tarrell alvin and 'choir boy' cast

Choir Boy playwright Tarell Albin McCraney (center) is flanked by his celebrated cast from the critically acclaimed play at opening night after party (left to right): Wallace Smith, Nicholas L. Ashe, Jeremy Pope, Grantham Coleman, Kyle Beltran Chuck Cooper and Austin Pendleton

*Last month, a friend of mine wagged his tongue so much about the newest Off Broadway sensation Choir Boy that he got laryngitis.  And after seeing the play, and buoyed by the amazingly brilliant Manhattan Theatre Club’s American premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s production, I too became a Town Crier talking incessantly about the miracle play on 55th Street.

McCraney’s play about many social issues was soul searing.  And what made this play even more intense for me was that I saw it during the same time that the Supreme Court passed the same sex marriage law in California, the Paula Deen debacle about the “N” word and the Trayvon Martin travesty.  And thanks to the vast word of mouth treatment, this limited engagement production will now run through Sunday, August 4, 2013.

There are not enough adjectives to describe this transformative play about the coming of age for five young Black boys who attend a prep school that MTC bills as follows: “The Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is dedicated to the creation of strong, ethical Black men.  Pharus (Jeremy Pope) wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school’s legendary gospel choir.  Can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key?”

No one stays in his lane in this life-changing play directed by Trip Cullman and featuring an amazingly gifted cast that includes Nicholas L. Ashe (The Lion King), Kyle Beltran (In The Heights), Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper (The Piano Lesson), Grantham Coleman (As You Like It), Austin Pendleton (Ivanov), Jeremy Pope (Little Shop of Horrors) and Wallace Smith (American Idiot).

Each student comes to the school with his own problems that McCraney unravels boy- by-boy in a very unorthodox but memorable manner.  There is a gay issue that permeates the play but the playwright leaves you to figure out who the main players are.  Then there’s the “N” word and McCraney nails it by showing the stupidity of the use of the word.  And let’s not forget the underlying sentiment layered throughout the play, “growing up Black in America.”  And did I mention the “going to church” music?  These young men sang the gospel truth!  And as I waited in a long line for the ladies room, one thing the play did do was to start a dialogue about race relations.  Bravo, Mr. Playwright!

The creative team for the new MTC production of Choir Boy includes David Zinn (scenic and costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Fitz Patton (sound design) and Jason Michael Webb (music director).

The play opened on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at MTC’s The Studio at Stage II – Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Series at New York City Center – at 131 West 55th Street, NYC for a limited engagement.  Commissioned by MTC with support from Time Warner Inc., Choir Boy opened at London’s Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in a co-production with MTC and was hailed by critics.  Choir Boy is a co-production with Alliance Theatre.

Performance schedule through Sunday, August 4: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 PM: Matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 PM.  Tickets are available at the New York City Center Box Office (131 West 55th Street), CityTix (212-581-1212), and www.nycitycenter.org.  In order to ensure that tickets to Choir Boy are affordable to the widest possible, most diverse audiences, MTC is pricing tickets at $30 for the initial run of the show.  For more information on MTC, visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com. Follow MTC on Twitter: @MTC_NYC or on Facebook

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in Romeo and Juliet

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad starring in Romeo and Juliet

*Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey of Front Row Productions have joined the team of producers for the Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet, which is set to open at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre on Thursday, September 19, 2013 following preview performances from Saturday, August 24, 2013.  The award-winning producers will join Susan Bristow in presenting this star-studded retelling of one of William Shakespeare’s best known and most beloved plays.

In keeping with their effort to reach broader audiences for their theater productions, the producers have announced that 100 tickets per performance will be set aside at $20 for purchase by students and educators.

International film star Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings) and two-time Tony Award nominee Condola Rashad (Stick Fly, The Trip to Bountiful) will play the star-crossed lovers in this new production of Romeo and Juliet, which will be directed by five-time Tony Award nominee David Leveaux (Arcadia, Cyrano de Bergerac, Nine, The Glass Menagerie, Jumpers).

The creative team includes scenic designer Jesse Poleshuck (Sly Fox), costume designer Fabio Toblini, lighting designer David Weiner (The Normal Heart, Grace), sound designer David Van Tieghem (The Lyons, Doubt), and hair designer David Brian Brown (Death of a Salesman, Follies).

The production also features Tony Award-winning actor Brent Carver (Kiss of the Spider Woman) as Friar Laurence, two-time Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell (Well, Follies) as the Nurse, Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper (The Life, “House Of Cards”) as Lord Capulet, Christian Camargo (All My Sons, The Hurt Locker) as Mercutio, Roslyn Ruff (The Piano Lesson, The Help) as Lady Capulet, Conrad Kemp(HBO’s “The Girl”, Jerome Salle’s Zulu) as Benvolio, Justin Guarini (American Idiot, Women on the Verge…)as Paris, Corey Hawkins as Tybalt, and Geoffrey Owens as Prince Escalus; also Donte Bonner, Joe Carroll, Don Guillory, Sheria Irving, Maurice Jones, Eric Loscheider, Spencer Plachy, Michael Rudko, Tracy Sallows, Thomas Schall, Carolyn Michelle Smith and Nance Williamson.

The new production will mark the first time in 36 years that Romeo and Juliet will be produced on Broadway. This version of the classic tale will retain Shakespeare’s original language but have a modern setting that features Romeo and Juliet as an interracial couple at the center of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. It has also been conceived with the Capulets as an all-Black family and the Montagues as an all-White household.

Reimagining theatrical classics with African Americans or multiracial casts is a specialty for Byrd, Jones-Harvey and Front Row Productions. The company is dedicated to producing quality theatrical productions, and Byrd and Jones-Harvey are bringing shows to Broadway that are meeting with both critical acclaim and financial success. The only African American lead producers on Broadway, Byrd and Jones-Harvey have brought a unique brand of diversity to New York Theater by mounting new productions of beloved classic plays with racially diverse casts. The company also strives to employ a diverse staff for its productions.

“We have had great success in bringing mainstream projects to Broadway with nontraditional casting because it works on so many levels,” says Byrd. “It reinforces the universality of the themes in great theatrical works; it allows actors of color to take on great roles; and it brings new audiences into the theater.”

“We want to breathe new life into classic works and into Broadway itself,” added Jones-Harvey. “Our goal is to mount excellent productions of great plays and musicals in a way that makes them accessible to the broadest possible audience, and it’s working better than we imagined it could.”

In 2012, Byrd and Jones-Harvey brought a multiracial production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, to Broadway for another successful run. The play, which received rave reviews and a Tony-nomination, was also successful at attracting large, diverse audiences to its performances. A Streetcar Named Desire featured two-time Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood in his Broadway debut as Stanley, Nicole Ari Parker (“Soul Food”) as Blanche DuBois, Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent) as Stella and Wood Harris (“The Wire”) as Mitch. Directed by Emily Mann (artistic director of Princeton’s esteemed McCarter Theatre), it featured an original score by five-time Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof garnered praise from critics and audiences alike, and was the biggest grossing play on Broadway in Spring, 2008. The Broadway production’s all-star cast featured award-winning entertainment industry icon James Earl Jones, Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad, Academy Award-winning actor Terrence Howard, who made his Broadway debut in the role of Brick, and Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose, with Debbie Allen as director. The play was transferred to London’s West End in the 2009-2010 season, where Adrian Lester and Sanaa Lathan joined the cast. The West End observed record new audiences for the production, and it received the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Byrd and Jones-Harvey are among the producers of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful, currently on Broadway and featuring African Americans in the lead roles. In 2012, Byrd and Jones-Harvey brought a revival of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, to Broadway for another successful run, with African Americans in the lead roles.

New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets.  Contact her via: [email protected]

audrey bernard

Audrey J. Bernard