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Photo courtesy of Simply Greg
Daniel J. Watts is quick-witted, so very quick-witted reminding me of our conversation that no two shows of The Jam: Only Child are alike. Watts likes to “flow” and see where the material takes him. To feel the audience and let that energy guide him through the process.
When he left Hamilton, a lot of people pondered and asked why followed by what’s next? A man who stands on creative spontaneity, I can imagine how quickly the gears of Watts' brain were churning. For the record, in addition to the February 19th performance of The Jam: Only Child, he will be seen in TBS’ upcoming “The Last O.G.,” and Signature Theatre’s The Death of The Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.
But back to Joe’s Pub at the Public, under his production company—WattsWords Productions—his next venture is Watts' aforementioned The Jam: Only Child which is an evening of music, dance and spoken word ( Monday, February 19) at Joe’s Pub at The Public at New York’s famed Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street). The doors open at 9 pm and the show begins at 9.30pm.
The dynamic performer will be sharing the stage with DJ Duggz, aka Preston Dugger III (Motown the Musical, Memphis) who will keep the crowd hyped, spinning through the evening.
Watts is a sentimental man and although The Jam: Only Child is a play-on-words, this play pays homage to Watts’ great-grandmother who, after making jam from scratch, would share with others what she was unable to consume herself. A stunning memory and one, I suspect, that many of us share in our collective cultures. Brown, Black and Native people from a historical point-of-view have always shared their bounty. That’s why, in part, the Native population got into trouble with trying to “share” with the starving pilgrims.
The Jam: Only Child is Watts’ continuation of that legacy featuring his original spoken word, often set to music and dance. This is Watts’ second installation of The Jam: Only Child after premiering it last summer as one of historic Webster Hall’s final acts before closing its doors forever in August.
In 2016, the stage blazed galvanizing cast members from Hamilton, On Your Feet, and Shuffle Along and there Watts played to a packed house in Webster Hall’s Marlin Room with The Jam: Love Terrorists - A Benefit for Orlando. The event raised $7500 for the LGBT community in Orlando after the horrific attack at Pulse Night Club.
Forever a curious artist Watts is all about shaking it up and his WattsWords Productions is dedicated to developing original programming including live performances, web content, and demonstrations written by Daniel J. Watts in an effort to urge communities to actively engage in focusing on their social similarities opposed to their differences.
“Each time I put together a new edition of The Jam, it is inspired by what is happening in the world, in my world, or in my life,” said the artist and activist. “This Jam has a coming of age feel. It involves journeying through the experiences that have shaped my perceptions and influenced my decision-making, allowing me to take stock of what I need to hold on to and what I can afford to let go.”
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…”
In 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!…”
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: https://www.carnegiehall.org/Events/Season-Highlights/The-60s
The ’60s: The Years that Changed America
February - March 24, 2018
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” Cats’ 7,485 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. However, 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.”It 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.”
Multi-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.
“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.An 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 www.PhantomBroadway.com.
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