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Q&A: MOTOWN SUPPORTS DEVELOPING ARTISTS

Reporter: Robin Johnson, first published Fri 12 Aug 2016 17:14
Original Link: http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/news/backstage-pass/article/item371391/q-a-motown-supports-developing-artists/

 

This weekend, young British BAME artists from across London, including actors, musicians, dancers, singers and rappers, will take to the Hackney Empire stage with the cast of West End smash-hit Motown The Musical to perform an original show based around its rich musical and cultural origins.

The culmination of Hackney Empire’s flagship Artist Development Programme (ADP), which enables artists aged 13-19 to spend a fortnight crafting a production with the guidance of industry professionals, takes place at the theatre on Sunday 14 August. Tickets and more information is available through the theatre’s website.

One major influence on the production is Motown The Musical director Charles Randolph-Wright, who told us a little more about the initiative, why Motown is the perfect medium through which young artists can express themselves, and why you should be booking your tickets for Sunday.

Tell us about Motown The Musical’s involvement with the Artistic Development Programme (ADP) at Hackney Empire.

[Creative Director] Susie McKenna is an old friend of mine. We were having lunch when I was here rehearsing for the show back in January, and she said they had picked Motown as a summer theme for the ADP. I said “Woah! We should be involved in it!” Some of our artists actually came through the Hackney Empire, or have taught there, so I suggested “Why don’t we merge the companies?”

The idea was that kids in the programme would create their own show, write the music and write the scenes, and then we could integrate that with numbers from our show, using our cast. So we’ve been working together on colliding these worlds. It’s been amazing to watch.

How have you personally enjoyed the experience?

I think it’s imperative for younger audiences to have what I call ‘permission’ from those of us who are lucky enough to get to do this [work in theatre], so when they see me and other people who work in the industry, it opens the door for their thinking “I can do that as an occupation; I can work in sound, I can work in costumes, I can do various things, and not just perform.”

I’m always about education and trying to pass the torch, so having the Motown The Musical company able to come in, you go in “helping them” but I sort of think they help us more – it reminds you why you do it, it inspires you, and it’s thrilling.

Why do you feel that Motown The Musical is such a good fit for the scheme?

Motown literally changed the world with its music, its style, its feeling. I’d say that Motown is a movement, not just music, especially here in England where it still has such resonance. The show is amazing to watch. I went to a matinee at the theatre, and the audience reaction was beyond anything I could imagine.

Because of its storytelling, the show is very relevant: we’re dealing with issues now that we were dealing with fifty years ago and the kids really get that, which astounds me. They ask how what was going on then relates to what’s going on now, with the different movements, with what’s happening in our country, and with what’s happening with Brexit, so they talk about it. And what better way to do that than via theatre? Art is the way to heal.

How have you been working with the artists in the rehearsal room?

I’ve been talking to them about what the show means. For example yesterday, I told them about being in St. Louis; our touring company was there at the time of the Michael Brown Trial, and they didn’t know if the show would even run because they were afraid of riots.

There were more than 4,000 seats in the theatre, and every audience member came to the theatre, shaken. But experiencing this show together, they came in as individuals and they left as a group; they came together during the two and half hours of the musical. We talked about what that felt like, to know that this show had affected a change, and that this show had helped people heal at a time when they felt it was impossible.

I have great hope for our kids, because they’re the ones that have to change this. We’ve not done a great job of it, my generation, so I looked to them, and I said “listen, it’s your responsibility, you have a different view, you can change the world – Motown changed the world, and you can do that.” That’s why Motown has all the right elements to be part of this programme.

Just how talented did you find the young artists? Are any of the Motown The Musical cast fearing for their places?

Haha, not yet – the mentees are all under 18, but that fear will come soon! Although I can’t help but sit there and go “ooh, that’s a Diana, that’s a Stevie, and that’s a Michael!”

Watching these kids, you see how great the programme is, because if they hadn’t done it, they may not have had the opportunity to even think that they could. They’ve been running it for sixteen years in Hackney, and it’s an amazing thing; I hope that the idea of us being involved draws more attention to it, and that more people see the tremendous work that they’re doing at the theatre.

Can you think of any standout moments from your time with the artists?

Some of the songs that have been written are really incredible. One song, I just thought immediately “They wrote this?!” It worked in so perfectly with the things they were saying, and the other Motown music that’s in the show.

What surprised me about their writing was that their songs are from a contemporary place, but they sound classic, and I thought that was very surprising. They also wrote different monologues and different scenes, and each one had resonance. They’ve done their research, they’ve worked hard on these characters, and they wrote something from their hearts. That impressed me and moved me.

What do you think are the kinds of challenges facing developing artists today?

I still think unfortunately we have issues with colours, we have issues with class. We constantly fight to try and change that. How do we make the playing fields equal? How do we find more opportunity?

Why should people come to the Hackney Empire on Sunday to support the show?

Firstly, because it’ll be extraordinarily entertaining – these kids are so talented, and you get to see some of the Motown company as well.

But it’s the idea of hope for the future; watching these kids will inspire you no matter what age you are, and make you realise that together we can change things and make a difference, despite where we come from, who we are, or how we look. These kids really make you realise what we can do and what we should do, both here, in my country, and globally.

ADP: Motown At The Empire takes place at the Hackney Empire on Sunday 14 August at 17:00. Tickets and more information is available through the theatre’s website.

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Bebe Winans shows some love to Charles Randolph-Wright

Check out this great video clip from the Opening Night of Born for This.  The story of Bebe Winans, which opened at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre on April 23rd.  In the packed theatre was Georgia Representative and Civil Rights legend John Lewis,  Jim Bakker of PTL fame and a central figure in the show, Several members of the Winans family along with matriarch Delores Winans.

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Charles Randolph-Wright & Trump. Wait, What?

This month’s American Magazine, a UK publication for American expats, features a great piece on Charles as his London opening of Motown the Musical gets underway at the Shaftesbury Theatre.    In it, the dynamic director talks about getting his start, the expectation of excellence and how Motown not only penetrated the DNA of America — it became a phenomenon around the world.  There is not one mention of Trump in the article.  He does appear on the front cover, though.

Click on the picture below to
Read the PDF article.  Or, you can click the link to read this month’s digital edition online.

link to the digital edition.

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Motown The Musical Open through January 3rd at National Theatre in Washington DC

Motown The Musical
December 1 – January 3

 Show Run Time:

2 hours 40 minutes including intermission.

It began as one man’s story… became everyone’s music… and is now Broadway’s musical.Motown The Musical is the true American dream story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more.

Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat. Featuring classic songs such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” experience the story behind the music in the record-breaking smash hit Motown The Musical!

Buy Tickets now on the National Theatre website

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Photo Flash: AKEELAH AND THE BEE’s Johannah Easley, Charles Randolph-Wright and More Celebrate Opening at Arena Stage

By: BWW News Desk
Photo Credit: Cameron Whitman
Link to original article: Broadway World

Fresh off its world-premiere run in Minneapolis, Children’s Theatre Company’s new production about an 11-year-old spelling prodigy comes to Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. The show is adapted for the stage by veteran playwright Cheryl L. West (Arena’s Pullman Porter Blues, Jar the Floor), who partners with celebrated director Charles Randolph-Wright (director of Broadway’s Motown and an inaugural resident playwright with Arena Stage, where he premiered his play Love in Afghanistan). AKEELAH AND THE BEE runs now through December 27, 2015 in the Kreeger Theater, and BroadwayWorld has photos from the opening night festivites at Arena Stage below!

Based on Doug Atchison’s 2006 inspirational family film, the heartwarming drama tells the story of Akeelah, a determined young girl who overcomes numerous challenges to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Leading the cast as Akeelah is Johannah Easley, who made a splash originating the role in Minneapolis, where her performance was hailed as “delightful and thoroughly engaging” (City Pages) and possessing “effortless naturalism and poetic economy” (Star Tribune). She stars opposite Broadway veteran James A. Williams (originated the role of Roosevelt Hicks in August Wilson’s Radio Golf), who continues in his role as her exacting coach Dr. Larabee.

Also reprising their roles from Minneapolis are Aimee K. Bryant as Gail (Akeelah’s mom), Nathan Barlow as Reggie (Akeelah’s brother), Zaria Graham as Georgia (Akeelah’s best friend) and Greta Oglseby as Batty Ruth (a neighbor), along with young actors Leo James as Javier/Chucky, Sean Phinney as Dylan and Molly Yeselson as Izzy/Snorting Girl/Crying Girl. The company also includes Darius Dotch as J.T./DJ Rule/Judge TV Announcer, Ana Christine Evans as Trish/Horse Girl/Mohawk Girl and Shavunda Horsley as Ratchet Rhonda/Foxy Fay. Tony Nam joins the company for the D.C. run as Dylan’s Dad/Pronouncer.

The creative team for AKEELAH AND THE BEE includes Scenic Designer Alexander V. Nichols, Costume Designer Jessica Jahn, Lighting Designer Michael Gilliam, Sound Designer Sten Severson, Composer Victor Zupanc, Dramaturg Elissa Adams, Assistant Costume Designer Sarah Bahr, Stage Manager Chris Schweiger and Assistant Stage Manager Jenny Brass.

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This Theater Director Will Have Two Major Plays Showing in DC at the Same Time

Charles Randolph-Wright directed ‘Akeelah and the Bee’ and ‘Motown the Musical.’

By Elizabeth Elving | October 28, 2015 Link to the article here

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The two shows have more than a director in common. Akeelah is based on the 2006 film about a girl from a public housing project whose brains and resilience lead her to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Motown is adapted from Berry Gordy’s book about his iconic record label, which helped launch the careers of artists like Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson. Randolph-Wright was drawn to these plays because they both send their characters on a boundary-crossing, hurdle-jumping journey to achieve their goals.

(L to R) Zaria Graham, Johannah Easley, Ana Christine Evans, Sean Phinney and Leo James in Children’s Theatre Company’s Akeelah and the Bee at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater November 13-December 27, 2015. Photo by Dan Norman.

(L to R) Zaria Graham, Johannah Easley, Ana Christine Evans, Sean Phinney and Leo James in Children’s Theatre Company’s Akeelah and the Bee at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater November 13-December 27, 2015. Photo by Dan Norman.

“Geography doesn’t limit your dream. Your neighborhood doesn’t limit your dream,” he says. “No matter where you are from, no matter who you are, color, etc. You can go after your dream. That’s what Berry Gordy did. That’s what Akeelah did.”

This message shows up often in Randolph-Wright’s work and is even reflected in his own life. He grew up in York, South Carolina and graduated from Duke University with a double major in theater and religion. He studied Shakespeare in London and dance in New York City, eventually getting an ensemble role in the original cast of Dreamgirls on Broadway. He has since built a prolific career directing and producing for theater, film, and television, where his credits including episodes of the ABC Family series Lincoln Heights and the Showtime series Linc’s. He’s a resident playwright at Arena Stage; in 2010, he directed Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, which broke Arena’s box office record.

Though his resume covers a lot of ground, Randolph-Wright chooses his projects carefully. “There are a lot of things I turn down,” he says. “I don’t ever want to settle for some piece that’s not expressing the things that are on my mind. I do feel a responsibility as an artist to do the kind of work that I do.”

Reed L. Shannon as Michael Jackson (center) with the Jackson 5. Motown The Musical makes its Washington premiere at the National Theatre on December 1. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Reed L. Shannon as Michael Jackson (center) with the Jackson 5. Motown The Musical makes its Washington premiere at the National Theatre on December 1. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Part of that responsibility involves conveying to young people, especially young people of color, that they shouldn’t limit their ambitions. “I realize the importance of kids seeing people who look like them,” he says. “When they see that, they then have permission. They are enabled to go after something, to believe they can attain a certain dream.”

When Randolph-Wright goes to the theater, he’s often one of only a few people of color there. That imbalance is echoed in the stories told onstage. “Too often the people making the choices of shows pick the shows that relate to them,” he says. “And the people who are doing that don’t look like us.”

In recent years, television has made progress in diversifying its stories and casts, but Randolph-Wright says live theater, particularly on Broadway, hasn’t followed suit: “I believe that television is winning that game. We must do better in the theater, we must.” In that realm, however, Washington is performing better than New York. “The audience is a true mixture of people,” he says of DC theater. “You have every type of person. Every age, every color. That’s unique, unfortunately, in the world of theater.”

The title character of Akeelah and the Bee is African-American, and the cast features Latino, white, and Asian children. Motown the Musical celebrates the legacy of some of music’s most influential black artists. Randolph-Wright hopes that bringing these stories to DC stages will have a unifying effect. “It’s the nation’s capital,” he says. “We’re so divided in our country. I hope that politicians come and let go of their colors, their red and blue colors, for an instant. That’s what we have to focus on. What can we do together, as opposed to what do we do to keep us apart.”

 

 

BeBe and CeCe Winans in 1991. The siblings, who were backup singers for televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL Club,” are the subject of a new musical. (Dana Tynan/Associated Press)

‘Born for This’ musical follows ‘PTL Club’ singers BeBe and CeCe Winans

By Peter Marks Theater critic October 21 at 6:46 PM

BeBe and CeCe Winans in 1991. The siblings, who were backup singers for televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL Club,” are the subject of a new musical. (Dana Tynan/Associated Press)

BeBe and CeCe Winans in 1991. The siblings, who were backup singers for televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL Club,” are the subject of a new musical. (Dana Tynan/Associated Press)

As impressionable teenagers, BeBe Winans and his sister CeCe traveled a remarkable God-focused path, from a ­gospel-infused Pentecostal home in Detroit to the stage of a Christian television ministry in Charlotte, presided over by none other than Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

Now their improbable road to tuneful evangelical fame, in the run-up to the Bakkers’ tabloid-frenzied trials and tribulations, becomes the trajectory of a musical. “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story,” with new music by Winans himself and a book he wrote with director Charles Randolph-Wright, debuts in the spring in Atlanta before taking up residence for much of the summer at Arena Stage.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic. View Archive
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“It’s almost like experiencing an out-of-body experience,” the Grammy-winning BeBe Winans said by phone from Atlanta, where he’s working on music for “Greenleaf,” a new megachurch-set television series for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. “When you’re going through life, you don’t think your life is anything other than like anyone else’s. You have your ups and downs, so you never think of your life as a musical.”

With the assistance of ­Randolph-Wright, a frequent presence at Arena as both writer and director, the story of the teens’ years with the Bakkers, who brought them aboard as backup singers for their popular “The PTL Club” show, will be a major element of the musical. A sex scandal and revelations of financial improprieties would end Jim Bakker’s ministry — and send him to prison on multiple counts of mail and wire fraud. Still, audiences are not apt to get a negative impression of him or the often-lampooned Tammy Faye Bakker this time around.

“To this day, Jim Bakker is one of our dearest friends,” said Winans, who went on to a gospel recording career as a solo artist and with his sister. “And Tammy Faye became our mother. Thirty years after [“PTL”], when my sister and I were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first person I called was Jim Bakker.” Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker divorced in 1992, and she died in 2007. Jim Bakker lives in Branson, Mo., according to Randolph-Wright.

The production — which will be staged by Randolph-Wright at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and run there from April 13 to May 15 before starting at Arena Stage in July — is cementing a new role for Arena as an outpost for summertime tryouts of musicals. In July and August, the company hosted the world premiere of “Dear Evan Hansen,” a musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson that became a critical and audience hit. The reception was such that plans for a run in the spring at off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre were firmed up before the D.C. engagement ended.

Randolph-Wright, director of “Motown the Musical,” the retrospective of the Motown sound and the life of record producer Berry Gordy that makes its Washington premiere Dec. 1 at the National Theatre, has conducted workshops and readings of “Born for This” in Boston, New York , Atlanta and Charlotte. He said that as the piece was being developed, he felt ever more strongly that the narrative should not only focus on the Winans family’s deep connection to music — BeBe and CeCe’s older brothers sang as a gospel group — but also on the young Winanses’ time with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

“ ‘You have one of the greatest stories ever with Jim and Tammy,’ ” Randolph-Wright said he told Winans. “This was five minutes in the original musical. I said, ‘You need to do this story!’ ” As if the Winans family’s own story were not interwoven deeply enough into “Born for This,” two of its stars are Winanses, too. BeBe Winans’s nephew and niece, Juan and Deborah Joy Winans, will play BeBe and CeCe.

BeBe Winans still recalls those years at “The PTL Club” as deeply meaningful, even in the more traumatic times, when he came up against racism. A white cameraman, he said, confessed to him once that he’d been brought up to hate black people but that BeBe had helped to change his heart. “I’m 19 and this man is 37,” Winans recalled. “I found out that love was more powerful than hatred. What a great thing to learn.”

The show runs July 1 to Aug. 28 at Arena’s Kreeger Theater. Information about ticket sales will be released at a later date.