Golden Boy lead Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) with trainer Tokio (Danny Burstein)

Golden Boy lead Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) with trainer Tokio (Danny Burstein)

*That golden glow emanating from the bustling theater district is from the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street, NYC) where Lincoln Center Theater, under the direction of André Bishop, artistic director, and Bernard Gersten, executive producer, are presenting the 75th   anniversary revival of Clifford Odets‘s hit boxing drama Golden Boy.

The critically acclaimed play enjoyed a star-studded Opening Night on Thursday, December 6, 2012 at the same theatre where it premiered in 1937.  A post-performance fete followed at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, New York City.

The boxing drama — resplendently directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher — was first produced on Broadway in 1937 by the legendary Group Theatre.  Clifford Odets’s drama focuses on one man’s struggle to choose between making a name for himself through art or commerce.  Commerce wins out as the man defies his family and a promising career as a classical musician for a shot at immortality in the boxing ring.

Golden Boy — that takes place in New York City (1936-1937) — is the story of Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), a promising young, gifted violinist who forsakes his family and artistic dreams for the lure of fame and fortune in the ring.  Surrounding this prizefighter is a cache of colorful characters that try to shape and guide this self-destructive champion.  In the end, it’s the seductive promise of the American dream that betrays Joe as it did for so many in the Depression years.

Seth Numrich is Golden Boy!  And I hope the Tony Award doesn’t elude him as it did Sammy Davis Jr. who brought color to an earlier adaptation.  Like Davis, Numrich puts his body and soul into the lead role.  One is easily transported to a sports arena and experiences what goes on before and after a fight in the locker room – the agony of defeat and the joy of winning.

The road to a successful Broadway production is filled with gloriously gifted cast members who assist in making a play a “must see” production.  For Golden Boy its: Michael Aronov, Danny Burstein, Demosthenes Chrysan, Anthony Crivello, Sean Cullen, Dagmara Dominczyk, Ned Eisenberg, Brad Fleischer, Karl Glusman, Jonathan Hadary, Daniel Jenkins, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Dion Mucciacito, Vayu O’Donnell, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Tony Shalhoub, Yvonne Strahovski and David Wohl.

Golden Boy is a tour de force.  From the soulful acting to the amazing sets to the special sound effects and superb lighting, one can easily get caught up in the splendor of the ring and its seduction.  And what would any credible fight story be without a “dame?”  Take a much deserved bow, Yvonne Strahovski, who puts her fingerprints all over the role as Joe’s love interest – right down to the devastating end.  Numrich and Strahovski have that magical something that evades most stage couples . . . chemistry!  The play might be old but the truth serum behind its attraction to young men wanting to be boxers resonates to this very day – fame, money and women.

Golden Boy boasts sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg and fight direction by B.H. Barry.

Loyal theatergoers are giving this five-star production high praise.  Golden Boy’s legacy dates back to 1937 when Odets’s heavy drama was produced without music as part of New York’s Group Theater and featured Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan and Francis Farmer.  In 1952 John Garfield starred in the Broadway revival of the play.  William Holden starred in the title film version (1939) that garnered rave reviews and boosted him to star status.

But it was Sammy Davis Jr. who put his luminosity all over the title role winning for him a Tony Award nomination in 1974.  Davis made his Broadway musical debut in the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams transformation of Odets’s original play that was directed by little known Arthur Penn who went on to become a great film director.  Davis’s presence added a racial theme to this prize-winning role and still to this day many avid theatergoers say he was robbed of the Tony award.  (Photos by Jenny Anderson @Broadway.com)

 

Yvonne Strahovski and Seth Numrich

Golden Boy stars Yvonne Strahovski and Seth Numrich at star-studded Opening Night Premiere

*Michelle Williams Joins Touring Production of FELA!Producers Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith and Ruth & Stephen Hendel recently announced that Grammy Award-winning recording artist and former member of Destiny’s Child Michelle Williams will join the national tour of the hit Award-winning Broadway musical Fela! when it opens at Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, DC on January 29.  Fela! received three 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Choreography.

“I am thrilled to join the cast of Fela!,” said Michelle.  “This musical journey is one that I’ve wanted to be a part of since first seeing it on stage in 2008.  The sounds, the passion and the politics of Fela Kuti have long intrigued me and speak to my heart. I am simply honored.”

A triumphant and inspirational tale of courage, passion and love, Fela! is the true story of Kuti, who created a type of music, Afrobeat, and mixed these pounding eclectic rhythms (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies) with rousing lyrics that openly attacked the corrupt and oppressive military dictatorships that ruled Nigeria and much of Africa.

Featuring many of Fela Kuti’s most captivating songs and Bill T. Jones’s visionary staging, the global phenomenon that is Fela! reveals Kuti’s controversial life as an artist and political activist, while at the same time celebrating his pioneering music and commitment to the cause of universal human dignity.

Fela! is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones, with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones, it was conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel.

A multi-award winning international singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress, Michelle Williams is best known as a member of the record-breaking R&B and Pop sensation, Destiny’s Child, one of the world’s best-selling female groups of all time.

Born and raised in the small Chicago suburb of Rockford, Illinois, Michelle always dreamed of a life on stage.  Fiercely guided by her faith and raised with a strong family core, Michelle was certain that one day she’d be a superstar.  During her teenage years, she directed church and community choirs; a platform that not only served to develop her distinct voice but also her independence and dexterity as an artist.

Throughout her career in Destiny’s Child, Michelle explored solo terrain by releasing two gospel recordings: the award-winning “Heart To Yours” (2002), which featured collaboration with the legendary Shirley Caesar, and “Do You Know” (2004).

At the end of 2008, Michelle joined forces with producer Rico Love and created a fresh and innovative sound on her dance/pop album, “Unexpected.”  The first single released from the album, “We Break the Dawn,” quickly became a huge club hit, topping the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play and Hot Dance Airplay charts.  For fans of her subtle and smooth work in Destiny’s Child, as well as her soul-stirring spiritual solo work, this was a brand-new Michelle Williams.

In between recordings and concert tours, Michelle has conquered yet another challenging mountain as an actress.  First, she took the reins of Broadway’s Aida in 2003 to critical acclaim and audience raves.  Then, in 2006, she took to the television screen for a hotly touted, ground-breaking multi-episode run in the popular UPN sitcom “Half & Half,” where she played the role of Naomi, a record company executive who is HIV-positive.  Later that year, she was featured on FOX’s successful “Celebrity Duets” series.

In 2007, Michelle took on her greatest acting challenge when she joined the cast of the Broadway smash, The Color Purple for its national tour.  She dazzled in the role of Shug Avery.  In 2009, Michelle joined the London West End production of Chicago where she made history as being the first African American woman to play the lead role of Roxie Hart.  She reprised her role in February 2010 on Broadway for a limited engagement.  In 2011, Michelle starred in the acclaimed touring stage play What My Husband Doesn’t Know which is now showing on BET.

Back on the music front, Michelle’s latest international single, “On The Run” released in the UK in 2011 and peaked at #4 on Commercial Pop Top 30 Club charts.  She collaborated with dance-pop diva, Ultra Naté (Ultra Naté & Michelle Williams) on dance song “Waiting On You” in 2012, Billboard Dance/Club Play charts at #12 (from #17). Michelle is currently in the recording studio working on new material for her pop inspirational album due in 2013.

Michelle is a passionate spokesperson for TERI (Training Education & Research Institute) a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and adults with developmental and learning disabilities.  She also works with the American Heart Association as an ambassador for the American Stroke Association.  Michelle recently became a spokesperson for NVEEE (National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment), an organization focused on preventing bullying, violence and suicide among young people.

Fela! had its world premiere Off-Broadway in the summer of 2008, and opened on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neil Theater to rapturous reviews a year later where it played 34 previews and 463 regular performances.  Numerous celebrities and dignitaries caught the groundbreaking musical, including First Lady Michelle Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Kanye West, Oprah Winfrey and Hugh Jackman, among others.

Prior to its closing on Broadway, London’s Royal National Theatre presented the production as part of its season in the fall of 2010, marking the first time ever that the National Theatre had presented a show that was simultaneously running on Broadway.

There, too, the show received rave reviews and numerous awards and accolades.  The show went on to tour internationally, selling out theaters in Nigeria, Amsterdam, a return stint in London then a successful tour across the United States, culminating in an acclaimed encore four-week engagement on Broadway during the summer of 2012.

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

 

audrey bernard

Audrey J. Bernard