‘Passing Strange’ alums bring new work to the New York stage in celebration of James Baldwin
Some of my readers may recognize the main headline of this post as a quote from the musical play “Passing Strange.”
It’s Mr. Franklin, the church choir director talking, sitting in a VW Bug with some of his musical charges, holding a “prayer circle” whose sacramental ritual involved smoking weed.
It was hardly the only touching moment in the 2008 Tony-winning musical, but it was one of the more memorable.
I often say, jokingly, that everything in my life somehow connects to “Passing Strange.” When I look at the artists and performances that have inspired me over the years since I first encountered the show in a developmental form then known as “Travelogue,” back around 2004, many of them are somehow connected to the existential musical play.
Later this month, three key members of the “Passing Strange” family — Stew, who wrote the book and lyrics and co-wrote the music with Heidi Rodewald, and actors from the original production Colman Domingo and Eisa Davis — and a slew of other notable writers and performers will be involved in the New York Live Arts “Live Ideas Festival: James Baldwin, This Time!” (Tap or click here for schedule and ticket options.)
Sahr Ngaujah inhabits the character of Fela Ankiulapo Kuti, backed up by five Queens and a super-hot big band. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)
Cast of Broadway Afrobeat musical thrills crowd in free concert at St. Ann’s Warehouse
Sahr Ngaujah and the cast and band of the smash-hit Broadway musical Fela! didn’t let the rain dampen their spirits on Monday night, Oct. 4. And the appealing bunch didn’t even seem to be bothered that they were working on what would normally be their night off for the week, since Broadway theaters are dark on Mondays.
Fela! The Music of Fela Kuti, was a gift to Brooklyn and the city from St. Ann’s Warehouse, a cutting-edge performance organization in Dumbo. It was supposed to draw crowds to Brooklyn Bridge Park nearby, but the rains forced it inside the St. Ann’s space at 38 Water Street. The people at St. Ann’s handled the transition nicely, opening everything up quickly and accommodating a huge crowd with ease.
The show’s hot band and great Afrobeat dancers and backup singers — representing the many wives of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian creator of Afrobeat whose life story the musical tells in broad brushstrokes — locked in perfectly with Ngaujah to deliver 90 minutes of music.
Click through to the jump for more photos.
Posted in Concerts, Dance, Free, Music, Theater, World Music
Tagged Afrobeat, Broadway, Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Dumbo, Fela!, Sahr Ngaujah, St. Ann's Warehouse
Jeff Buckley Meets William Shakespeare
Romeo (Damon Daunno) and Juliet (Kelly Barrett) in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of The Last Goodbye. (Photo by Sam Hough)
When The Last Goodbye blossomed on the stage of downtown Manhattan nightspot Joe’s Pub in April 2009, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? knew director Michael Kimmel (who also conceived and adapted this show) and his collaborators were onto something good. The idea of pairing the lyrics and music of tragic pop star Jeff Buckley with Shakespeare’s story of tragic lovers, Romeo and Juliet, had an instant appeal.
And it took shape well onstage. My mind was blown by that early reading. It went through some changes, was re-presented in New York City this March, and now it’s taking a polished form at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.
Many members of that original Joe’s Pub cast remain with the show. And that’s for good reason. They’re great.
Word of mouth
We haven’t yet seen this fully staged version, which opened on Saturday and runs through Aug. 20. But the word is very good. A friend of this blog who saw the Joe’s Pub version calls the Williamstown production “quite good,” with “much better integration of the bard’s language.”
Audience reaction was good:
Check out the first review
The first detailed review we’ve found, on the blog This Is Somewhere, is also quite positive.
For more about this show, and details on how you can see it, click through to the jump. Continue reading
Posted in Dance, Music, Pop and Rock, Theater
Tagged Damon Daunno, Jeff Buckley, Jo Lampert, Joe's Pub, Kelli Barrett, Michael Kimmel, Romeo and Juliet, The Last Goodbye, William Shakespeare, Williamstown Theatre Festival
Crews were making the final preparations to Damrosh Park on Tuesday night for Wednesday's premiere of the 2010 edition of Lincoln Center Out Of Doors. (Copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)
The fabulous Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival starts Wednesday night with a bit of Civil Rights Movement street theater at 6:30 at Barclays Capital Grove (the sponsored name for the plaza between Lincoln Center Theater and Avery Fisher Hall and moves into full-bore music mode at 7:30 in Damrosch Park with Ethel Fair: The Songwriters.
Ethel is Ralph Farris (viola), Mary Rowell (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Cornelius Dufallo (violin).
Ethel is a string quartet like no other string quartet you’ve seen or heard. These four skilled players, who are quite active together and separately on the international contemporary music scene, have been working in collaborative mode over the past several years. Their latest project, which has its world premiere at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, features the quartet yoked with songwriters who are quite well known on their own. Pop tunesmith Adam Schlesinger (a member of pop bands Fountains of Wayne and Ivy and composer of Broadway’s “Cry Baby”), assisted by Mike Viola (Candy Butchers), has created a work with Ethel. Other collaborators include folk-blues dynamo Dayna Kurtz, punk-New Wave pioneer Tom Verlaine (Television) and folky Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina.
Ethel always pushes boundaries with its work. This collaborative effort appears to reach for a broader, more mainstream appeal than some of the band’s more left-of-center efforts, such as its ongoing TruckStop project, which takes the band on the road to work with and celebrate indigenous cultures. But it’s certain to provide a richly entertaining evening.
No Snakes In This Grass is the title of the theater piece, written by James Magnuson and directed by Mical Whitaker, that kicks off the evening. It’s a comedy set in the Garden of Eden that deals issues of race and the Fall.
This is just the first night of a jam-packed schedule of fabulous free music and performance art that runs through Aug. 15. For the full Lincoln Center Out of Doors schedule, read the press release after the jump. Continue reading
Posted in Blues, Classical, Concerts, Contemporary, Contemporary Classical, Country, Dance, Folk, Free, History, Jazz, Music, News, Pop and Rock, Punk, Theater
Tagged Adam Schlesinger, Cornelius Dufallo, Damrosch Park, Dorothy Lawson, ETHEL, Fountains of Wayne, Juana Molina Dayne Kurtz, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Mary Rowell, Mike Viola, Patrick Derivaz, Ralph Farris, Tom Verlaine
Sahr Ngaujah, star of the Broadway musical Fela!, leads Midsummer Night Swing dance lessons on Monday night. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)
Femi Kuti & The Positive Force may have been the headline act at tonight’s special Monday night edition of Midsummer Night Swing, but the cast members from Fela! on Broadway who taught the preshow dance lesson were just as big a draw — and equally exciting — for many in the audience.
Jill Vallery (in blue T-shirt, left), the dance captain from Fela!, worked hard to keep the crowd dancing.
Sahr Ngaujah, who created the title role of Fela Anikulapo Kuti off-Broadway, and shares the role on Broadway with Kevin Mambo, joined Fela! dance captain Jill Vallery and a host of dancers from the stage spectacle as they whipped the wannabe Afrobeat dancers into a frenzy. Many of the people in the audience, like yours truly, ably demonstrated that they had two left feet when it came to following the athletic and intricate steps involved. But that didn’t deter many from trying. But the real test came later, when the real dance party started. Click through for more photos. Continue reading
Posted in Dance, Music, News, World Music
Tagged Broadway, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Fela!, Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, Jill Vallery, Kevin Mambo, Lincoln Center, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Midsummer Night Swing, Sahr Ngaujah
Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has been distracted this summer. There’s been a lot going on, musically speaking, around NYC and environs so far. As a result, we’ve neglected our friends at Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.
But on Monday night, the start of MNS’s final week for 2010 — hard to believe — Femi Kuti & The Positive Force are taking over Damrosch Park. And we can’t fail you this time. Even if you think you can’t dance, you should be at this show. It’s hard not to at least feel like you can dance when Femi Kuti takes the stage. His version of Afrobeat — he’s one of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s two musical sons, the other being Seun Kuti who inherited his father’s band Egypt 80 — has an insistent beat and a joyous feel that can get anyone to dance. (Fela Kuti, you may recall, is the subject of the fantastic Broadway musical, Fela!, directed by Bill T. Jones.)
The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. with a dance lesson with Sahr Ngaujah, star Fela!, and the music starts at 7. Tickets are $17 and available at Damrosch Park, at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, or online. And there are more shows throughout the week: Catherine Russell and Cat & The Hounds Swing Band on Wednesday, Loser’s Lounge Ladies Night on Thursday, La Exelencia on Friday and, wrapping up this year’s dance season, a kids’ dance party at 3 p.m. Saturday followed by the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra on Saturday evening.
Posted in Blues, Dance, Folk, Music, News, Pop and Rock, Theater, World Music
Tagged Bill T. Jones, Cat & The Hounds Swing Band, Catherine Russell, Damrosch Park, Egypt 80, Fela!, Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, La Exelencia, Lincoln Center, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Loser's Lounge, Midsummer Night Swing, Sahr Ngaujah, Seun Kuti
GlobeSonic Dance System's DJs: Fabian Asultany, Bill Bragin (aka DJ Acidophilus) and Derek Beres.
Looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors today and get your dance on? Check out the free GlobeSonic Sound System dance party in Riverside Park today. The party starts on the early side, at 4 p.m., and runs until 11 on the Hudson River pier at 68th Street. This is the sixth season of GlobeSonic parties on the pier.
All you need to bring is your dancing shoes. And did I mention that admission is free?
GlobeSonic features three DJs, Fabian Alsultany, Derek Beres and Bill Bragin (director of public programming at Lincoln Center and former director of Joe’s Pub), plus Duke Mushroom on percussion.
We’ve been to GlobeSonic parties before, and they’re always a great mix of beat-heavy international tracks. Today will be our first time seeing GlobeSonic on the pier. It should be a wild party.
Posted in Dance, Free, Music, News, World Music
Tagged Activecultures, Bill Bragin, Derek Beres, DJ Acidophilus, Fabian Asultany, GlobeSonic Dance System, Joe's Pub, Lincoln Center, Manhattan, Riverside Park