When my friend Kevin-Anthony asked if I would write the script for his 3rd annual "Black 2: Broadway" Tony Awards viewing party (held at B.B. King's Lucille Room), I immediately jumped on it because - like the previous years - I knew that I would be a part of history as the words about the honorees would be mine... and what a way to have my words show up but through the inspiration of people like Tony-award-winning choreographer George Faison. The words seem to move the audience, so I will share here.
On this past Sunday, Anthony and I had to do a costume change from our New Rochelle appointment to our more formal evening appointment in Times Square, but we know how to shift quickly.
DIVA OF ALL DIVAS Jenifer Lewis hosted alongside popular MTV personality Sway Calloway.
My words introduced her as follows:
OUR DIVA CO-HOST TONIGHT HAS BROUGHT US SO MUCH JOY VIA THE SPECTRUM OF FILM, TELEVISION, AND STAGE, HER ACTUAL “RESUME” WOULD HAVE US HERE ALL NIGHT… IF WE WERE TO READ IT.
BUT TO TOUCH ON SOME KEY POINTS:
- SHE IS A ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI NATIVE.
- YOUNGEST OF SEVEN CHILDREN
- AFTER GRADUATING FROM WEBSTER COLLEGE, SHE PACKED HER BAGS FOR "THE BIG APPLE" (NEW YORK CITY… ) AND HAS BEEN BITING EVER SINCE!
GETTING HER START IN CONSECUTIVE HIT BROADWAY MUSICALS INCLUDING “EUBIE”, “COMIN’ UPTOWN”, AND “DREAMGIRLS”, SHE SET HER CAREER IN MOTION.
BUT THEN, SHE TOOK HER ACT ON THE ROAD – TOURING WITH “THE DIVINE MISS BETTE MIDLER” AS AN INFAMOUS “HARLOTTE”.
NO SHOCK: HOLLYWOOD THEN CAME A CALLING AND HAVE YET TO LET HER GO. FROM PLAYING TINA TURNER’S MOTHER IN “WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT” TO WHITNEY’S MAMA IN “THE PREACHER’S WIFE”, WE HAVE SEEN HER STEAL SCENES --- FILM AFTER FILM: ABOUT 45 OF THEM TO BE EXACT.
AND HER BEAUTY AND TALENT HAVE GRACED A NEAR ONE-HUNDRED TV DRAMAS AND SITCOMS – INCLUDING AN AWESOMELY GENIUS, RECURRING TURN AS “TONI’S MOM” IN “GIRLFRIENDS”.
BUT WE’D BE REMISS IF WE DIDN’T REFERENCE HER TOUR DE FORCE IN A CABLE MOVIE THAT HAS BECOME BELOVED BY THE BROADWAY BABIES AND “THE KIDS” AROUND THE WAY. IT’S “JACKIE’S BACK” IN WHICH SHE PORTRAYED “JACKIE WASHINGTON” THAT WILL ALWAYS PLACE A SMILE ON OUR FACES.
TRUTH BE TOLD, ALL SHE NEED BE IS HERSELF… AND THAT’S WHO WE’VE GOT TONIGHT. LADIES & GENTLEMEN, MISS JENNIFER LEWIS!!!!!
And I shouted Sway out like this:WELL, IF AT THE BEGINNING OF MTV, MICHAEL JACKSON AND PRINCE HAD A HARD TIME GETTING THEIR IMPRESSIONS ON THE SCREEN, IT’S NO WONDER THAT “SWAY” CONTINUES TO BE ONE OF THE FEW “CHIPS” IN THE TV PERSONALITY POOL AT THE POPULAR CABLE NETWORK.
AND YET, WITH GRACE, EDGE, AND INTELLECT… HE REPRESENTS… AND WELL!
FROM THE RED CARPETS OF MTV’S VARIOUS AWARDS SHOWS TO AWARD-WINNING SPECIALS THAT DECONSTRUCT THE GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY OF HIP-HOP, SWAY IS ON THE PULSE OF WHAT’S GOING ON IN ENTERTAINMENT AND – IN PARTICULAR – WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH OUR YOUNG FOLKS.
AND TO HAVE HIM EXTENDING HIS TALENTS TO “BROADWAY” TONIGHT PLEASES US IMMENSELY.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE GIVE A BIG BROADWAY OVATION TO:
Kevin-Anthony, who founded BLACK 2: BROADWAY with Sean Hollingsworth, performed a beautiful "If You Believe" (from "The Wiz") for the masses ( www.b2productions.xbuild.com/ ) as artist Jeremiah (http://www.jeremiahonline.com/) performed "What Would I Do If I Could Feel" (the Tin Man's song from "The Wiz"). Miss Lewis got a little help from a friend, Tony-award winning Adrienne Lenox (who co-starred opposite Diana Ross in "Double Platinum") on a brilliantly campy and touching rendition of "Home". This, because the evening saluted the legendary Broadway production of 'The Wiz'. This is how I shouted that moment out in words:
WELL, IF YOU’RE OVER A CERTAIN AGE… AND IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SO OLD. IT COULD BE 35…. MAYBE 30 YEARS OLD…. YOU KNOW THAT BEFORE THERE WAS A MOVIE CALLED “THE WIZ”, THERE WAS A BROADWAY MUSICAL THAT TURNED “BROADWAY” OUT.
ONCE THIS ADAPTATION OF L. FRANK BAUM’S “THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ” CAME TO LIFE, BROADWAY WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME.
IT FEATURED EXCLUSIVELY: AFRICAN AMERICAN ACTORS. PERHAPS NOTHING NEW.
BUT “THE WIZ” WAS A BREAKTHROUGH UNDER THE AMBITIOUS AND NO-HOLDS-BARRED VISION OF ITS DIRECTOR, THE GREAT GEOFFREY HOLDER. WE’RE TALKING LARGE-SCALE AND BIG-BUDGET, WHICH LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN HITS TO COME, LIKE “SOPHISTICATED LADIES” AND “DREAMGIRLS”.
“THE WIZ” OPENED IN JANUARY 1975 AT THE MAJESTIC THEATER TO RAVE REVIEWS. IT LATER MOVED TO THE BROADWAY THEATRE. IT RAN FOR FOUR YEARS AND OVER 16-HUNDRED PERFORMANCES.
“THE WIZ” WON SEVEN TONY AWARDS, INCLUDING BEST MUSICAL.
AND SOME OF THOSE SPECIAL PEOPLE WHO WERE “EASING ON DOWN THE ROAD” INCLUDE: STEPHANIE MILLS AT THE HELM AS DOROTHY…. HINTON BATTLE AS THE SCARECROW…. AND TIGER HAYNES AS THE TIN MAN…
HERE TONIGHT… 32 YEARS LATER… WE CELEBRATE --- FOR ALL OF THE JOY ITS BROUGHT SO MANY GIRLS AND BOYS; MEN AND WOMEN; GAY AND STRAIGHT ---- “THE WIZ”.
AND TONIGHT, TO ACCEPT:
“THE WIZ” HIMSELF… ANDRE DESHIELDS!!!
“ABERLENE”…. CLARICE TAYLOR!!!!
“THE TINMAN”…. HOWARD PORTER
ONE OF THE “TORNADO DANCERS”…. ARLENE ROLANDT.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE CAST OF “THE WIZ”!!!!!!
Andre Deshields reprised "If You Believe" as he and members of the original cast basked in their ovations, including Ben Harney Jr. who was one of the original Scarecrows (and who originated the role of "Curtis" in "Dreamgirls"). Last year, Harney got the chance to be honored with some of his original cast-mates of "Dreamgirls" including Jennifer Holliday. Holliday also hosted that 2006 affair that had so many of us waiting with baited breath to see what "The Color Purple" would do. (Meanwhile, we enjoyed Miss Holliday's stirring rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" one more glorious time). In the end, it only took home one trophy and my friend LaChanze received it. I got to celebrate with her afterwards last year.
Back to this year, George Faison was honored twice. As a part of this group, he was celebrated. But he also received the Legend Award. My script honors him as follows:
HE’S THE FIRST BLACK TO WIN THE TONY AWARD IN THE CATEGORY OF CHOREOGRAPHY.
THE YEAR WAS 1975.
THE SHOW? “THE WIZ”.
THAT DISTINCTION ALONE MAKES HIM “LEGENDARY” AND AN “ICON”, BUT HE CONTINUES TO DELIVER ON ONE OF THE MOST SPARKLING CAREERS ANYONE HAS EVER SEEN.
THIS LANDMARK MOMENT PUNCTUATED AN ALREADY-SUCCESSFUL DANCING CAREER IN HIT SHOWS LIKE “PURLIE” AND “SINNER MAN”.
AS CHOREOGRAPHER, HE CONTINUED TO OUT-DO HIMSELF WITH BROADWAY WORKS LIKE 1983’S “PORGY AND BESS” FOR WHICH HE WAS ALSO NOMINATED…
BUT HE TOO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHOREOGRAPHY THAT MANY OF OUR R&B GREATS TOOK ON THE ROAD – INCLUDING MOST NOTABLY THE BIG PRODUCTIONS OF “EARTH, WIND, AND FIRE”.
THEN, THERE WAS THE EMMY NOD FOR HIS BRILLIANT WORK WITH LYNN WHITFIELD IN “THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY”.
ON AND ON, WE COULD GO WITH EXAMPLES OF HIS GREATNESS…. AND ON AND ON, HE GOES TO DELIVER EVIDENCE OF IT.
HE’S CURRENTLY GOT “IF THIS HAT COULD TALK” ON THE ROAD. IT’S A ROUSING MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO CIVIL RIGHTS ICON DOROTHY HEIGHT. AND IT’S RECEIVING RAVES ALL OVER THE NATION. AND IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, HE WAS FEATURED ON BET’S REALITY SHOW, “ONE NIGHT ONLY” – ABOUT THE NEW ORLEANS HIGH-SCHOOLERS WHO STAGED “DREAMGIRLS” JUST AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA HIT.
ALSO, HE’S CURRENTLY WORKSHOPPING --- AS WRITER AND DIRECTOR --- E. LYNN HARRIS’ “INVISIBLE LIFE”, WHICH HAS BEEN ADAPTED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL FEATURING ORIGINAL MUSIC FROM ASHFORD & SIMPSON.
HE NEVER STOPS… AND KEEPS POSING THE QUESTION: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”… SIMPLY BECAUSE HE KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING.
THAT’S WHY OUR “BLACK 2: BROADWAY” LIVING LEGEND IS NONE OTHER THAN: GEORGE FAISON!!!
And Freddie Jackson came to the stage to perform a flawless "You Are My Lady" for Broadway icon Irene Gandy, who I honored as follows:
OUR VANGUARD AWARD RECIPIENT TOO IS AN ICON IN THE BUSINESS OF “BROADWAY”.
JUST THIS YEAR ALONE, SHE IS ATTACHED TO 11 TONY NOMINATIONS FOR “SPRING AWAKENING” AND FOUR NOMINATIONS FOR “RADIO GOLF”.
THIS, BECAUSE SHE STUMBLED INTO A CAREER IN THEATER 40-OR-SO YEARS AGO???
SOUNDS LIKE A BROADWAY MUSICAL, BUT IT’S NOT. IT’S HER LIFE.
WHILE RAISING A DAUGHTER, THE LONG-ISLAND NATIVE DID A QUICK STINT IN THE MID-SIXTIES… AS AN ACTRESS.
THE NEGRO ENSEMBLE COMPANY WAS ONE OF THE OUTLETS FOR WHICH SHE PERFORMED. AND SHE WOULD SOON THEREAFTER GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A “PUBLICIST” OR “PRESS AGENT” FOR THIS HISTORIC COMPANY THAT HAS GIVEN BIRTH TO SO MANY OF OUR BLACK ACTORS.
AND WITH HER ENGAGING, FLAMBOYANT WAY…SHE BEGAN TO GET LOTS AND LOTS OF PRESS FOR THE N-E-C, THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO DO SO… FOR BROADWAY AND OFF-BROADWAY!!!
AND SINCE THEN, SHE’S DONE MORE THAN 100 BRAODWAY SHOWS – FROM “BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR” TO “THE WIZ” TO LENA HORNE’S “THE LADY AND HER MUSIC”.
SHE TOO WORKED WITH THE POPULAR SOUL/ROCK GROUP “LABELLE” – AS AN INDEPENDENT PRESS AGENT ON THE TRIO’S LEGENDARY 1975 METROPOLITAN OPERA PERFORMANCE – THE FIRST ROCK CONCERT AT THE FAMED MUSIC HALL.
THAT MOMENT LED TO MORE PUBLICITY WORK AT CBS RECORDS AND AN AWESOME CAREER THAT HAS MADE SURE OUR SHOWS (AND ALL SHOWS) ARE SEEN… AND REVIEWED!
SHE TRULY HAS BEEN AND CONTINUES TO BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF ALL THINGS “BLACK”, “BROADWAY”, AND BEYOND, WHICH IS WHY SHE’S OUR 2007 RECIPIENT OF THE “BLACK 2: BROADWAY” VANGUARD AWARD.
My friend Marcia Pendelton was in the house and helped do much of the marketing for this event. She's always the difference to me as it relates to getting my culture on - so it was wonderful to share this night with her. (www.walktallgirlproductions.com/). So many other friends and familiar faces - from "AOL Black Voices" entertainment guru Karu Daniels to MTV radio's Bridget Bland to my Morehouse brother Khalid. Also, Anthony and I got to chat with Kym Whitley who was in town for a comedy show. (www.kymwhitley.net/)
By the way, Jennifer Lewis is currently doing a new one-woman show "Bipolar, Bath, & Beyond".
Oh! And of course, we watched "The Tony's" during these pressentations and performances. Everyone was blown away by Miss Fantasia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0-NlqvB3sY
This year's event was co-sponsored by Baccarat Fine Crystal and had promotional support from Paramount Pictures and American Airlines.
Proceeds of the ticket sales are being donated to the Black Aids Institute.