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    Posted March 31, 2009

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Western Region Celebrates Black History Month - 2009

By Barbara Roberts, Chair EEOC, Western Region

Harrison White & Felecia Taylor E Honeysukcle Rose

The AEA Western Region Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and SAG's National Ethnic Employment Opportunity Committee presented a Black History Month Event: Black Broadway: A Musical Celebration that played to a full house at Catalina's Jazz Club in Hollywood on February 23, 2009. A capacity crowd of 300 union members took a stroll down memory lane as show tunes from a variety of Black Musicals were performed by an array of proud Equity members. Hosted by the electrifying Keith David, the evening began with a sweet rendition of "I'm Just Wild About Harry" from Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle's 1920s production of SHUFFLE ALONG performed lovingly by Susan Beaubian, followed by "A Woman Is A Sometime Thing" and "Summertime" from George and Ira Gershwin's 1930s hit PORGY & BESS, performed beautifully by Amber Mercomes, Keith Borden and DeReau K. Farrar. Dawnn Lewis captured the audience with her rendition of the 1940s hit from CABIN IN THE SKY, "Taking A Chance On Love." THE WIZ which took Broadway by storm during the 1970s featured DeReau Farrar singing, "I'm A Mean Ole Lion," which segued into another 70s hit show. AIN'T MISBEHAVIN'S "Honeysuckle Rose" was performed with coquettish glee by Harrison White and Felicia Taylor E. The 1980s saw Michael Bennett's DREAM GIRLS change the face of Broadway with the hit "I Am Changing," sung soulfully by Kelsey Scott, and Paula Kelly took us all on a smashing ride with her jazzy invitation to "Take The A Train" from SOPHISTICATED LADIES.

L to R - Barbara Roberts, Richard Ostlund, Shoshana Vogel, Michael Van Duzer and L.Scott Caldwell

JELLY'S LAST JAM by George C. Wolfe ushered in the 1990s and Cleo Kings' version of "Michigan Waters" reminded us of the power of the Blues, which moved the crowd to a standing ovation. "Make Them Hear You/Wheels of a Dream" from RAGTIME touched every heart in the room as Nita Whitaker LaFontaine's rich and stunning voice sang out for justice and humanity and Deborah Sharpe-Taylor bought in the 2000s with a telling number "Someone Else Is Stepping In," from AIN'T NOTHIN BUT THE BLUES. THE COLOR PURPLE was popular that evening with quite a few people donning it but "Hello No," sang boldly by Yours Truly bought new meaning to the hue. The ending number was "Unchain My Heart," written by the late Ray Charles and featured in RAY CHARLES LIVE, masterfully performed by Wilkie Ferguson, Sabrina Sloan, Angela Teek, Daniel Tatar and Harrison White. The songs were linked together by passages written by Harrison White and Kelsey Scott. The musicians who added their brilliance and magic to the evening were the masterful Wilkie Ferguson (Musical Director/Piano) soulful Ida Bodkin (Bass) and powerful Ameenah Kaplan (Drums).

Cast - Committee Members - Crew

The crowd was appreciative and comments were glowing, "I loved it," stated Lynne Pickett. "An amazing event! Historic, Hysterical, Happiness Abounds, Broadway Lives On! Unbelievable Talent! What A Blessing and You Rock," according to LaVonne Rae Andrews. "Would Love to hear more," is what Erica Ash wrote. Barry Saltzman couldn't believe it was "for free great talent, can't be beat!" Franceska Lynne said, "Wonderful, everyone was so talented and fabulous, I can't believe this was free - what a gift."

Greg Poland, Ammenah, Wilke, Keith and Susan

K.W. Miller said "What a truly wonderful celebration. The wide array of remarkable talent took us on a joyful journey. All I can say is 'More, More, More!!!'" Bernadette Speakes wrote "This event brought tears to my eyes… It was so emotional because it not only makes me grateful to be amongst the 'elite' within our unions, but it helps me stay focused on the journey our God given talents take us. It's a reminder to continue on the road and keep pressing forward to take hold of the prize…touch lives, moving souls and sharing the wealth I've been given. Thank you and I look forward to next year." Max Holly said "to see these wonderful performers celebrate the gift of love which lives in their hearts was truly a joy!" Steve Bagley, Sr stated, "The program was simply fantastic and well paced. Keith David was excellent, per usual and the entire cast helped re-tell a musical journey that needs more exposure! Bravo!" Theo Breaux exclaimed, "My God, the show was absolutely fabulous!! So glad we came out on a manic Monday in the midst of an economic recession, when it doesn't feel like there's much to celebrate. However, tonight was a reminder that there is so much to celebrate be it Black History or life through wonderful talent in song and dance. Thank You."

Keith David - Hosting

Each piece of theatre inhabits the element of transformation that will affect the human spirit and test its unbounded boundaries and limitless limitations. To breathe life into Black Musicals of days gone past was a true celebration of Black History Month and the theatre in its purest form. Will Marion Cook, songwriter (1869-1944), dreamed of presenting an all black musical comedy on Broadway and advocated that African Americans "should look to themselves for the wellspring of creativity and develop artistic endeavors that reflect the soul of Black people." In 1898 Cook went on to write the first black musical comedy to appear on Broadway, CLORINDY: THE ORIGIN OF THE CAKEWALK, as well as the first Interracial Broadway musical, THE SOUTHERNERS, in 1904.

A Special thank you to EEO Black Broadway event committee members Harrison White, Kelsey Scott, Deborah Sharpe Taylor, Ivy Bethune, Kim Estes, Pat Loeb, Karole Selmon, Ann Stocking, Felicia Taylor E, Linda Tross, Mirron Willis and the host of volunteers who gave so generously of themselves in solidarity to make this event possible.

The historic significance of this timely and passionate work is both heroic and revealing. In the words of Kelsey Scott spoken by Keith David at the opening,

This is a party.
A Celebration of the dedication
Of those who came before.

Who transformed a 'shuffle' to 'flight'
So we might
Make the Great White Way truly 'broad.'

Nodding our heads and tapping our feet
To the syncopation of
From shoe polished faces.

We put pen to staff and
Charted a path
For Colors like Purple
Misbehavin the Whole way.

So, today - well, tonight- is a themed celebration
A melodious memoir
From the 'then' to the 'will be'

How excited we are
That you RSVP'd…
To this taste of a banquet
Too vast for one sitting

An homage. A tipped hat.
We, so hope is befitting.

So enjoy a few bars
Of a tune that's still growing.
Find your groove. Don't be coy.
It's a party we're throwing.

And a Party was had by all as "we paused" to celebrate the genius of Black Musicals in the American Theatre.

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