stick fly

Stick Fly Opening Night Curtain Call features: Rosie Benton, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Dule Hill, Condola Rashad.

sistas

Sistas: The Musical Opening Night Curtain Call features: Amy Goldberger, April Nixon, Tracy Conyer Lee, Jennifer Fouche, Lexi Rhoades in gold lame outfits.

*Grammy and Emmy Award winner, Tony Award nominee and multi-platinum recording artist Harry Connick, Jr. stars as Dr. Mark Bruckner in the newly imagined production of On A Clear Day Yu Can See Forever, reconceived and directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer, with choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter, that opened on Broadway at The St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, New York City on Sunday, December 11, 2011 with a new book by Peter Parnell based on the original book by Alan Jay Lerner..

This freshly minted version also stars David Turner as David Gamble and Jessie Mueller as Melinda Wells, in her Broadway debut who delightfully sing and dance through the lively Tony-nominated score by Burton Lane (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) with enhanced selections from their film scores for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) and Royal Wedding (1951).

Rounding out the cast of the romantic musical comedy are Kerry O’Malley, Drew Gehling, Sarah Stilesl, Paul O’Brien, Heather Ayers, Lori Wilner, Benjamin Eakeley, Alex Ellis, Kendal Hartse, Grasan Kingsberry, Tyler Maynard, Zachary Prince, Alysha Umphress, Philip Hoffman, Sean Allan Krill, Patrick O’Neill, and Christianne Tisdale.

Love blooms in unexpected places in the delightfully reimagined world of On A Clear Day Yu Can See Forever  Still in love with his deceased wife, Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick, Jr.), a dashing psychiatrist and professor, unknowingly takes on the case of his life with David Gamble (David Turner), a quirky young florists’ assistant.

While putting David under hypnosis to help him quit smoking so he can move in with his perfect boyfriend Warren (David Gehling), Dr. Bruckner stumbles upon what he believes to be David’s former self – a dazzling and self-possessed 1940′s jazz singer Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller). Instantly intrigued by Melinda, Dr. Bruckner finds himself swept up in the pursuit of an irresistible (and impossible) love affair with this woman from another time and place, who may or may not have ever existed.

Connick is one of the smoothest singers around and his velvety vocal interpretation of each production number is worth the price of admission; with special mention to his jazzy version of the title song.  Add to that the flawless vocal prowess of Melinda and David and you’ve been transported to heaven on earth.  The trio along with the full company do Mayer and Parnell’s enchanting new version from the 1965 score proud including the classic hits “Come Back To Me,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have Now?,” “She Isn’t You,” and the titular “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

The creative team for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever includes two-time Tony Award winner Christine Jones (sets), five-time Tony Award winner Catherine Zuber (costumes), three-time Tony Award winner Kevin Adams (lighting), two-time Tony Award winner Peter Hylenski (sound), Tom Watson (hair), Lawrence Yurman (music director & arrangements) and three-time Tony Award winner Doug Besterman (orchestrations).

After several standing ovations, the star-studded crowd headed over to the posh Plaza Hotel for a jazz-themed after party that had Opening Night theatergoers partying into the late, late night.  Clearly, this swinging production of On A Clear Day Yu Can See Forever will make you fall in love all over again.  (Photo Credit: Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.)

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*As theatergoers enter The Cort Theatre where Stick Fly opened on Thursday, December 8, 2011, their eyes are drawn to a handsome stage setting by set designer David Galloy whose award-winning designs have won him a Tony Award (The Drowsy Chaperone) and several Tony nominations (Radio Golf, Gem of the Ocean) for his artistic set acumen.  The setting is the seventh star of the sophisticated new Broadway play by Lydia R. Diamond that is directed by Kenny Leon.

As ticketholders feast their eyes on the set, out of nowhere comes this phenomenally mesmeric music and from the first cord, you know that it could only be the talented Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Alicia Keys who wears the hats of producer and original music for Stick Fly.  Keys’ fly music is the seventh character in the provocative play.

And I’m here to tell you that it’s the only music throughout the 2 ½ hour dysfunctional family  .  There’s no singing either!  And definitely no basketball.  Come with a fresh mind and leave all of those stereotypical indicators at the front door.  Here’s a slice of middle class Black Americana that’s as enjoyable as a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.  And having spent many summers in the “Vineyard,” I found the play very relatable as Diamond is “spot on” in her depiction of family life in this affluent community.

In Stick Fly, it was a relaxing weekend on Martha’s Vineyard … until the baggage got unpacked.  Meet the LeVays.  When two adult sons independently choose to introduce their girlfriends to the parents on the same weekend, sibling rivalries flare, opinions clash, class distinctions divide and family secrets unravel.

The cast of Stick Fly is a well-oiled company with an abundant of slick chemistry.  The cast includes Dulé Hill (“Psych,” “The West Wing”) as Spoon (Kent) LeVay; Mekhi Phifer (“ER,” 8 Mile) as Flip (Harold) LeVay; Tracie Thoms (Rent, “Cold Case,” The Devil Wears Prada) as Taylor; Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Seven Guitars, Lackawanna Blues) as Joe Levay; Rosie Benton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Accent on Youth) as Kimber; and Condola Rashad (Ruined) as Cheryl.

In addition to the original music by Keys and set designs by Gallo, the remaining creative team behind Diamond’s new hit play is comprised of  Reggie Ray (costume design); Beverly Emmons (lighting design); and Peter Fitzgerald (sound design).

At show’s end, guests resumed their conversations at the Opening Night party at The Copacabana where they were high on spirits and danced the night away.  The star-studded Opening Night guests included Phylicia Rashad, Cato June, Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee, Barbara Montgomery, Carl Nelson, Spencer Means, Andrian Lopez, Ahmad Rashad, Maggie Lawson, James Roday, Tracee Ellis Ross, Gayle King, Daniel Breaker, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Malik Yoba, Jeanne Parnell, Richard Habersham, Jr., Nadia Fattah, Jaleel White, Omar Miller, Donna Walker-Kuhne, Robin Roberts, Taraji P. Henson, Zoe Kravitz, John Earl Jelks, Nilo Cruz, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Terrie M. Williams and Zac Efron(Photo Credit: Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.)

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*Sistas: The Musical, the storied musical journey of African American women from Bessie Smith to Beyonce through Top-40 music officially opened on Sunday, October 23, 2011, Off-Broadway at the St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street) to rave reviews after a very successful run at the Midtown International Theater Festival.   Nightly, theatergoers happily leave the play with a smile on their face and humming one of the memorable songs from the full of fun musical.

The 90-minute musical sans intermission stars Jennifer Fouché, Amy Goldberger, Tracey Conyer Lee, April Nixon and Lexi Rhoades, and is produced by 3-time Tony winner Hinton Battle, and Jenkay, LLC (Jay Harris and William Franzblau).

The side-splitting fun play is written by Dorothy Marcic (writer of Respect: The Musical, which has played in 20 cities), and stunningly directed by Kenneth Ferrone.  All members of the play’s production team know a thing or two about successful musicals having all been involved in many hit musicals.  They can now add this play to their winning trophy case.

After a matriarch’s death, the women in the family clean Grandma’s attic and find love and old memories packed away, and in the process, hit tunes that trace the history of Black women, from the trials of the 1930s through the Girl Groups of the 60s to the empowerment of the 90s.

Three sisters (Jennifer Fouché, Tracey Conyer Lee and April Nixon); their white sister-in-law (Amy Goldberger); and Lexi Rhoades who plays April Nixon’s daughter prepare for the funeral of the family’s 92-year-old matriarch.  When we meet the sisters, they are in their grandmother’s attic as they prepare for an appropriate song to sing.

During their search, their individual experiences begin to unravel and they learn compelling things about each other that they never knew before including sexual abuse.  In the end they triumph over adversity becoming victors instead of victims from pain and fear.  All of this while singing a happy tune or a relatable song.

Sistas: The Musical is a warm and touching story about friendship and family.  Marcic’s true accounts of the Black woman’s spirituality resonate in her writing.  She truly captures our essence in a very engaging way.  “I wrote ‘Sistas The Musical‘ because I love the music of African American women,” states Marcic.  “And I saw how the music tells their story and how uplifting that story is.  It’s the story of love, of family, of overcoming obstacles and ultimate triumph of spirit.”

The 3-man soulful band — Nicholas Cheng (keyboard); Matt Cusack (bass); Brian Adler (percussion) — garnered deafening applause throughout the production playing hit after hit.  Many times, when you play in an intimate venue such as the St. Luke’s Theatre, a live band tends to drown out the performers.  This never happened here as the band accompanied the singers like a teacher does her class on a field trip.

Songs included “Oh, Happy Day,” “Mama Said,” “I Will Survive,” “Tyrone,” “I Am Not My Hair,” “We Are Family,” Stormy Weather,” Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “God Bless the Child,” Strange Fruit,” Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” “Milkshake,” Say a Little Prayer,” “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” and “A Woman’s Worth.”

During this Yuletide Season, when you make your list and check it twice, make sure that Sistas: The Musical is on it!  The creative team behind Sistas: the Musical includes Ed Staudenmayer (associate director); Nicholas Cheng (musical director); Germono Toussaint (additional arrangements); Lauren Lim Jackson (choreographer); Renee Marino (associate choreographer); Kia Rogers (lighting designer); Josh Iacovelli (set designer); Tricia Barsamian (costume designer); and Sam Mattingly (general press representative).

At show’s end guests joined the cast at an after party in an intimate room at the theater that was hosted by Marcic and the producers.  Guests lined up to offer their congratulations to the captivating cast and vowed that they would come back and bring their sisters with them.  (Photo Credit: Lawrence Gallmon)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

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