Stage: The Death of the Last Black Man; Philadelphia theater awards diversity
This month saw The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World. No, that’s not a headline – that’s the name of a play that challenges stereotypes in the black community. It’s opening alongside productions about bodyguards and mother-daughter road trips across the country. Elsewhere, diverse stage performers and playwrights were recognized for their achievements, and The Color Purple is ushering in many new cast members. For these stories and more, read on:
New musicals: The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World just saw its first show in the whole entire world. Premiering October 25 and running until December 4, the production is written by Pulitzer prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. Parks’ script challenges archetypes in Black America with sharp wit and explosive comedy. “A woman tries to feed her husband a fried drumstick. Dragons roam a flat earth. The last Black man in the whole entire world dies again. And again.” Its cast includes William DeMeritt, Patrena Murray, and Reynaldo Piniella, and is put on by Signature Productions.
Paulini Curuenavuli is coming back to the spotlight. The singer who placed fourth in 2003’s first season of Australian Idol is heading to the stage for the first time with the lead role in The Bodyguard. The production is a stage adaptation of the 1992 classic movie of the same name starring Whitney Houston. Paulini will play Houston’s role, Rachel Marron, a singer who hires a bodyguard to protect her from a stalker. The musical will have Paulini belting classics like Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and “I Have Nothing.”
Performances of Quiara Alegria Hudes’ new musical Miss You Like Hell began October 25 at the Mandell Weiss Theater. The work stars Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent) and Krystina Alabado (Lazarus, American Psycho). The production is about a mother and daughter who decide to road trip across the country, and the encounters and characters they meet along the way. Hudes wrote the lyrics while Erin McKeown composed the music. Performances will run through December 4.
Awards: The Barrymore Awards which took place in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater awarded many diverse plays and productions this year. Notable diverse winners include The Invisible Hand for outstanding overall production of a play. Originally written by Ayad Akhtar, the play follows an American banker captured by a terrorist organization in Pakistan. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh took home the top award for an actor in a play for the same production, and J Paul Nicholas was awarded best supporting actor. Matt Pfeiffer won outstanding direction for his work in the play. Jaylene Clark Owens took home the top actress in a play prize for her leading role in An Octoroon, while Jenn Rose’s Black Nativity took won best choreography.
Out of more than 2,000 submissions, Aleshea Harris was selected as the winner of the 2016 Relentless Award for writing the play Is God Is. The American Playwriting Foundation awarded Harris $45,000, a series of national staged readings, and will have her work published by the Dramatists Play Service. Her screenplay explores themes such as dysfunctional families and mortality in the story of an orphaned black girl growing into her womanhood.
New Direction: In his new role, David Roberts will be directing directors. Roberts was named the director of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, a role which he will begin November 7. Previously the managing director of the Pearl Theatre Company and board vice chair of Palissimo Dance Company, Roberts is currently completing his final days managing director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem. The SDC has promoted and honored the creativity of directors and choreographers for over fifty years.
The Color Purple: Jennifer Holliday isn’t the only new face stepping into Broadway’s revival of The Color Purple. Nathaniel Stampley, who appeared in the original production, is taking over Isaiah Johnson’s leading role as Mister on November 15. An ensemble member in the original production, Stampley has also appeared in The Lion King and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Carrie Compere (Holler If Ya Hear Me) will also fill Tony nominee Danielle Brooks’ shoes as Sofia. The switch up comes weeks after Jennifer Holliday took over the role of Shug Avery.
Hamilton: 3.6 million people thought Hamilton’s America was a world worth living in. The documentary about the making of the revolutionary musical aired on PBS Friday, October 21 and showed again Sunday, October 23, ticking ratings up 136% from PBS’ usual Friday premier audience. It attracted an additional 540,000 streams on digital media, making it one of PBS’s top streamed docs of the year as well. The doc will be available to stream for free until November 18 on PBS’s website.
Hamilton is extending far beyond America, though. The production will begin selling tickets for its West End run in January. No cast has been announced yet for the show that will play in Victoria Theater beginning January 30 to general audiences. It’s a big week for Lin Manuel Miranda; the show’s creator and veteran also released his first Disney song for the upcoming movie Moana. Performed by Dwayne Johnson, the song, titled You’re Welcome, is catchy enough to be a hit. Maybe Idina Menzel fans will finally let it go?