Today Ant, one of his Denver-based Amazing Graces (best friend) Manivone, and I got the chance to attend a meet-‘n-greet with the cast of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” (http://www.cat2008onbroadway.com/), which has a limited Broadway engagement that starts February 12 and is scheduled to close (for now) on April 13. I blogged about it once before: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/12/16/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof.html but today, an intimate circle of arts and entertainment press got photo opportunities and an engaging press conference to present this piece that is fully African American-casted and directed by Debbie Allen. This will be the first African-American production approved by the Williams estate for the Broadway stage. And today is the first day that the cast got together to do the table read at New 42nd Street Theater (www.duke.new42.org/) on the classic about greed and lies in a Mississippi family. And lead producer Front Row Productions’ Stephen Byrd ( www.frontrowvideos.com/ ), African American, has brought together an impressive collective of African American co-producers, like my friend, the fierce and fashionable [READ: Yves Saint Laurent - www.ysl.com/ ] Nicole Kidd (who – like me – considers the often-BLOG-referenced ‘fabulous Carl Nelson’ and ‘my Chicago Carl’ close buddies). Byrd offers: “…This revival of Cat is not only making Broadway history, it is making American theatre and black theatre history too! …” Today’s gathering brought in lots of my colleagues and friends in the business like Carl, who accompanied Jacqueline Lee, who is the Senior Multicultural Brand Manager at Diageo ( www.diageo.com/ ), a premium liquor company. My buddy Karu Daniels was there ( http://blackvoices.aol.com/black_entertainment or http://www.blackvoicesblogs.com/category/entertainment-newswire ). He is the Entertainment Blogger/Producer/Reporter-extraordinaire for AOL/Black Voices and mastermind behind “The Bridge” with our girl Ledisi and Broadway babe a la “Color Purple” Chaka Khan (http://www.blackvoices.com/thebridge); Director of Photography for “Access Hollywood” ( www.accesshollywood.com/ ) Darryl Henry, a friend from back-in-our-days at CNBC ( www.cnbc.com/ ), where likely I last saw him in the late ‘90s. There was also my Marcia Pendelton with Walk Tall Girl Productions (http://www.walktallgirlproductions.com). Pictured above with producer Stephen Byrd and me, she is responsible for our invitation to attend this special gathering. Michael Musto of “Village Voice” fame (and my fellow co-host on the pilot that didn’t get picked up, “tvQ”) was there. For the second time in as many weeks, I ran into buddy Patrik (without the “c”) Henry Bass, Books Editor at Essence Magazine ( www.essence.com/ ). And my Morehouse brother Michael K. Watts was also there. Then, there was this amazing cast – each of whom gave me a moment to reflect on ‘how I met them’ or ‘where I interviewed them before’. After that 30-seconds-to-a-minute, I get my snapshot and excuse myself as they are greeting so many people, I don’t like to bombard them without end. And they were all on board and excited to play with the press, including what I hear is a “Vanity Fair” Magazine shoot ( www.VanityFair.com ). Now, let me just break this down – so you understand the impressiveness of this theatrical effort. I’ll say it again. The incomparable Debbie Allen is directing this project. Manivone shot my pic with Debbie. Later, I wanted to get one of she and Ant. With camera in hand, I called her over “Miss Allen? Can I get a picture with you?” As she’s extending her arms around the small of my back, I’m gesturing for Ant to come on over as I wanted to take the picture of them. The moment was milliseconds, but on a busy day like today, the sassy Miss Allen doesn’t have time for us to figure it out. She exclaims “Well, do you want me to take the picture?” Knowing she was joking, but also trying to keep it moving, I nervously stay in place – holding onto her. Ant jumps to the other side of Miss Allen to bookend her, I hand the camera to Manivone, and Ant got his picture (although with me). We thanked her, she received our thanks, and she continued on towards her next interview. Meanwhile, we all laughed at ourselves – feeling like we were one of the “Fame” kids – taking instruction from Ms. Lydia Grant.
During my chat with Tony-award-winning Phylicia Rashad, I remind her that – like her son – I am a Morehouse Man ( www.morehouse.edu/ ). She received that tid-bit with much enthusiasm. Then, there was Academy Award and Golden globe nominee Terrence Howard whose great grandmother Minnie Gentry was a successful New York stage actress ( www.cinemorgue.com/minniegentry.html ). But if you read this entry of “A Day in the Life of Riley: Pop Culture & Possibilities” - http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/9/27/is-that-me-i-dont-recognize.html, you’ll know that Ant has a small part in Terrence Howard’s upcoming film “Fighting” (scheduled for August 2008 release). When Ant reminds him that he was a day-player on the film for three days, Terrence asks “Which role were you?”. Ant responds “Man in cow-hide suit”. Terrence immediately recalls “… at Marquee…”, which is the hip, Chelsea-club where they shot the scene ( www.marqueeny.com/ ). So, he remembered Ant and we can’t wait to see what of his part makes the cut in August. Stay tuned. Another Tony-award-winner (“Caroline or Change”) Anika Noni Rose, who received international exposure via her role as Lorrell in the hit film “Dreamgirls”, was total joy. Ant and I had the chance to meet her on our 2nd anniversary at the Brooklyn set which featured our Ledisi as the featured entertainment for the night, but Anika was comfortably dressed with no fuss. Today, she was letting them have it. Elizabeth Taylor’s “Maggie” had nothing on FAMU grad Anika, whose take on the classic character we are excited to see. Then, there was James Earl Jones, who I just LOVE – especially as the garbage man from “Claudine” with Diahann Carroll. He was so pleasant and kind. As Brenda Braxton and her husband Anthony Van Putten extended lovely gifts from their Harlem pride “B Braxton” Grooming for Men (www. bbraxton.com/ ), I let Mr. Jones, who said he didn’t have a New-York-City barber, know that I am a client. Then, we got to meet some of the supporting cast. There was Lisa Arrindell Anderson, who I have loved since she played Debbie Allen’s boss in NBC’s “In The House” (with LL Cool J). Remember? Then, two cast-members who are pop-culturally responsible for my going to Morehouse or some historically black college or university: Lou Myers (from the Den in “A Different World”) and Giancarlo Esposito (“Big Brother Almighty” from Spike Lee’s “School Daze”). And remember Miss Barbara Montgomery? She is best known for her role as Casseita Hetebrink on the NBC sitcom “Amen”. She was there. I love my sitcom actors, hear? The "strictly limited engagement" of the Pulitzer Prize-honored drama “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will run at the Broadhurst Theatre. Tickets are currently on sale through April 13. For tickets, visit www.telecharge.com or by call (212) 239-6200. For more information, visit www.Cat2008onBroadway.com.
The 42nd Street space is a stone’s throw from my friend the New Professional Theatre (NPT), which is a performance/rehearsal space for work-shopping new plays and musicals ( www.newprofessionaltheatre.org/ ) This past Monday, there was a -reading of Katori Hall's latest play "Hurt Village" ( www.briconline.org/pdf/bricstudio/Katori_Hall.pdf ). Ms. Hall's "Voodoo Love" recently played at the Cherry Lane Theatre in The Village to wonderful notices. Ms. Hall is being mentored by Lynn Nottage (“Crumbs from the Table of Joy” & “Intimate Apparel”) and is a hot new playwright to watch. CONGRATS NPT!
My friend Gwendolyn Quinn (firstname.lastname@example.org) is publicizing an event scheduled for Monday, January 21st at The Blue Note Jazz Club (www.bluenote.net). Producer and songwriter Barry Eastmond will be honored by special guests Freddie Jackson, Elisabeth Withers, Kenny Lattimore, and Gordon Chambers. Barry has been in the business for 25 years – earning over 60 gold, platinum, and multi-platinum albums on some of the most important contemporary artists in music history. His creative magic has been responsible for mega hit records by some of today's top recording superstars including Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Brandy, Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Tamia, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams, Kenny Lattimore, Michael Bolton, Freddie Jackson, Al Jarreau, Will Downing, Vanessa Williams, Regina Belle, Barry White, George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Gerald Albright and newcomer Elisabeth Withers, just to name a few.
My friend Greg Dunmore, who I’ve reference here before, came to town for New Year’s. He took Ant and me to dinner at our favorite Houston’s last week – just after we rang in 2008 ( www.hillstone.com/ ). It was there he shared with us that he is producing an event in Detroit called “A NEW KIND OF GLAMOUR: NO BLACK TIE BOW WOW GALA” which will benefit the Michigan Humane Society (http://www.pulsebeat.tv/ or call 313.861.7804). The Gala will take place on Friday, January 18, from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. at the Former Mark England Store on Woodward in Downtown Detroit, which is known for many-a-formal-gala. This event, however, is targeting a younger, trendy audience that seeks to redefine gala fashion protocol through abandoning black ties, tuxes, and traditional evening wear for a more personalized creative glamour statement. There will be lots of music, art, and dance while guests enjoy hors d’oeurves and refreshments. Noted performance artist Ziam, my spiritual Diana Ross soul mate, will highlight the evening with his highly acclaimed Liquid Silver Show, an electric mix of fashion, song and movement, which I’ve talked about before (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/11/12/manifest-destiny-destination-manila.html). Greg, who is my co-Chair for the National Association of Black Journalists’ Arts & Entertainment Task Force (www.nabj.org), has covered so much of the entertainment business and seen so much via his roles as journalist, columnist, artist manager, artist, etc. He once managed 90s group Hi Five and spin-off soloist Tony Thompson. He told us of how he introduced the guys to the legendary jazz chanteuse Nancy Wilson and how they received her warmly and with much reverence, though initially had no clue who she was. Greg reminded Ant and me that A&M executive John McClain (son of jazz legend Dorthey Donegan - www.dorothydonegan.com/ ) is responsible for connecting Janet Jackson to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – so they can record “Control”. And here 21-years-later, she’s open for “Feedback”, the video of which premiered tonight on BET (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lVHJmJVI88) – showing Miss Jackson in her own world.
After McClain and Janet parted ways a few projects into her hit-making groove, he helped launch Shanice inside of a Janet-esque template (http://tw.youtube.com/watch?v=x97aSuscGro). Though not-as-many-sold records later, Shanice is still quite a talent. Check this clip out of she and Justin Timberlake performing one of my more-recent Shanice favorites from the late ‘90s “Yesterday” (http://tw.youtube.com/watch?v=vqLyaL1LH7Y). Oh! And on the subject of my divas o’the day, Jody Watley (my MY SPACE friend - www.myspace.com/jodywatley ) tells me she’s got a #1 in London (“I Want Your Love” – the CHIC remake) which is the first song I put on my own MY SPACE page (http://www.myspace.com/thelifeofriley2k), after my Diana pulled the title track from her current album “I Love You” off of it (www.dianaross.com).
Ant’s and my last few days have been filled with our pursuit of new work. As I continue my existing workload, I’ve also been balancing the consideration of several new freelance possibilities. Nothing firm yet. But lots of calls are coming in. For that, I am grateful. And I know that when I need to make a decision, I will (and God will order my steps and guide my feet as I do so). With all of that, we got to host the aforementioned Manivone who came into town for a few days. We were excited to host her. It started on the subways of New York City. We met her at the Port Authority and transitioned uptown on the train. We then had dinner with Anthony’s other Denver native friend (and “Amazing Grace”) Lonni Byrd, who recommended “809 Restaurant” (www.809restaurant.com) in Inwood (NYC) – North of Washington Heights. Lots of tasty and elegantly-presented Dominican cuisine to soak up our post-dinner/welcome-Manivone-to-NYC karaoke set at – you know where? – ( www.karaoke17.com/ ). I must confess that earlier in the week, Ant and I stopped by the spot with Greg as we awaited my driver, friend, and Godchild’s father Owen to pick us up. But Owen also popped by to say HI (and toast our respective November and December birthdays along with the Holiday) on this particular night. Ern (who rapped to Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight") was there. His co-worker Tina and a group of her friends also joined us. And Mario’s buddy Rafael de Zayas (www.rafaeldezayas.com) – French artist I’ve mentioned before – came, pointing out that my voice is beautiful (with French accent to boot). With that, he can join us again anytime for karaoke. SMILE! Another night (Sunday), Ant’s New-York-City-based girlfriend Lonni invited us all – including her friend Robert – out to The Village Underground ( www.thevillageunderground.com/ ) for Ron Grant and Friends’ Open Mic Night. I didn’t get on the mic this time. But we enjoyed a number of artists in their own way. One woman gave her best Anna Mae Bulloch (a la Tina Turner) impersonator named Lady Laura perform. She was on fire! Watch her at www.chittlincircuit.com. Then, there was Harry (www.myspace.com/favorheartmusic.com) who stole the night with a beautiful song “Stay on your Knees and Pray”, which sampled Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time” and left us really entertained and stimulated. I had to tell him after that he made my evening!!!! Afterwards, we all went to The Monster ( www.manhattan-monster.com ) which has a great frozen margarita. Mario joined us as he’d just returned from his home of Los Angeles. It was great to see him. Yesterday, Manivone, Ant, and I enjoyed a lovely meal in Brooklyn. It was Teeda (www.teeda-thai.com). The food was excellent. On the heels of our “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” event, we also gave Manivone the Harlem treatment – inclusive of some soul food at Amy Ruth’s (www. amyruthsharlem.com/ ) and – you know the drill – “N” (www. nharlemnewyork.com/ ). It’s always great to get to know better the folks in Ant’s life… and though we’ve had wonderful times together before this trip she took to see us, Manivone and I – for sure – bonded on this trip inside our Scorpio synergy. She is inside of a WHAT’S NEXT that may bring her to the east coast one day soon. As the Christmas trees outline the sidewalks of Manhattan, we all know that the holiday is over. With that (and with no firm sense of our futures), we – including my Morehouse brother Khalid - went to see the horror flick “One Missed Call”, remake of a Japanese film in which each victim receivs chilling phone calls apparently from themselves in the future, showing the exact time of their deaths. (www. onemissedcallmovie.warnerbros.com/ ). I love scary movies, but we probably should have rolled over this ‘… missed call… ‘. Still, we all had a good time – especially when it was over and I received this ‘missed call’ in front of the movie poster.
Oh! And I almost forgot to shout out my Ti-Ti (Itika), the newest reporter for a web- based show on NBC5 Chicago called Nudehippo.tv (www.Nudehippo.tv). Here, she reports on a “Yoga/Wine” class (http://www.nbc5.com/nudehippo/motionbox.html?dest=%2Fembed%2Fbasic_player%2F1c96d0b61210e792%3Fgroup_name%3DNBC5). She’s on her way!!!!
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