*Jenifer Lewis is set to take the stage this Friday (Feb.4) in a one-woman show titled, “So Much Love: An Evening with Jenifer Lewis.”
The show is a fundraiser for The Rogue Machine Theatre and will be held at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center for one night only.
Known for her distinctive voice, quick wit and no-nonsense demeanor, the veteran actress and mother of one, who “promises to entertain you,” has had a successful career in films, on television and on stage.
Her credits include Broadway hits like “Eubie”, “Comin’ Uptown”, “Dreamgirls”, “Rock and Roll and Neil Simon’s “Promises Promises.” Her film credits include: “Hereafter,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” “The Antwone Fisher Story,” “Corinna Corrinna,” “The Mighty,” “Renaissance Man,” “Sister Act” and “Sister Act II”, “The Brothers,” “Poetic Justice” and “Castaway.” Her voice has been featured in “Shark Tale,” Pixar’s “Cars” and the Disney animated feature film, “The Princess & The Frog.” Her television credits are vast and include: The Temptations, Roc, A Different World, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Touched by an Angel, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, The Cosby Show, Murphy Brown, Boston Legal, Shark and Girlfriends. She was also a regular on the Lifetime Television hit drama series, “Strong Medicine.”
It’s her connection with producer John Flynn, who directed her in “Strong Medicine that has Lewis performing “So Much Love” as a fundraiser.
Flynn is now the artistic director of the non-profit Rogue Machine Theatre.
“We depend on grants and foundations and corporations and public funding for half our budget every year,” said Flynn. “We’re constantly fundraising. If we want to make our tickets affordable, we need this kind of funding so we can have decent price tickets.”
The theatre, which won an LA Ovation Award for production in a small space, is currently running Cormac McCarthy’s “The Sunset Limited.”
While the theater is currently located in a community development area near Pico and LaBrea, Flynn is interested in obtaining a permanent home.
“We need help,” he said. “We’re in a neighborhood we like a lot. However, we have a landlord who doesn’t want to give a long-term lease. We have to raise the money to move. We need some permanence.”
So, Flynn called on his old friend, Lewis, to help him raise $10,000 in seed money.
I caught up with Lewis, 54, to discuss the show and all things Jenifer.
Darlene Donloe: Why is the name of the show “So Much Love?”
Jennifer Lewis: Because that’s where I am right now. I’m in love with a wonderful man and in love with life after 17 years of therapy. I’m bipolar, but I’m medicated for the disorder. I’m doing well. It’s all come to pass and it feels great to be alive.
DD: So what has changed?
JL: Now, I love life. I used to have great highs and lows because of the disorder. I try not to be so dramatic. But, most people don’t get to say these words – I’m in love with being alive. Once you experience life enough to know in your soul how very precious it is, but how fragile we are as human beings, you learn to appreciate it.
DD: You obviously see things differently.
JL: I’m now talking about the colors of trees and the grass, flowers and babies eyes.
DD: Lets talk about the show. Why are you doing it?
JL: Supporting the arts is one of the most important things we can do. Young kids need some place to create. It’s about me giving back and me expressing where I am.
DD: What will the audience see/hear?
JL: You’re going to be thoroughly entertained. That’s just how I role. You will leave having seen someone aligned in love. You might just have a little more love in yourself.
DD: Do you like the rehearsal process?
JL: I love it. Are you kidding? Rehearsing almost surpasses the show. You can do what you want. It’s like a painting. I paint also. The brush goes where it goes. You can’t write a poem, the poem writes you. You can’t take a photograph, it takes you. It takes you to push the button. Then it’s in the pocket.
DD: What songs are you going to sing?
JL: Well, I’m going to do ‘Love and Happiness,’ ‘ABC,’ ‘I Think I’m Going Out of My Head’ and more. I’m going to do a medley.
DD: You wrote four of the songs in the show. So, the audience will know some songs and won’t know others.
JL: Yeah, I wrote four of them. One of them is about Grandma Smalls. The show is all fun. Some songs will be known, some won’t. It’s all about the moment. It’s places and then the overture and you’re on, baby, you’re on. The theater is a sacred place. There will be 800 eyes looking just at me. I have no fear in me. One thing I can do is entertain. If you’re asking 400 people to come see you after doing a 9 to 5, you better entertain them.
DD: How do you prepare to go on stage? I have to sleep. It’s a process. The lungs have to be open – so you need to do cardio.
The lungs and the vocal chords have to rest. The physical warm up is everything from yoga, to doing a fast walk before the show. Then, I do some stretching and then vocalize –warming up the vocal chords. Then you’re quiet and visualize, pray and meditate. You see yourself being successful. See the audience and honor them. You relax and become one with the audience. It’s such a powerful connection in theater that is nowhere else in the world. It’s you and them. That’s a huge responsibility.
DD: How much time and effort did the show take to put together?
JL: It’s easy for me. I’ve been doing this since I was five-years-old. I used to do this when I was a kid in my basement trying to be Gladys Knight and getting my cousins to be the pips. But, don’t get me wrong, a one woman show is easy, but it ain’t easy. You can’t just run up a mountain.
DD: What does the theater do for you?
JL: The theater is where I breathe. It’s where I was trained. I poke fun at myself in the show. I make fun of Jenifer so folks won’t take themselves so seriously. If you come in late you will never be late for one of my shows again. I’m crazy on stage.
DD: You seem to have a good life.
JL: It’s been a wonderful life. I wasn’t always present for it, but once I took care of it, it became good. I went from happiness to bliss. I touched bliss the day I looked in the mirror and took responsibility for every choice I had ever made or will make or am going to make. That’s when I touch bliss.
I’ve done a lot of work.
DD: Rogue Machine must be important to you.
JL: I’m honored. I’m doing something I love to do. I’m successful and making a living doing something I love to do. I try to honor my gift. I now get up and do things with a smile on my face.
DD: What is your relationship with Rogue Machine?
JL: It’s actually with John Flynn who is the artistic director. He produced “Strong Medicine.” He called and asked me. He attended some of my one woman shows and he knows who I am. I didn’t even pause. I said, ‘of course I will’. It’s an adorable theater. I like to do fundraisers. Last year I raised $50,000 for the Gay and Lesbian Center.
DD: Did you go to school for theater?
JL: I majored in theater arts. I should have majored in music. All I do is act a fool. I didn’t have to go to college for that.
DD: You sound like you are in Heaven.
JL: I love what I do. I’m so grateful for my life, having come from poverty. I earned everything I have.
“So Much Love: An Evening With Jenifer Lewis,” 8 p.m., Fri., Feb. 4, Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90016; Tickets: $25 (balcony) to $500 (front row). Tickets $125+ grant admission to an exclusive after-party with champagne, hors d’oeuvres and Ms. Lewis; (323) 930-0747 or visit www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
“The Sunset Limited,” The Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019; (323) 930-0747.
About Darlene Donloe / [email protected]
From her Plaxo profile page: I have been a journalist for more than 20 years. Within that time I have written about entertainment, travel, medical, sports, politics and more. I’m also a publicist. I’ve worked on high profile campaigns for Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson, as well as for individuals. When I’m not writing or doing publicity, I work as a massage therapist.