‘Porgy and Bess’ Revived at ETC
Elijah Rock is Nominated for 2014 24th Annual NAACP Theatre Award for Equity Best Male Lead!
“During the fast moving proceedings Prego introduces Elijah Rock as “a triple threat,” because the multi-talented artist can act, dance and sing. Rock recently starred in Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes, a bioplay about the first African American concert singer of classical songs, who preceded Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson, which was recently presented at Burbank’s Colony Theatre. To be frank (no pun intended!), the versatile Rock stole the Encore’s show. Like Sinatra’s fellow Rat Packer, Sammy Davis Jr., Rock tap danced up a storm and belted out numbers that are part of Sammy’s canon, like “The Candy Man.” However, Rock also sang songs that aren’t associated with Sammy, such as “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It),” which Marlene Dietrich put on the musical map. Rock rocked the Encore Dinner Theatre and was the best part of the entire show. According to Elijah and the venue’s owner, Peter Zappas, in the Spring Rock will return to the Encore Dinner Theatre for an encore, in the form of a full-on tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.” See Full Review by Ed Rampell at Legends-LegaciesMagazine.com
Playing now at the Encore Theatre in Tustin, CA
September 14- October 13, 2013
CLICK LINK TO GET YOUR TICKES TO:
Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock in “Breath and Imagination.” Photo by Michael Lamont.
Hayes, the son of ex-slaves, became a star on the classical music circuit at roughly the same time that Brice became a star on Broadway. This was long before African Americans were known for singing Schumann as well as spirituals.
The two productions both use flashbacks as a structural framework. Just as Funny Girl’s Fanny is looking back on the eve of re-uniting with her husband who is being released from prison, Breath and Imagination’s Roland is looking back on the eve of opening an integrated music school in his native Georgia — in 1942.
Fanny is about to receive an emotional jolt. Roland has just received a physical jolt — he was beaten while investigating the arrest of his wife and daughter for shopping for shoes in a whites-only arena. Both shows offer prominent roles for the singer’s mothers.
At this point, however, the two productions veer in somewhat opposition directions. Breath and Imagination remains a chamber musical, with only three onstage performers, a single set filling in for many settings, and no intermission. Funny Girl is Broadway-big.
Beaty’s play relies on, yes, breath and imagination. The breath is from the singers — primarily Elijah Rock as Roland. His isn’t a performance of Brice-style belting. It mixes spirituals with a few recitative-style numbers, written by Beaty, with excerpts from Schumann, Scarlatti, Gluck and Fauré in their original languages. Rock is classically trained, and his singing is a joy. The script makes a big deal about Hayes finding his own voice, and Rock’s voice has a timbre which is distinctive in its own way, hardly by-the-book in any of the genres employed here.
The imagination relied on by this play has to be supplied primarily by the audience. The show covers nearly 50 years in 90 minutes, so we have to fill in a lot of the gaps. Parts of the script, especially near the beginning, steer precipitously close to an instant, empty sentimentality. Roland’s mother (Karan Kendrick), half-angel and half-human, is the primary victim of this tendency. The ending, too, feels artificially upbeat.
Kevin Ashworth and Elijah Rock
The third actor on stage, Kevin Ashworth, is not only the piano accompanist but is called on to play a panoply of quick-sketch roles, from cracker racist to Roland’s father to male and female voice teachers to…the king of England. While Ashworth’s facility in these roles, as well as on the keyboard, is impressive and intermittently amusing, assigning all these roles to one man struck me as primarily an economic instead of an aesthetic decision on Beaty’s part. Still, given the problems with the script, Saundra McClain’s staging and Rahn Coleman’s musical direction are masterful.
Of course the Colony has to think about economics too, having survived a near-death experience last year. Make sure you allow enough time to read artistic director Barbara Beckley’s program note, in which she goes into considerable detail about how the Colony’s ability to start a new season is due in part to a grant from the Marilyn P. and Wayne H. Kohl Memorial Fund — thanks to some enterprising research and connections from the Colorado-based father of Colony executive director Trent Steelman. Under these circumstances, listening to Beckley welcome the audience back for another season was almost as joyful as listening to Rock sing.
Even with its flaws, Breath and Imagination is not one of those familiar small shows that has been making the rounds of so many midsize theaters — it requires some imagination to have found it and to have programmed its West Coast premiere. It’s an indication of why it’s important to keep the Colony breathing and imagining.
**All Breath and Imagination production photos by Michael Lamont.
Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes, Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank. Thu-Fri 8 pm, Sat 3 and 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Closes Oct 13. www.ColonyTheatre.org. 818-508-1754.
“Guided by McClain’s fluid staging, Rock is nothing short of glorious, possessing a rich vocal instrument and strong stalwart demeanor that could very well have been that of Hayes or any other black man who had to constantly fight an impossible battle. He brings plenty of spirit to the fore.”
Photo by Michael Lamont
“Rock’s sensitive portrayal captures Hayes’ determination to shape his own destiny, as well as his calm humility in the face of racial prejudice and resistance from his deeply religious mother (Karan Kendrick)…”Rock’s musical delivery is more nuanced, incorporating an initial hesitancy appropriate to the early stages of the singer’s development, only to emerge with soul-stirring confidence in the mature Hayes’ recitals of material ranging from gospel to lieder to opera.”
The soul-stirring voices of Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock bring the biography of trailblazing tenor Roland Hayes to life in “Breath and Imagination.” (Michael Lamont / September 10, 2013)
by Ed Rampell
BREATH AND IMAGINATION:
The Story of Roland Hayes
A West Coast Premiere by Daniel Beaty
Limited Engagements opens Saturday, September 14 at the Colony Theatre in Burbank
August 13, 2013…Burbank… The Colony Theatre is thrilled to present the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: The Story of Roland Hayes, a true story by Daniel Beaty, directed by Saundra McClain, with Musical Direction by Rahn Coleman. BREATH AND IMAGINATION will preview on Wednesday, September 11; Thursday, September 12; and Friday, September 13 at 8:00pm and will open on Saturday, September 14 at 8:00pm and continue through Sunday, October 13.
Long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, before Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for the role of Mammy inGone with the Wind or the Tuskegee Airmen won honors as black pilots in World War II, Roland Hayes made history as the first world-renowned African-American classical singer. The son of slaves, he grew up in poverty on a Georgia plantation. As a man, he became the toast of two continents, headlining at Carnegie Hall and singing for kings and queens of Europe, blazing a path for Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and countless others who came after. A major celebrity in his time, today he has been largely (and inexplicably) forgotten. Until now. In this extraordinary, inspiring play filled with music, audiences will discover how the gift of his father’s pocket watch set him on his remarkable journey to greatness.
ABOUT THE CREATIVE TEAM
DANIEL BEATY (Playwright) is an award-winning actor, singer, writer and motivational speaker. His critically acclaimed playsThrough the Night, Emergency, and Mr. Joy have been performed at venues ranging from Lincoln Center to the White House, and garnered numerous awards including an Obie Award for writing and performance and two NAACP Theater Awards. Through the Night and Emergency both played extended, sold-out runs at LA’s Geffen Playhouse. His new solo play on the life of Paul Robeson, The Tallest Tree in the Forest, will have its World Premiere this fall at the La Jolla Playhouse, directed by Moisés Kaufman, and be performed at the Mark Taper Forum in spring of 2014. He is a highly requested keynote speaker and thought leader, an adjunct professor at Columbia University, a diversity trainer and a youth development specialist. In the fall of 2013, Beaty will launch a nationwide initiative (funded by W.K. Kellogg and Ford Foundation, among others) using the tools of storytelling to help individuals and communities heal trauma. He holds a B.A. with Honors in English and Music from Yale University and an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. His poem Knock Knock has been transformed into a children’s book of the same title, published by Little Brown Books. Penguin-Random House will publish his empowerment bookTransforming Pain to Power in February 2014. www.DanielBeaty.com
SAUNDRA McCLAIN (Director) received rave reviews this season for her direction of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at International City Theatre as well as her productions of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune, The Fantasticks and In the Continuum at Ensemble Theatre in Santa Barbara. Recent productions include Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Spunk at Two River Theatre. Her production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Playhouse on the Green won the Drama Critics’ Award for Best Ensemble in Connecticut. As adjunct professor at Queens College, she directed Sophocles’ Electra and also created and taught the Black Theater Workshop. She directed Death of a Salesman, Antigone, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. and The Women of Plums for Kennedy Center’s Youth and Family Programs, and at Henry Street Settlement, Dark of the Moon, Hello Out There, Don’t See My Bones, and Think I Am Dead. At UBU Rep, A Modest Proposal, and at Cherry Lane Theatre, Harriet’s Return, a one-woman show which toured nationally for five years, along with Of Ebony Embers–Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance, a one-man show with chamber orchestra. She was Artistic Director of Troupe NY, which adapted classic works forthe schools and developed new works with emerging playwrights and directors. She is a lifetime member of the Actors Studio, an ensemble member of Antaeus Theatre Company, and is Artist in Residence at Ensemble Theatre Company in Santa Barbara. As an author, Ms. McClain is recipient of an NEA grant for her musical Storm Warning; Caribe, currently in development with composer Kathryn Bostic, and was workshopped at Kennedy Center and the ASCAP/Disney Workshop in Los Angeles. She is also collaborating with Emmy Award-winning composers Bobby Daye and Tom Kochan on Ties That Bind. She has just returned from National Black Theatre Festival 2013 where she performed her one-woman show, Barbara Jordan: A Rendezvous with Destiny.
RAHN COLEMAN (Musical Director) has served as musical director, conductor, and pianist for Play On, Purlie, Blues in the Night, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin, Ray (Charles), Play On, Sammy (Davis), Baby it’s You, andWilliams and Walker to name a few. A product of extensive classical training having studied under the renowned teacher Nadia Boulangier, Rahn has over 25 years of professional experience, and has performed, conducted coached, and arranged for such notables as Aretha Franklin, Freda Payne, Nichelle Nichols, Michael Feinstein, Gladys Knight, Barry White, The Ojays, The Temptations, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughn, the Philadelphia Philharmonic, and the Clinton Presidential Inaugural Orchestra. He is the recipient of national and international critical acclaim and always in the running for top honors. Hailed as one of the most effective performance coaches in the world, he has also shared his artistic gifts through service as Minister of Music at Christ the King and Faith Lutheran churches in Southern California. He is producing director of “The Mystic Knight Recorder,” L.A’s leading underground studio, where new vistas for world class music and its performance are in constant creation.
ABOUT THE CAST AND DESIGN TEAM
ELIJAH ROCK (Roland Hayes) was born in Cleveland, where he grew up singing in church and was discovered by the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus and the Cleveland Opera Children’s Chorus. While in high school, he studied classical voice at the world-renowned Interlochen Arts Camp for two summers. In his senior year, he had the honor of being one of the first vocalists to be accepted into the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music Young Artist Program. Also in Cleveland, he studied comedy and drama at the Karamu House Theatre, the oldest African-American theatre in the country. LA beckoned him as a soloist for the Los Angeles Jubilee Singers, singing Negro Spiritual music in concert halls around the world. After moving to Harlem, his diverse skill set landed him leading roles in productions off-Broadway and in regional theatres across the country. His stage credits include Fences, Jitney, Vaudeville, To Be Young Gifted and Black, Hoodoo Love, Baby Its You, Sophisticated Ladies, Paradise (a World Premiere bluegrass musical), Adrian in Smokey Joe’s Café, the iconic role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Ragtime and, most recently, Anatoly in Chess at the East West Players in LA. His film credits include the comedy 3 Blind Saints and the upcoming independent drama Salvation Street, set to release in December, 2013. His debut jazz vocal single, That First Time, and his debut jazz vocal album, Elijah Rock LIVE in Hollywood, are available on iTunes and Amazon. He is also a professional tap dancer, and continues to study classical voice privately with Vladimir Chernov.
KARAN KENDRICK (Angel Mo’, the mother of Roland Hayes) marks her Los Angeles theatre debut with Breath and Imagination. Other work includes NY Theatre: Goddess (Workshop), Eugene O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference; Macbeth, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death…Classical Theatre of Harlem; Regional Theatre: Hartford Stage, Arena Stage, Goodman Theatre, Alliance Theatre, True Colors Theatre, Portland Center Stage. TV/Film: Law and Order: CI, Army Wives, Drop Dead Diva, The Wronged Man, The Hunger Games, Parental Guidance, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Madea Goes to Jail, and the upcomingA Friggin’ Christmas Miracle.
KEVIN ASHWORTH (The Accompanist)) is thrilled to be working at The Colony Theatre for the first time. Favorite stage credits include Chapter Two (Laguna Playhouse), The Dinosaur Within (Theatre @ Boston Court), All My Sons (Raven Playhouse), A Streetcar Named Desire and Musical of Musicals: The Musical! (Foothills Theatre), and 1776 (Lyric Stage). TV: Scandal, 90210, CSI: Miami, Desperate Housewives, 24 among others. www.kevinashworth.com
The Scenic Design for BREATH AND IMAGINATION is by Shaun Motley (Conversation With My Father). The Costume Design is by Dianne K. Graebner (Ovation nominations – The Brothers Karamazov and Battle Hymn). The Lighting Design is by Jared A. Sayeg (Ovation nominations – Trying and Kiss Me, Kate). The Sound Design is by Dave Mickey (American Fiesta). Props Design and Set Dressing is by Colony Theatre resident designers MacAndMe.
ABOUT THE SCHEDULE AND PRICING
BREATH AND IMAGINATION will open on Saturday, September 14, at 8:00pm and continue through Sunday, October 13. Performances for BREATH AND IMAGINATION are Thursdays & Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 3:00pm & 8:00pm; and Sundays at 2:00pm. Ticket prices range from $25.00 – $45.00 (student, senior, and group discounts are available). BREATH AND IMAGINATION will preview on Wednesday, September 11; Thursday, September 12; and Friday, September 13 at 8:00pm at The Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street (at Cypress) adjacent to the Burbank Town Center Mall.
Opening night performance with reception – all tickets $50.00. There are question-and-answer talkbacks after the performances on Friday, September 20 and Thursday, October 2. For tickets, call the Colony Theatre Box Office at 818/558-7000 ext. 15 or online at www.ColonyTheatre.Org.
The award-winning Colony Theatre Company was founded in 1975 as a 99-seat Equity-waiver theatre in Silver Lake. Over the years the company was so successful artistically, and built such a large subscriber base, that in 2000 it was able to move into a 270-seat theatre created for it by the City of Burbank, becoming one of only 5 mid-size professional theatres in the LA area that produce a year-round season of plays and musicals, and that employ actors under contract with Actors’ Equity Association.
For more information, press interviews, photos, or for press comps, please contact David Elzer/DEMAND PR at 818/508-1754 or at DavidElzer@me.com or visit www.demandpr.com.
The theatre is located at 555 North Third Street, at the corner of Cypress, in the heart of the Burbank Media Center. For further information, call (818) 558-7000. Fax number: (818) 558-7110. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit our website at www.colonytheatre.
by Daniel Beaty