress in a Musical (Dee Dee Bridgewater), Choreography (George Faison), and Direction of a Musical and Costume Design (both Geoffrey Holder). The score’s “Ease On Down the Road” and “Home” became breakout hits, and original star Stephanie Mills was propelled into stardom. The musical made the jump to the big screen in 1978 with a film adaptation starring Diana Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, and, reprising his Broadway performance as the Cowardly Lion, Ross.
The musical got the live TV treatment via NBC in 2015, a production that was initially announced as being Broadway bound following the television premiere. That revival, which would have been produced by Neil Meron and the late Craig Zadan, never materialized.
When the International Examiner last checked in with playwright and actor Justin Huertas and composer Steven Tran, they had collaborated on a pre-pandemic musical entitled The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion and then had worked on a video concept album called Swimming during the lockdowns of COVID-19. Now, the pair is teaming up again to present a World Premiere musical at the Seattle Rep: Lydia and the Troll.
Our lead character Lydia is a singer-songwriter who is dissatisfied with her life, which motivates her to take some new risks, and not necessarily in a good way. “The villainous troll is something that lives inside all of us,” Huertas said. “It’s the voice that tells you that you don’t look good enough, you don’t write well enough, you’re not cool enough.”
And Huertas can relate. “We’re pinpointing that time in Lydia’s life where that voice is at its loudest, which is absolutely something I’ve gone through,” he shared. “The more time that passes and the more distance I have from that time in my own life, the more I understand how I got stuck there and how I pulled myself out.”
Tran also feels a kinship to Lydia. “The protagonist Lydia and I are both music producers, and we both have a deep appreciation and respect for electronic and pop music,” Tran relayed. “Inspired by the multimedia aspects, my vision for the music is to bring studio-quality pop and electronic production to Justin’s songs.”
Of course, since this is Seattle, the troll in the show is not just any troll, but is of course the Fremont Troll. “How many cities can boast a magical, mythical troll living under the interstate?” Huertas mused. “The concept of how that troll got there has been on my mind for years.”
But this time, Huertas and Tran expanded their creative team, to include co-creator and director Ameenah Kaplan. “Ameenah and I met working on a show out at Village Theatre, and I fell in love with her artistry and leadership,” Huertas recounted. “When we were searching for a director for Lydia & the Troll, it truly felt like destiny.”
Tran agreed. “Ameenah is incredibly inspiring as a director, and it’s her multimedia film vision that helped originally inspire my desires for this pop electronic score as well,” the composer said. “The rehearsal room feels vivid and alive, and the art being made is a very cool thing to be a part of.”
Just as important, Kaplan also empathizes with Lydia’s journey. “Ameenah is an incredibly physical director, and a large part of our collaboration has been figuring out the visuals and the physical life of this musical,” Huertas said. “It’s very rare that I have a director as imaginative and collaborative as her, and she’s brought a lot of her own life experiences to Lydia.”
That physicality has dovetailed with Tran’s goal for the music. “I wanted to highlight the kinetic and transformative themes of the script with a score equally as electrifying and modern,” he said. “My vision is to authentically bring the sound of the recording studio to the stage with pre-recorded and mangled background vocals, samples and foley, and hyper-produced electronic tracks, to create a musical tapestry that I am sure will contain sounds and genres that so far have not graced the musical theater stage.”
Working together, the trio has found the development of this new work to be organic. “My experience growing up here as an artist, growing through art, growing through relationships, all of that kind of told me what this story is about,” Huertas said. “I think when people meet Lydia, they’ll see those moments of growth that both Ameenah and I have gone through, and those are the changes we’ll see Lydia experience even as she’s hunted by a troll.”
This evolution is paralleled by Huertas and Tran’s progress as a musical-writing duo. “With each new project, it seems that we are continuing to push our boundaries and grow together as a musical team, both in terms of artistic scope as well as scale,” Tran said. “We’ve never done anything ‘traditionally,’ and Lydia and the Troll feels like a culmination so far of this sonic experimentation and artistic growth.”
Lydia and the Troll runs from May 5 to June 4 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street, Seattle.