By Linda Armstrong
Although there were a lot of marvelous things that happened regarding Black Theatre in 2006, what I want to start this column off with are letting you all know the incredible shows that you are still able to see. Of course, there is the phenomenal musical, “The Color Purple,” playing at the Broadway Theatre, which has an amazing storyline, great songs and a magnificent cast. It is unbelievable to watch this cast of African American performers bring this story alive. Another fantastic Broadway production, which features both an African American and African cast is Disney’s “The Lion King” playing at the Minskoff Theatre. Off the Broadway path, there’s a very humorous production that speaks a lot of truths about the relationships between Latinos and African Americans-“Platanos & Collard Greens.” That production, which has been playing off and on for the past three years will be on stage in February and March. It will be presented at Baruch College in Mason Hall Theater, located at 17 Lexington Avenue. For more information about the production visit its website at PlatanosandcollardGreens.com. A play that is an indictment on the New York City Public School system is “No Child”, written and performed by African American, Nilaja Sun. It is playing an opened-end run at the Barrow State Theatre, located at 27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue.
Signature Theatre Company is presently showing a riveting production of “Two Trains Running” as it dedicates its entire season to the works of the late, great August Wilson. The production has a cast that will blow you away and is showing at the Peter Norton Space, located at 555 W 42nd Street through Jan. 27. That production will be flowed by “King Hedley II” in February. The first production off this three-play series was “Seven Guitars”, which was superbly acted and featured the unforgettable direction of Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who had won a Tony when he starred in the production on Broadway. Any opportunity to see the fabulous writings of August Wilson one should jump at.
New Federal Theatre, which ended this year by doing Ed Bullin’s play, “The Taking Of Miss Janie,” which after 30 years, still proves to be relevant, will be doing a retrospective on several works written by Ntozake Shange, including “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” in February. Call New Federal Theatre for more information.
There were so many stirring productions in 2006, but one that immediately comes to mind came from Brooklyn’s very own Billie Holiday Theatre, under its producer, Marjorie Moon, who also directed the play. The production which was both informative and incredibly moving and someone that will stay with me for some time, was “Storm Stories,” which shared the real life trauma of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The production was written by Judi Ann Mason, whose family lived in Louisiana and she received first hand accounts from her brother who was interviewing victims of the Hurricane and was eventually found dead in his apartment. Fairly new production companies like Take Wing And Soar Productions delivered an amazing rendition of the restaging of “Oedipus”, which was entitled, “The Darker Face of the Earth.”
African American, Sarah Jones made her mark on Broadway as her one-woman show, “Bridge & Tunnel” kept being extended and she not only had a caricature drawn and displayed at Sardi’s Restaurant, prior to the Tony Awards ceremony, it was announced that she would receive a special Tony Award. Another African American made her mark on Broadway as LaChanze walked away with the only Tony Award received for “The Color Purple,” as she won for her triumphant performance as Celie.
This was a wonderful year for several African American veteran stage actors. Roz Ryan totally took the house down with laughter as she starred in “The Pajama Game,” on Broadway with Harry Connick Jr. and she also reprised her role as Matron Mama Morton in “Chicago.” Actress Jenifer Lewis joined an all-star cast that included Meryl Streep, as she starred in the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare In The Park production of “Mother Courage And Her Children.” Eartha Kitt enjoyed a stint on stage as “Mimi Le Duck.” Daniel Beaty finally got the chance to let his piece “Emergence-See” happen at The Public Theatre and it was “Magnificent.”
The Broadway musical “Chicago” was a very popular musical vehicle for several African American actors/singers in 2006, in addition to Ryan, the show was used by Usher to make his Broadway debut and he was amazing. Obba Babatunde also starred in the show as lawyer Billy Flynn. The show also featured the amazing talents of Brenda Braxton as one of the star women killers on Murderess Row.
On a sad note 2006 marked the final departures of both August Wilson and theater veteran director Lloyd Richards.
In 2007 make one of your resolutions to see more Black Theatre.