I had the chance to meet a few of this year's Tony Award Nominees at a few places around town before the the big night. Enjoy some of these mini moments with some of the stages absolute best people working in theater. Congratulations to all of this year's nominees, past nominees, and a special thank you to the those who took some time to chat with me.
Actresses, Liz Mikel (Lysistrata Jones) and Kiersey Clemons (Hearts Beat Loud, Transparent) stop by my studio to talk about their upcoming run in the New York Premiere of Eve Ensler's FRUIT TRILOGY, being presented by Abingdon Theatre Company as their final production of its 25th Anniversary season. These women talk to me about getting involved with the project, the obvious conversation about women of color in these roles. and so much more. Please enjoy my chat with these FABULOUS women.
For the past 3 years, I have been able to cover the New Dramatists Luncheon, and each time, I am amazed at the people that I get to meet when doing a red carpet. It's nice to see some new faces and a dream to see the familiar ones. This year's honoree is 2x Academy Award winning/ Tony Award winning and current nominee for his performance in Eugene O'Neill's THE ICEMAN COMETH, Denzel Washington. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to talk to him, but I did meet some fabulous folks. Among some of those guests: 4x Tony Award Nominee, Condola Rashad, Tony Award winning director, Kenny Leon, 2x Academy Award winning/ 5x Tony Award Nominee, Glenda Jackson, Tony Award winner and current nominee, La Chanze, to name a few. So take a few minutes, CLICK THE PIC, and enjoy some of my shenanigans and fun chat with some of today's biggest names on the Great White Way.
I was excited to ask one question that has been on my mind about the 11x Tony Award Nominated Revival Musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein's CAROUSEL. The iconic lead role of the criminal, domestic abusing, Billy Bigelow, being played by the 3x Tony/Drama Desk Nominee, Joshua Henry, is a dichotomous case for Color-Blind Casting. On one hand, for Joshua Henry to sing the lead male vocals for the lush music of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, is a crowning achievement for ANY actor. However on the other hand, when I simply follow the optical nature of what is presented on the stage, it is sometimes a hard thing to watch, as an African American man of a certain age, living in this current racial and political climate, especially with a phone call to the police, and not take note that for simplicity sake, a black man is abusing a white woman onstage. Now before everyone blows a gasket, yes, I know in spite of the irony of this conversation, that Audra McDonald did win her first Tony Award in the 1994 revival as a non-traditional Carrie Pepperidge. Currently, Lindsay Mendez is in that role and also nominated for this year's Tony Award. It might be presumptuous, but it might be safe to assume that the original creators of this musical never foresaw these type of cast changes.
Not to take anything away from what I am sure is a brilliant performance (at the time of this piece, I have yet to see it), but if you ignore the time period upon which this Billy Bigelow is moving through life, doing the things that he is doing in his clearly interracial household, and still being alive, is a TON of belief suspension. There is a scene in which Billy has a run in with a police officer. Because of the dialogue, there is an interesting choice to cast another man of color in that role. Is it because of the implication of the optics in our current environment? Well if it is, I wonder how they initially justified choosing Mr. Henry to play this controversial character? Again, please note that I am not saying Joshua Henry does not deserve to be on that stage in this role, because of him doing a lead role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, he has kicked down another door for someone else of color to play this and any other iconic R&H roles. Just like Taye Diggs stepping into the title role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it opens another door of perception and allows the next young black actor a new possibility.
Taye Diggs as Hedwig on Broadway
I will note that Mr. Henry was also in Kander and Ebb's THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, which for some reason drew more ire and protests from the "black community" in retelling that story and showing the injustices that befell that unfortunate group of young black men, than the image of an ex-con, wife abusing, Black, Billy Bigelow. I will say that I did get to see THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, and I can say that Black people did themselves a disservice by not at least giving it a chance. Not that I am expecting nor wanting anyone to protest this show, but I do find it odd in this culturally sensitive time, no one wanted to ask the question. Perhaps, if there were more people of color talking about theater in general, then maybe more people would be brave enough to have the discussion. I am hoping and praying for a long run of CAROUSEL. I want Mr. Henry to have a brilliant run with that cast. I hope there is a chance that I'll get to see the show before this year's Tony Awards. In the meantime, I did get to ask Mr. Henry about him being in this show, and he answered me brilliantly. Click on the hyperlink for more information about Rodgers and Hammerstein's CAROUSEL. Checkout my moment with Joshua Henry in the video.
At the very start of this I will say that this is not about theater, but when the feeling takes you, then you must write it down. What is more theatrically dramatic than that? Anyhoo, right around the corner from where I record my fun, sometimes ridiculous podcast is a Starbucks Coffee that was calm between the morning rush. I quickly found a spot next to a plug for my laptop, just like every other pain in the ass that thinks his/her script or blog post is gonna change the world. Anyway, I politely asked the person sitting next to the plug, but not using it, if he would kindly keep an eye on my bag, as I rushed to get in the really short line to get a Venti Dark Roast and a delicious Chorizo, Egg, and Monterrey Jack Cheese Sandwich. I had no plans to meet anyone, and I could clearly go back to the studio to do what I am doing right now: Drinking said coffee, Eating said sandwich, and typing such world changing prose.
About 30 seconds into checking my emails, because like many budding writers I love to procrastinate, I noticed that my receipt was not only on the table in front me, but facing out. Anyone who walked by would not only see the coffee and now empty sandwich bag, but they would also know that I paid for it. Therefore, I am justifying my presence in the space, because there may be someone sitting in this room, extremely “threatened” , and will call the police. I also noticed that it was done subconsciously.
I'll admit that if you did not know me, as I sit typing in this Starbucks, nor could you "hear" the enthusiasm and passion that I have about theater and other things (check out my podcast), or notice the various colors of feather boas that I own, you might mistake me for one of those "suspicious" looking characters that just might shank you. Oddly enough, the comfort that you feel by what you might presently be seeing, does not mean I wouldn't shank you. It just means that your defenses are being fooled, and to quote Zoraida, SNL Ellen Cleghorne's NBC Page character, "what makes you think I won't cut you?!"
Since the famous "sitting while Black" incident at Starbucks became a viral sensation, another story about 2 young Native American teens on a college visit tour, being stopped and questioned by police because someone on the tour was "uncomfortable" by their presence, broke last week. Now the 2 men in the Starbucks incident have since settled with the city symbolically with a promise to help future young entrepreneurs. Starbucks gave them an undisclosed settlement, scholarships to college, and free corporate mentorship. Starbucks will also close their doors for half of a day for "cultural sensitivity" employee training. Good luck with trying to undo years of what many still do in their sleep.
The real question should be asked, because like my receipt turned outwards, do they have to prove to HER that they are part of the tour so SHE can feel safe? Get Over it, lady!!! I shouldn't have to make my receipt known to validate my presence, and it is not those kids' place to make her feel safe. I am not sure how big the tour group had been, but if she is the ONLY person to have issue with them, and no one ELSE felt "threatened", who designated her to make the call in the first place? If the tour group was small, she should have tried to be a tad bit more welcoming, banded with the other members of the tour to not be too close, or maybe pull her kid closer to her for protection, instead of reaching for her phone and showing her fearful sense of entitlement. If I were these 2 Native American teenagers, I would be looking at that college with the lawyer that those Starbucks brothers had and figure out what my major should be without any worries about paying for it.
Now being a man of a certain size, age, hue, out gay, having lived in Texas during the 70's/80's and half of the 90's, and all while watching this nation continually fight its shaky history of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia, I'll admit that I, too, maintain a side eye for all kinds of "suspicious" looking people. I also note that I, too, have felt unsafe. However, in those moments, I ask "how far is the exit from where I am standing? " I will check to see if there is ANYTHING that I have on me, just in case I have to defend myself. When walking home late at night, I check to see if I put my keys in between my fingers in my pocket, because if someone is going to push up on me, especially after I have taken the time to do my own "racist-xenophobic-I-think-that-they-are-after-all-the-white-women" assessment, they will get stabbed in the neck or eye with a MEDCO front door key. I will have to use that as a weapon of choice, because that is easier to explain as to why I have my keys out rather than a gun.
The fear mongering that our current administration fosters is spreading infection like a virus, and it needs to stop. It is infecting people at such rates that the Centers for Disease Control should be called in to investigate, but thanks to this current administration and their shenanigans, even that department is a hot mess. These so called "vigilant" people are slowly, but surely moving towards becoming passive aggressive "vigilantes" using the police to carry out their fear filled plans. This Trumped up panic that people are feeling might be real to those folks, but because many people in this country refuse to read books, watch only Fox News, never travel, and live in that white cloud of fear, they make it so easy to be manipulated and unfortunately trigger happy. Now of course this is all based on THEIR experiences and history. If you really think about it, the people that they SHOULD be fearing are the ones telling you to be afraid. Like my childhood minister, Rev. Gates, used to say, "when you point the finger at something or someone, three fingers are pointing back at you."
MY history and experience in this country has forced ME to do things like really watch the way I speak, be more mindful of the places that I go (as a black and gay man), watch how I walk, and be cognizant of what I wear, because the fear of the hoodie, dark skin, and low hanging pants is still very real in America. Any black man of color, growing up in the south gets those lessons everyday. For the record, I am not big on the low hanging pants, but to each his own. I have encountered many "suspicious" people, and yet with all of MY experiences, calling the police on them is never the first response, especially in a public place like a college. Oddly enough, it never seemed like a legitimate option. I want to honestly ask those "scared" individuals, "are any of those thoughts instilled in you through the actual actions of others or stuff that you've heard has happened as you walk through your everyday life? " The insane thought that comes over me: By doing all of those things to make sure others feel safe, I can still sit in a New York City Starbucks in 2018, and subconsciously wonder if I will be the next "suspicious" human about to make some person so nervous enough to call the cops on me. WTF?
So America, do me a favor: Read a book, travel, stop watching so much Fox TV, stay vigilant, because we all need to be watchful and mindful, but also CALM THE F**K DOWN. No one really wants your guns, women, or your children, and the ones who do will more than likely NOT look like me, or the 2 Native American soon-to-be college students, or those 2 young entrepreneurial and industrial brothers in Philly. You might want to look in the mirror, or better yet, Ask Susan Smith where those "suspicious and threatening" people are, and what are they capable of doing?
For many of us of a certain age, SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK, was the cornerstone to everything we kids learned about Civics, Mathematics, Grammar, and so much more. It was one of those things that made our Saturday Mornings literally sing. After learning about nouns, various multiplication tables, and of course, how a bill turns into law, I felt like I had tapped into a new world of learning. Thanks to many people, including one half of the team that currently is wowing Broadway with Anastasia and the revival of Once on This Island, Lynn Ahrens, MILLIONS of kids can do things like still recite the preamble to the Constitution and remember the first time they crushed out on Interplanet Janet: Galaxy Girl. Perhaps, many of our elected officials should truly review.
I recently sat down and chat with one of my favorite people, LUCIA SPINA, and her friend, Rob Maitner, to talk about their upcoming show WE WILL SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK YOU!, a concert celebrating the 45th Anniversary of Schoolhouse Rock! Playing The Laurie Beechman Theater in The West Bank Café, 407 W 42nd Street (at 9th Avenue), New York, NY 10036 on Sunday, May 6th for two shows at 7:00pm & 9:30pm. The shows will now dedicate the performances to the late great Bob Dorough, the first and most prolific composer of the animated series. The evening will feature everyone’s Schoolhouse Rock! favorites including “Conjunction Junction”, “I’m Just A Bill”, “Interplanet Janet”, “Three Is A Magic Number” and “Interjections!”, taking you back to Saturday mornings with a never-ending bowl of cereal and all the Pop Rocks you could handle.
Click HERE For Tickets to WE WILL SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK YOU!!
It never gets old to sit and have a good old fashioned, theater Kiki, with one of your friends, who also happens to be playwright, actor, producer, screenwriter, and successful author, Gregory Allen. What has become a bit of a tradition of handicapping the upcoming Tony Award Nominations, has turned into a chance to talk about theater in a way that many of us do, but seldom get a chance. It's the Kitchen Table Kiki about theater. Usually we are joined by our other partner in crime, actor/presenter/ and fellow Theater Obsessed Geek, Paul Winkler, but because of studio scheduling availabilities, we could not reunite. We will have a chance to catch up with him around the ceremony. He always brings that extra bit of dish and shade that makes the Kiki that much more fun. We did our best to keep it real and honest. Click our pic to hear our picks and our shade. LOL.