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Sneak Peak into the March Issue of Essence on “Black Women in Hollywood” Featuring “Black Panther”


According to a February 7, 2018, Indiewire article, “Black Panther” will break many box-office records. Stating that, “It will very likely join the top 5 among all Marvel openings, but that's only the beginning for Ryan Coogler's superhero.”

In the March issue of Essence, its cast offers a sneak peek into Black Panther’s incredible world of Wakanda — with three regal covers featuring stars Chadwick Boseman, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright. In the accompanying article, “Watch the Throne,” cast and creatives expound on why this African fantasy feels very real. 

Playwright and actress Gurira plays Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje (Wakanda’s all-female special forces of who are T'Challa's bodyguards) and is a member of the Border tribe — said that the role was appealing because she responded to the idea of powerful women. “The idea of creating a scenario where you’re seeing very powerful empowered Africans is really thrilling to me, " "something my heart, soul, and spirit yearned to see…”

Oscar® winning actress Lupita Nyong'o is Nakia of the River Tribe, T'Challa's former lover and a Dora Milaje operative, expressed what she felt, as an African woman, when she walked on the set of Wakanda: “For me, as an African in this film, to walk on set and to see these incredible costumes and hairdos, these are the things I grew up seeing, but they’ve just been elevated to a fantastical place. We’re going to experience the richness of the continent because the continent is what has informed us of what Wakanda could be…”

March 2018 Cover-Women 2In the role of the Queen Mother Ramonda, actress Angela Bassett shared that when she received the call from director Coogler, she had never heard of her character but was eager to play the stepmother of T’Challa — Black Panther.  

What most critics are calling a stand-out performance by newcomer Letitia Wright, who plays Princess Shuri, Black Panther’s super-smart 16 year old sister and second in line for  Wakanda's throne, the young actress made it clear that she understood what was being placed on her slender but capable shoulders. “We understand the responsibility. It can shift mindsets. I can be a Black superhero. I can be a scientist. I’m a queen. I’m a young prince. It’s not about me. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than all of us…”

Also in the March issue, is a feature created around their annual Black Women in Hollywood event where Essence onorees those who shine beyond the screen— Gurira, Tiffany Haddish, Lena Waithe and Tessa Thompson

Essence’s annual “Black Women in Hollywood” luncheon — its highly anticipated annual Oscar-week celebration — will take place on Thursday, March 1st, 2018, at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, CA

The following are comments from the honorees:

Haddish on Having Fun While Performing:
“'When you’re onstage, you need to be having fun.’ That’s the advice Richard Pryor gave me. No matter what I’m doing or where I am, I live by that philosophy…If I’m not having fun? Well, that’s when I end up getting arrested!…”

Gurira on Creating Opportunities for Women of Color:
“Creating opportunities for Black women, women of African descent and other women of color is a big part of my mandate because I want us to shine. I understand that being on TV as Michonne [in The Walking Dead] and in films like ‘Black Panther’ helps Black girls feel validated. I don’t take that lightly…”

Waithe on Winning an Emmy and Telling Our Stories:
“Being the first Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing was just amazing, but I don’t want to be the last. The award is bigger than me. It’s about our industry, our society, taking a big leap forward. It’s about my ancestors, the women comedy writers and queer communities of color. I shared that moment with them…”

Thompson on Breaking New Ground With Her Roles:
“I feel as if I’m breaking new ground and providing more representation for women of color around the globe. But even if it wasn’t me, I’d still look at those projects and if I saw a woman who looked like me, I’d think, Wow!…”

The 60's Come to Life at Carnegie Hall & NYC


Carnegie Hall is orangizing a slate of films, dance, music, and talks looking at the violent, sexy, and spectacular decade that forever shaped America. The ’60s: The Years that Changed America has been running since January, but from February to March there will be several performances from musical giants.

Phylicia Rashad joins Ray Chew (Music Director of Dancing with the Stars), Anthony Hamilton, Otis Redding III, and Dionne Warwick, and more for Sounds of Change, celebrating music that brought on and was affected by social change on February 5. Icelandic experimental ensemble múm performs on February 10 featuring electronic effects, innovative sampling, delicate vocals, and traditional and unconventional instruments. The legendary Philip Glass Ensemble returns to Carnegie Hall for the first time in over a decade to perform Galss’ “Music with Changing Parts” on February 16.

Carnegie Hall will also feature a plethora of films, dance, panels, and music programs. ’60s Verité at the Film Forum is a slate of films including Robert Drew’s Primary and D. A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back  In the Intense Now, a documentary essay directed by João Moreira Salles that explores three pivotal events of the 1960s, “Black is Beautiful”: Fashion and Consciousness", a panel discussion by documentary photographer Kwame Brathwaite and his son Kwame S. Brathwaite with historian Tanisha Ford to reflect on the impact of Brathwaite’s pioneering “Black Is Beautiful” photographs.

To learn more, go to:

The ’60s: The Years that Changed America

February - March 24, 2018

Various Locations

Phantom of the Opera: Andrew Lloyd Webber Looks Back on Thirty Years


A gala performance on Wednesday, January 24 will celebrate Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera hitting 30 years [actually on January 26, with 12,500 performances – which includes 16 previews] and continuing as Broadway’s longest-running show.
Sixteen years ago, POTO became the longest-running show in Broadway history, surpassing the composer’s “now and forever” Cats7,485 performances. Who could’ve predicted reaching 25, and now breaking into a fourth decade?

The Tony-winning Best Musical, with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and his book with Lloyd Webber has played to 18 million at the Majestic Theatre – where it opened in 1988 with a then-record advance of $18-million. Four years earlier, the show, based on Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de L’Opéra, premiered on London’s West End, already surpassing 30 years.

POTOCreativesDWoolierHowever, on that long ago opening night Andrew Lloyd Webber, pacing and nervous, wasn’t sure he and co-producer with the composer’s Really Useful Company Cameron Mackintosh had a hit on their hands – or that it would go on to win more than 70 theater awards, including seven 1988 Tonys and three London Olivier Awards.

Since 2010, beyond Broadway, the national tours, and a special production for Las Vegas, thousands of high school and university productions have been licensed through R&H Theatricals.

Though London advance sales and audience reaction during previews suggested an unstoppable hit, Lloyd Webber states. “I wish I could say I had the best time of my life during those heady days. Phantom is the only show I’ve done that was entirely unchanged during previews. Our brilliant director Hal Prince was so certain we’d be a hit that he suggested we take a holiday and return for the opening.

“At openings,” he continues, “even when you feel you have the public with you, you’re at your most vulnerable. I couldn't bear to sit through the show.” Everyone looked around, but there was no Lloyd Webber.

Mackintosh exited and found him and got him back for the curtain call. Amid the thunderous applause, Lloyd Webber explains in that moment he yearned to have loved ones around him. But (then) wife, Sarah Brightman, playing Christine, was basking in audience adulation with her Phantom, Michael Crawford. “While all were celebrating,” Lloyd Webber says, “I felt alone and frightened.”

POTO30thLeadsJDanielIt didn’t help when the first review, by the London Sunday Times critic, read, “Masked balls.” “Those were the only words uttered,” Lloyd Webber notes. “Most composers, let alone producers, would be suicidal to receive something like that from a major newspaper. It didn’t faze Cameron one bit. He called while having a jolly good breakfast and said nothing any reviewer wrote could alter the fact that Phantom had chimed with audiences.”

Lloyd Webber, even after blockbuster hits Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and Evita, was used to critical snipes. He points out POTO’s reviews “were wildly polarized between those who really did or really wouldn't surrender to the music of the night.”

What was most upsetting was ruinous gossip that Brightman, an alumna of the West End Cats who’d been onstage since her teens, got the role because she was his wife.

“The fine line between success and failure is perilously small,” states the
composer. “I’m struck 30 years hence with the phenomenon Phantom has become. Much credit goes to the late Maria Björnson for her dazzling design and costumes.  And would another choreographer have understood the period as well as former prima ballerina Dame Gillian Lynne (Cats)?”

In 2014, Miss Lynne, now 90, made a DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year Honours List.

 In the matter of the famed chandelier, Lloyd Webber notes, “Many said that moment could never work. It turns out to be the most theatrical moment I ever conceived – a moment that can only be achieved in live theater.”

POTOPJobackMulti-Tony-winning director Prince says he was instantly hooked on the idea that Leroux’s classic was musical material. “The secret to the show’s unparalleled success was the team of consummate professionals – producers, musicians, our super-prodigious choreographer and fabulous designer – who were always ready for anything. Andrew’s idea to make the emotional center of the show a love triangle struck a chord with audiences. It’s the crucial difference between our musical, the novel, and other versions of the story.”

POTO certainly hasn’t been without its crisis moments.
Lloyd Webber wanted to work with his old friend “and master book and lyric writer” Alan Jay Lerner, who accepted the challenge. As plans for the musical proceeded, it became obvious that Lerner wasn’t well. His condition worsened and the day he was to start working on the lyrics, he rang Lloyd Webber to say he must bow out. It soon became known Lerner had cancer. Sadly, he never recovered.

POTORedDeathCostume“Now, we had to find a replacement,” explains Lloyd Webber. “This led to bringing aboard Charles Hart, a talented young lyricist I had observed at a musical writers competition and whom was commended highly.” Hart was sent a melody to set lyrics to and the result convinced Lloyd Webber he’d made a good choice.

When the move to Broadway was eminent, “the only Achilles heel we had was Sarah,” recounts Lloyd Webber. “American Equity refused to allow  the girl without whom  there would have been no Phantom to play Christine. I felt Sarah’s slight as if it were directed at me.” With millions of dollars in ticket sales at stake, a deal was hatched. Brightman made her Broadway debut, and won a Tony for her performance.

In addition to POTO, Lloyd Webber has School of Rock, written with Glen Slater and book adapted from the film by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey). A new production of Tony-winning Best Musical Cats returned this season for its first revival since closing in September 2000 after 7, 485 performances over 18 years. It closed December 30.

APOTOBroadwayMasqueradeHannibalJMarcusn estimated 140 million people in 35 countries (15 languages) have surrendered to POTO with what many feel is Lloyd Webber’s best score. The  two-disk original cast album spent five years on Billboard’s  charts; and a single-disc highlights recording spent over six years on the magazine’s Pop Album chart.

There’ve been 15 actors in the title role. Returning to the cast for 30th Anniversary performances is Platinum-selling Swedish recording artist Peter Jöback (through March 31), who also donned the mask on the West End. Co-starring are Ali Ewoldt as Christine Daaé (the first Asian-American actress in the role) and Rodney Ingram as Vicomte de Chagny Raoul.
There are six current productions of Phantom around the world: London, New York, Sapporo (Japan), Budapest, Prague, and Stockholm — with an engagement to begin in August in Sweden.

For more information on the 30th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera, visit

Assessing Last Year's Movies Through The Lens of This Year’s Golden Globe Nominees

"The Shape of Water"

Just as the Waterford ball drops, so does the anticipation for the 75th annual Golden Globes — the first major awards show of 2018. Being broadcast live, the show can be seen on NBC, Sunday, January 7th, starting at 8pm EST.

And since the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s 90 or so critics divide their cinematic choices into two oddly skewed categories — “Best Motion Picture - Drama” and “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” — there’s 10 films to consider as the possiblebestsof the year.

Which of course begs the question of how to assess these choices they’ve made into nominees. Can one at least take advantage of their odd splitting of categories which allows for more nominees to be assessed and under slightly different terms?

First, here’s the films in the running for the Globes Best Of Movies categories. Up for the “Best Motion Picture - Drama” is “Call Me by Your Name,” ”Dunkirk,” "The Post,” “The Shape of Water" and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

doug jones 20171205 145338 copyAs for the HFPA’s choices of “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” there’s these films: “The Disaster Artist,” "Get Out,” “I, Tonya" “Lady Bird” and "The Greatest Showman.”  None of these films are out-and-out comedies but at least “Showman” is a genuine song-and-dance original musical. I’ll bypass commenting on it since I haven’t yet seen it.

With the other pictures, they could easily land on any indie “best of” list. They’re all essentially small productions with either breakout talent or leads who have performed well before but provide nearly tour de force performances in these films.  In both “I, Tonya" and “Lady Bird” their respective female leads manage career-defining performances. "Get Out” seems like a horror film but is really a well-crafted genre bender. And James Franco really imbues “The Disaster Artist” with the idiosyncrasy it merits.

But the Best Director category really reflects how different these choices for this year’s nominees are. Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) and Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) represent films where the creators push the envelope. The former is a love fable built on the platform of a horror film and the latter is a darkly comic thriller cum protest film.

Ridley Scott (“All The Money in the World”) and Steven Spielberg (“The Post”) reflect those who use a mainstream, tried-and-true approach to polished directing. And both of their films have a sense of importance and offer relevant social criticism. The first tackles the role that traditional media has in illuminating the wrongs committed by government; the second addresses the wrongs a man can commit when he has too much money and power — in this case those wronged are his own family.  

Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) really causes us to re-evaluate the traditional war drama by focusing on a moment of history — when 300,000 British troops were trapped by Nazi invaders on Dunkirk’s beach in 1940 — to throw audiences into the experience of being there.

None of the choices for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama” can be faulted, yet this set offers few surprises. In picking tried-and-true veterans Jessica Chastain (“Molly's Game”) Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and Michelle Williams (“All the Money in the World”) the HFPA relies on actors who offer consistent quality performances but not necessarily ones that are career-defining. And Meryl Streep (“The Post”) so often lands on the list, its almosttooexpected that this choice for nominee is not to be trusted to be the best since she lands on the list every time. She does a fine job in this film but her effort is that of a craft person and is not her best work.

Only with Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) did these arbiters anoint a performer with a nomination which is so deserved because the actress did something pretty off-base in playing a character who never speaks and who falls in love with an aquatic creature.

allthemoneyWith the “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama” category, there’s at least two candidates — Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”) and Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) — who provide some surprises. Of the two, Oldman is my choice for the award. The performances of Tom Hanks (“The Post”) and Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”) are top flight but that’s expected with these consummate professionals. But it’s in Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) that a new talent gets the exposure he deserves for his performance as a confused teenager who engages in a life-defining affair with an older man.

In the “Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” several films deserving attention got highlighted thanks to the skillfully drawn characterizations of historical figures by Judi Dench (“Victoria & Abdul”), Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya”), and Emma Stone (“Battle of the Sexes”). Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) deftly played an idiosyncratic young woman who is coming of age. But as to Helen Mirren’s work in "The Leisure Seeker," I know little since I haven’t seen the film.

As for Best Performance by an “Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” Steve Carell (“Battle of the Sexes”) and Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) certainly define the pictures they are in. I am less sure of the work by Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver") James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”) and Hugh Jackman (“The Greatest Showman”). I haven’t seen these films, but these actors have  been awarded enough accolades by cinematic cognoscenti that I trust they are worthy of the nomination.

floridaIn the “Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” category, the nominated actors veer outside the expected. Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”) has been a film award nominee previously; everyone else here in this category do their films proud enough to equally qualify for the award. I couldn’t say whether Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Hong Chau (”Downsizing”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) deserve the award because all of these performances were excellent. But I admit to favoring Hong Chau since the film and her performance is so quirky. As for “Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture,” candidates Willem Dafoe (”The Florida Project”), Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) are all meritorious choices. But the one that was unexpected or least less predictable has to be Willem Dafoe’s in a uniquely unvarnished film. The one actor not on the list who is really deserving a nomination is Doug Jones as the creature in “The Shape of Water” — he gave it an emotionally rich life even though hidden by costuming.

For the sake of brevity and focus, I will bypass commenting on the other categories of “Best Screenplay in a Motion Picture” and “Best Original Score in a Motion Picture.” I will add though, if for nothing else, I want "Loving Vincent" to win in the “Best Animated Film” category because of its amazing originality -- it's the first animated film to be made entirely of images based on Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and style. As for “Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language,” everyone one of the nominees — "A Fantastic Woman.” “First They Killed My Father,” “In the Fade,” "Loveless" and "The Square" — are powerful examples of cinematic story-telling. Nonetheless, I admire Angelina Jolie for making “First They Killed My Father,” a painful narrative about the atrocities committed by Cambodia’s genocidal Khymer Rouge. And check out “The Square” which is a searing critique of the art world.

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