Thursday, April 27, 2017

Entertainment

The Virginia Stage Company (VSC)/Norfolk State University (NSU) collaboration  on the production of The WIZ at the Wells Theatre has proven  to be  a hit this spring.

The VSC/NSU  joint venture is a rekindling of the 1974 stage hit The Wiz  which was an Afrocentric interpretation of the famous movie The Wizard of OZ, that debuted in 1938.

The Cowardly Lion played by Bert Lahr in the  now 75-year-old classic, joined Dorothy and two other main characters – the Scarecrow and the Tinman. The four were on a journey to Oz to petition the Wiz, who they believed would help them achieve their individual goals.

The King of the Beast was  supposedly cowardly and nervous. But in the end, it was discovered that he was not so cowardly. The Scarecrow, who wanted a brain, found out he had one and the “heartless” Tinman indeed had a heart. Of course, Dorothy who wanted to return to Kansas, learned that she always had the ability go home on her feet.

The VSC/NSU’s  Wiz Lion is played by Darius Marquel Nelson, who has been using his talent  and  his  lion’s tail to capture the audience’s imagination during  the show’s runs this spring.

Nelson said he notices the magic  he has created with his performances, but does not want to “get big headed about it. I just love the comedy and the character.”

Nelson said, as a child,  his mother introduced him to the movie The WIZ   which was frequently aired on the African Heritage Network movie channel hosted by the late   Ruby Dee and her spouse Ozzie Davis.

The  Lion in the 1978 Wiz movie  was played by  the late Ted Ross, a television, movie and stage character who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of  the Lion. He died in 2002 at age 68.

Ross won $5 in an amateur-night contest by singing ‘’Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz when he was a teen.

Nelson fell in love with the Cowardly Lion as a child, too.

“I was amazed because I  had never seen a man playing an animal before in a movie,” said Nelson. “If it were not for Ted Ross, I don’t think I would  have dreamed of playing that role. His performance stuck with me.”

“As a child  I would mimic the Cowardly Lion for  fun, imitating the way Ross played  the character,” recalls Nelson, now 26. “I have played in six professional shows before this one, but I truly believe this is something special because I started so early loving that character.

After graduating from Granby High School, Nelson joined thousands of other aspiring artists who flocked to New York or California for training, networking and getting a shot on Broadway or Hollywood.

He attended the American  Music and Drama Academy’s New York and Los Angeles campuses.   After that, back home, between auditions he has been keeping busy, running his own operation  helping other aspiring actors develop  the skills and  tools needed to “get in the business,” and make a career and a living.

This is when he got wind of the VSC/NSU collaboration to do The WIZ.

Nelson is not a member of the NSU student Theater Troupe. But he  has professional credit during this run of The WIZ  at the Wells.

Anthony Mark Stockard, the Director of NSU Players and leader of the NSU Division of Drama, recruited  Nelson to  continue his education at NSU this fall  and lend his considerable skills as a Spartan Thespian.

It only takes the make-up techs 15 minutes to  outfit Nelson in the two-piece furry costume he wears for the performance.

But it is the Cowardly Lion’s tail in this production which has helped him to  steal scenes, even having to  return to the stage after a cast exit to retrieve it.

“He (the Cowardly Lion) is supposed to be  nervous,” Nelson explains.  “So like him, I  even use it (the tail)  to create a comfort  or security zone when I am squeezing and  twirling it.”

His mother died recently,  so Nelson said his mother, Mildred Renee Nelson,  did not get a chance to see her actor-son play a role she introduced him to as a child.
“Her legacy was she inspired me and many others because of her love of art and entertainment,” said Nelson. “Each time I get on that stage, it’s in honor of her.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

Oxon Hill, MD
While married to the D.C. sniper, John Allen Muhammad, Mildred Muhammad was intimidated into silence about the domestic abuse she suffered. Her 2009 memoir, Scared Silent, was widely acclaimed, and she now returns with the follow-up.

I’m Still Standing: Crawling Out of The Darkness Into The Light covers the compelling events during and after the conviction and execution of her former husband. Through the eyes of their embattled mother, we learn what was going through the minds of the three young children as they learned their father was going to be executed for his crimes in the October 2002 sniper killings that took place in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. 

I’m Still Standing is a gritty, raw, and emotional account beginning with Mildred’s choice to turn to isolation as a way of protecting herself and her children. As she triumphs over the external and internal systems putting her in a place of fear and isolation, Mildred Muhammad’s story glows with resilience, strength and faith in God. Now she can say with confidence, “I’m still standing!”

Author, speaker, advocate and survivor, Mildred Muhammad has risen to become a voice for other victims and survivors, especially for the 80% who do not have physical scars to prove they are victims.

She has received many awards such as a Special Commendation presented by the Office on Violence Against Women, the Maya Angelou Still I Rise Award, the Shirley Chisholm Woman of Courage Award and the Redbook Strength & Spirit Heroes Award, as well as multiple awards from the military community.

Available online everywhere and at the author’s website: http://www.mildredmuhammad.com/publications.html

PORTSMOUTH
Three major bands will share headline duties at the annual UMOJA Festival on Saturday, May 27 at Portsmouth Pavilion.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

The Stylistics had 12 straight Top-10 hits, and their debut album was the first to ever produce six hit songs. From Philadelphia, the band’s hits include “You Are Everything,” “Betcha By Golly, Wow,” “I’m Stone in Love With You,” “Break Up to Make Up” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Of all their peers, the Stylistics were the smoothest and sweetest soul group of their era.

The Delfonics’ unique style of singing and their patented dance steps capture the fancy of popular music followers both Black and white, making them a stellar attraction at rock concerts, theaters and on the night club circuit. Their breakthrough song “LA LA Means I Love You” began a steady string of hits including, “You Get Yours I’ll Get Mine,” “I’m Sorry,” “Break Your Promise” and “Ready Or Not.”  “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time” won a Grammy for the top Soul hit of 1970.

The Manhattans are recognized for their timeless romantic ballads. They had eight songs in the R&B Top 10 between 1973 and 1978, with the composition “Kiss And Say Good Bye” going to #1 on both the R&B and Pop Charts in 1976 and placing in the top five in England and Australia. “Shining Star” made it to #5 on the Pop Charts, staying on the charts for 14 straight weeks.  Other hits include: “One Life to Live,” “There’s No Me Without You,” “Don’t Take Your Love,” “Hurt,” “I Kinda Miss You,” “It Feels So Good to Be Loved So Bad,” “We Never Danced to a Love Song,” “Am I Losing You,” and “Crazy.”

Tickets go on sale Friday, April 21 at 10 a.m. at the Pavilion Box Office and all Ticketmaster locations, charge by phone at (800) 745-3000 or purchase online at www.ticketmaster.com.

NORFOLK
The Word Singers of Norfolk held their annual Resurrection Day Gospel Concert Sunday (April 16) at First Baptist Lamberts Point. The concert was packed and local gospel radio personality Brother Donald Eason and gospel comedian Steven Alexander served as the MC’s.

The spiritual praise and worship-filled concert featured Daryl Harris and the Original Vocalairs, Elder Ronnie Harper and the Harmonizing Echos, the Farrow Sisters, Ricky White’s Fully Committed, the Hurdle Brothers, the Gospel Sensations, the God Boys, the Gospel Harmoneers of Ivor, Val Spence & the Familaires, Tommy Mitchell & the Mitchell Singers, Men & Women of Faith, Evangelist Pickett & the Pickett Gospel Singers, Sister Linda Roundtree, and Claude Riddick & the Gospel Angels.

The Word Singers thanked the New Journal and Guide for covering their Easter celebration. They also thanked the gospel community of Hampton Roads for supporting their musical ministry over the years.

By Randy Singleton
Community Affairs Correspondent

When L. Frank Baum published his classic novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900, he likely had no idea that the subsequent 1902 Broadway musical adaptation, “The Wizard of Oz,” would one day receive frequent productions featuring exclusively African-American casts. The latest local rendition, jointly staged by Norfolk State University and the Virginia Stage Company, is a colorful, inspired “The Wiz,” blessed with a conspicuously gifted cast.

Staged at the historic Wells Theater and co-directed by the VSC’s Patrick Mullins and NSU’s Anthony Stockard, this “Wiz” is decidedly afro-centric, sweetly laden with subtle African and African-American themes, manifested in scenic designs, choreography, and make-up. A towering African mask predominates the Wiz’s lair and numerous performers’ faces are painted in a fashion that harkens back to tribal Africa.

And then there’s the talent, the directors having elicited performances rich in expressive African-American colloquialisms and culture. The cast delivers, giving naturalistic performances to wholly fantastical characters. Prominent amongst them of course are Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion.

Alana Houston, who splits her studies as a senior at Elizabeth City’s Northeastern High School and a freshman at NSU, makes for quite an endearing and alluring Dorothy. She is at once appropriately starry-eyed, feisty and compassionate. This young woman can also really belt out a tune.

Though the Scarecrow had been suspended on a post for quite a long spell, he appears to have found fleet feet amazingly fast, only stumbling a time or two. Still, Matthew Jackson’s portrayal of the affable, charismatic straw man remains true. You like him instantly.

While Jonathan Cooper’s Tin Man may have initially gone wanting for oil, you sensed he had found a fully charged battery eons ago. His performance is entirely electric, lightning especially having taken up residence in his tap shoes.

As the comical, rotund cowardly Lion, Darius Nelson is choice, his comic timing impeccable. The actor enjoys his assignment and it shows.

Jackson, Cooper and Nelson are all also talented vocalists and excel in their individual numbers. When they join Houston for the popular “Ease on Down the Road” and “Who Do You Think You Are,” however, you feel they are taking a journey beyond that which throws their characters together.

Other notable performances include NSU senior Meredith Noel as Addaperle, Broadway veteran Laiona Michelle as Evilene, and NSU junior Indya Jackson as The Wiz. The statuesque, seasoned Michelle is deliciously evil, sensuality reeking. She is commanding and you love to hate her and hate it when she disappears. Departing senior Noel continues to show extraordinary range. She appears comfortable in any skin and adapts to character like a chameleon.

Mullins and Stockard cast against type by using Indya Jackson in a traditionally male role. I have seen other females portray the great and powerful Oz. It can be a risky enterprise, demanding that the audience dare to greatly suspend belief. Jackson is truly a gifted performer, but she was hampered somewhat by audio challenges that taunted her opening number. It’s certain to improve.

“The Wiz” is generally performed on a stage much larger than the Wells proscenium offering. Yet, the directors have effectively captured the magic that the production demands, packaging it in a sensory feast of color, sight and sound and a huge cast, much too large to mention all here, uniformly dedicated to having you join them on their wonderful journey to Oz. The production continues through April 30.

By Terrance Afer-Andersn
Arts and Culture Columnist

NORFOLK
The Virginia Arts Festival will present Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women (UBW) in the world premiere of Hair and Other Stories on Saturday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at the Attucks Theatre.

Urban Bush Women’s Hair and Other Stories addresses how one’s self-image is formed through perceptions of family, history, identity, and values. This often humorous, sometimes poignant, always compelling piece combines dance with storytelling, and builds on conversations with the audience.

The new work has roots in the past: Hair and Other Stories grows out of a 2001 multi-media piece exploring race, gender, and cultural identity. “With the original work, we set out to explore the place of hair in women’s lives, and its relationship to ideas about beauty, social position, heritage, and self-esteem,” says Urban Bush Women Artistic Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

In keeping with UBW’s core value of community engagement, the company hosted “Hair Parties” in private and public spaces, which not only provided performance material, but also created a framework for dialogue that went beyond the performance itself. The topic of hair offered a “way in” to issues like race, social status, gender, sexuality, and economics.

“It was a story that would not let me rest,” says Zollar, who notes that the issues that arose in the creation of Hair Stories persist, as does the need to continue the conversation. So she decided to write a new chapter.

The company is polishing the new work in a process that will take them from their own studios in Brooklyn to the historic Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, where they will put the finishing touches on the world premiere.

It’s an opportunity that Virginia Arts Festival Artistic Director Robert Cross finds intensely exciting, and one in keeping with the Festival’s own mission. “To present this bold company for the first time in a space like the Attucks Theatre, which echoes with so much artistry and history – that’s a chance of a lifetime,” says Cross.

Tickets are $20-$35, available online at vafest.org, by phone at (757) 282-2822 or at the Virginia Arts Festival box, 440 Bank St., Norfolk (10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday-Friday).

The New Journal and Guide hosted an Appreciation Night at the Wells Theatre on April 15 for staff and community volunteers. Following a pre-show reception in the front lobby, the group enjoyed the dynamic performance of The Wiz, featuring the NSU Theater Company and the Virginia Stage Company. The show continues through April 30.

 

VIRGINIA BEACH
The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore was the beneficiary of the first “Celebrity Chef Throw Down” last Saturday, April 8 at the the Virginia Beach private estate of Kevin and Shevette Jones. Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, the Foodbank’s CEO, was on hand at to bring greetings and express gratitude for the charity event.

The outdoor event attracted upwards to 100 persons who socialized as news teams from stations WTKR and WVEC competed in cooking demonstrations, with judges selecting WVEC as the winner. The teams created several dishes using only ingredients provided in a mystery basket.

In addition, there was live entertainment, a cash bar, silent auction and heavy hors d’oeuvres. Celebrity Chef Jamie G of Bowie, Md., was among the line up of personalities who were “throwing down” to make the event a success.

Along with the Jones Family, media correspondent, Paula Beckett, and Shannon Gibson of Charmisey Events developed the event which promises to become an annual gathering.

From the first to the last days of life, we will write many chapters in life’s book detailing with successes, failures and surprises.

Allison Moore is a college graduate, a housewife, mother of three, human resources manager, and a partner in a non-profit that helps the homeless community and orphaned children.
She  is also CEO of Moorelaughing LLC, a production and promotion company she  uses to  drive her own new career as a comedienne and  corporate workplace trainer.

Over the years she has produced six comedy shows featuring herself and other artists. But her most ambitious project will take place on April 15 at  6:30 p.m. in the  L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center on the campus of her alma mater, Norfolk State University, featuring Sinbad.

Sinbad is known as the King of Clean Comedy, and  Moore is emulating his idea of how comedy should be used.

Her comic routine is void of curse words, sexual talk, misogyny or bashing of either gender or caustic references to politics.

Sinbad is still a comedic superstar,  best known for hosting Showtime at the Apollo, starring in the  movie the “First Kid,” his own HBO special,  and roles on TV shows such as a Different World, The Redd Foxx Show  and The Sinbad Show.

“I am absolutely nervous about this,” said Moore, in a media release announcing the show.  “Sinbad is a big deal. He has not performed stand up in the area for years  and I know that people love him. I’m honored to be able to share the stage  with him.”

Moore earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from NSU and a Master’s from George Washington University.

Moore said the Sinbad event has inspired her to organize shows  at other colleges and universities. She chose NSU to highlight her “Spartan Pride” and showcase the HBCU’s role in the community and its role in shaping her professionally and personally.

Her comedic career was ignited in December 2013 when another comedian recognized a gift to which she was initially oblivious.

“I recall December 2013. I was master of ceremony at our first Robes Reach fundraiser gala and one of the comedians mentioned to the audience  how I funny I was. So I took him up on that. My first time being paid to do comedy was in August 2015. From then, I looked for opportunities to do comedy. Quickly I decided to stop waiting for someone else to put me on their stage but to start building my own.”

While Moore  avoids  sex talk, cursing and bashing men in her  routine – common in comedic routines today – she  said she has found a wealth of stand-up material from her personal life and experiences. She has been married 12 years and the mother of three shares hilarious stories about family life, to include in-laws, employment, shopping and a host of other topics.
The  April 15 event  with Sinbad is the most challenging opportunity thus far for Moore, who is  33, to showcase her acumen  to make people laugh.

Moore has been a full time traveling comedian since January 2016 and because of her clean content she is able to perform everywhere from corporate events, to churches, to comedy clubs, private parties, fundraising events and the like.

Moore said the Sinbad Show and subsequent ones, she hopes, will be the gateway to the  next chapter of her career, including greater exposure as a stand up, gigs in broadcasting, and camera writing and producing.

“I want to create opportunity for myself and others,”  she said. “I do that now by hiring comedians for shows, writers and photographers and other artists. I want to  expand  my horizons using  my skills as a comedian  and in business.”

For more information go to www.moorelaughing.com or (218) 565-7469 or @comedianallisonmoore.com.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

Publisher’s Note: This is a series looking at the life and careers of some of the region’s longest serving African-American Broadcast and Print Journalists.  This week, we begin with Barbara Ciara.

For over three decades Barbara Ciara  has become one of the longest serving and most highly recognized and respected broadcast journalists in Hampton Roads.

Ciara most recently joined the WTKR News 3 team in July of 2000 and can now be seen weekdays 4 to 6 p.m. as Co-anchor and other behind-the-scenes roles.

Ciara migrated to Hampton Roads from Arizona in 1981  to acquire a job as the  morning (cut-in) Anchor/reporter for WVEC-TV 13.

In 1983 she moved to WAVY-TV 10, after WVEC told her  the region was not ready for a “Black anchor,” Ciara said.

At the time, the 6 p.m. news at WAVY was getting beaten by Wonder Woman reruns. In two years, the station toppled the competition and become number one at 11 p.m. with a young diverse team. 

“In 1989 when my contract expired, the management did not approach me for renewal – believing that I would go nowhere,” she said.    “Pushed by my friend Jim Kinkaid – the station offered me the primary co-anchor position where I stayed until approached by WTKR-TV 3 in 2000.”

After Terry Zahn died in January of 2000, Ciara considered moving to a job in D.C. Although her work experience didn’t require it, she returned to college, enrolling at Hampton University to complete her undergraduate degree. She graduated Summa Cum Laude.

In  February 1997 she took on the challenge of managing editor of LNC, a   24-7 cable news show partnership   with the Virginian-Pilot newspaper for two years.

From 1996 to 2000, Ciara served as managing editor of the partnership between WVEC-TV and WHRO, producing and co-hosting the Newsmagazine “This Week In Hampton Roads.”

In August 2007, she was elected President of the National Association of Black Journalists, (NABJ)  the largest journalism organization of color in the world.

The award winning journalist has  covered a wide range of events around the world, and the White House from the Clinton to the Obama presidencies  and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey.
She has won numerous community and professional honors and has been awarded the coveted Emmy Award for her series “Guilty Til Proven Innocent.”

In 2011, honoring her long career, Ciara was inducted by the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences’ Silver Circle.

Ciara  took time to  answer a few questions looking at her distinguished career and life.

1. What is the secret to your longevity, during this  era of the broadcast industry? Note that there are many women on the air, some who could be your daughter.

BC: I believe it’s a blend of preparation, luck, and God’s blessings.  The key is keeping up with the changes in the business. As the technology has changed all of us have had to be fluid along with the tide of change in the industry.  Often that means learning new skill sets in a multi-media environment. It’s interesting because this is exactly what it was like when I first entered the business in 1976.  Back in those day I had to shoot the video, edit the video, and produce the segment. Now in 2017 we are calling those journalists “Backpack” journalists or MMJ’s or Multi Media Journalists – but that is exactly what we were doing in 1976 when I first started out. I think that if you are flexible and are willing to keep learning you maintain your value in any business environment. At least that is my theory.

2.  Ten years is a long time in politics and media. What are the good and not so good changes in the industry in the past 10 years?

BC: That is a loaded question.   I can only provide what would be my observations, which would be opinion. Everything changes, some things change for the better.  Media can get information much faster than when I first started in 1976.  But I do think that faster isn’t always better. I think that social media has confused consumers of news.  Some consumers believe what they read in social media is viable information.  We need to remind viewers, readers, listeners to be responsible consumers of news because there is so much mis-information out there that pushes a false narrative of the facts. The legitimate journalism organizations that play by the rules of information gathering are fighting to stay above the fray in this environment. This is our world in the 21st century. Separating ourselves from what is real and what is a false narrative of the facts.

3. What has changed about the role of women in the broadcast industry in that period of time?

BC: I would like to believe that women have made significant gains in the industry, but I fail to see us at the top tier in the corporate chair, so I see it as window dressing at this point.  The real power is running the company or the corporations.   We have more News Directors but still few General Managers.  Follow the power and you will have your answer about what gains women have made in the last few decades.

4. What about people of color?

BC: See the answer above and change the answer to Black  or people of color.

5. When you mentor young people, even those who think they made it because of the school or looks, what’s your approach?

BC: I approach every person based on their personality – and background differently.   Everyone has a story.

6.  Who mentored you?

BC: My parents. My teachers.

7. What would you be doing if you were not in broadcasting?

BC: There was no other option – this was my destiny.

8. You have children. What are they doing? Have they expressed an interest in broadcasting?

BC:   I have one adult son,  He is an English Professor.

9. What is the one type  of story you really grow tired of?   

BC: As a mother, I am saddened each time an incurable disease takes the life of a child.  I pray that in my lifetime we find a cure to some of the diseases that take the lives of our young people.

10. Is there pressure on you, in an urban community like this? Do people expect you to cover, let’s say issues such as income disparity, crime education and other issues related to Black people different from the greater community?

BC: I don’t think there is pressure on me. It’s a commitment I made when I watched television as a child and didn’t see my community reflected in a way that was fair and accurate.
I think it’s the duty of anyone of any background to speak up and be vocal to teach the greater body in the new meeting to reflect diversity in news coverage.
It’s the right thing to do and frankly, it’s good business for a successful newsroom to represent all people in news coverage.

11. What do you think your legacy will be after you retire?

BC: I will let others decide the answer to that question but I hope that they will say that I held true to the three questions of journalism: “Is it true; is it fair; Is it necessary?”

12. What is the one story you have not covered? And why do you think it has evaded you?

BC: I’m always looking for the next story or interview but I never tip my hand, because I don’t want to get scooped – so stay tuned.

13. You’ve got an idea about a book?

 BC:  Yes, I am working on a book about my pet– “Scrappy – a children ‘s book”– and “Over head in the Newsroom,”  a comic look at everyday conversations about the comic insane world of journalism.

14. What one piece of advice would you give an NSU or ODU graduate in media on how to succeed and be effective?

BC: “Don’t lose your soul.”

15. We all have them, is there one story which makes you sit and cry and is reflective of how cruel we can be as humans? What about the one which you think of when you want to keep yourself motivated … happy and inspired to get up the next day?

BC: We will have to talk about this question … deadline time … call me for the follow up.

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