The late Robin Harris, the beloved comedian best known for his recurring sketch, “Bebe Kids,” will be featured on the new TV One series, “Unsung Hollywood,” airing at 10 p.m., Wednesday.
Adding his caustic humor to hit movies such as “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “Do the Right Thing,” Harris was prominently featured is the cult classic “House Party,” playing Christopher “Kid” Reid’s “stern, but loving” father. Tragically, Harris died within month’s of the film’s release, while his wife was pregnant with their son, Robin Harris Jr.
In the episode, narrated by Gary Anthony Williams, Harris’ family (including Robin Jr.), friends and fellow comedians come together to tell the story of “your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian” — a “stand up guy who was loved by his community and on a mission to teach the world how to find the funny truth in just about everything.”
“Taking a cue from the original, music-centric ‘Unsung’ series, ‘Unsung Hollywood’ fosters TV Ones’ overarching mission to highlight Black artists, entertainers and programming,” said D’Angela Proctor, senior vice president of programming and production for TV One. “‘Unsung Hollywood’ recounts the achievements of some of the most beloved and groundbreaking artists in the African-American creative community — all of whom have devoted their lives to making their mark in movies, television, comedy and sports — and in the process, have helped elevate and transform the entertainment experience.”
According to the network, “Unsung Hollywood” will share rare stories from film, television, comedy and sports stars through clips, archival and contemporary performances, and exclusively shot, behind-the-scenes footage. As with “Unsung,” “Unsung Hollywood” also features in-depth personal interviews with the talent as well as their family members, friends, industry associates, fellow entertainers and various cultural commentators.
Upcoming episodes of “Unsung Hollywood” include:
March 12 - “What’s Happening!!”
March 19 - Dick Gregory
March 26 - Flip Wilson
Accomplished, well-trained dancers in Philadelphia and the surrounding area are invited to attend an open call audition for male dancers for both the Broadway and upcoming North American touring productions of “Newsies,” the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, at 4 p.m., Friday, March 14 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St. The audition will be first come, first serve and is for technically-trained Equity and non-Equity male dancers ages 16-22 of all ethnicities, who can tap and sing well.
The audition will be overseen by Lou Castro (associate choreographer for “Newsies”), who has worked on Broadway productions of “Women on the Verge,” “13,” “Sunday in the Park With George” and “Alter Boyz.”
Auditions start promptly at 4 p.m., and candidates should bring sneakers, tap shoes, kneepads and a photo/resume. The “Newsies” North American tour will play the Academy of Music during the 2014-15 season; engagement dates will be announced later.
Set in New York City at the turn of the century, “Newsies,” featuring a Tony-winning score with music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, as well as a book by four-time Tony winner Harvaey Fierstein, is the tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of teenage “newsies” who “dreams only of a better life far from the hardships of the streets.” But when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike for what’s right.
“Newsies” is inspired by the real-life “Newsboy Strike of 1899,” when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphaned and runaway newsies on a two-week-long action against Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers.
The stage version introduces seven brand-new songs by the original team of Menken and Feldman while keeping many of the beloved songs from the film, including “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” “King of New York” and Santa Fe.”
It’s been ages since I last heard the Philadelphia Orchesta, so I was looking forward to last weekend’s concerts at Verizon Hall, primarily to hear African-American bassist Joseph Conyers, and witness an intriguing collaboration between the Orchestra and the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), one of the Kimmel Center’s resident companies.
In addition to performances of Stravinsky’s “Concerto in E-flat for Chamber Orchestra” (“Dumbarton Oaks”), excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella,” and the Suite from Stravinsky’s exciting work “The Firebird,” Philadanco presented the premiere of a specially commissioned piece set to Poulenc’s “Aubade,” a “choreographic concerto” for piano and 18 instruments.
“Aubade,” conducted by Stéphane Denève and featuring pianist Eric Le Sage, was choreographed by Philadanco principal dancer, Tommie-Waheed Evans, who was hand-picked to create the piece by Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown and approved by the Orchestra, which expressed a profound interest in his work.
As I settled in to watch the piece, which was second on the program, my overall enjoyment was hampered by the malcontent seated behind me who “whispered,” before the piece even started, “Who’s idea was this?”
The featured dancers included Janine N. Beckles, Jennifer Jones, Roxanne Lyst, Courtney Robinson and Lauren Putty White, who were clad in flowing, mildly seductive metallic and jewel-toned costumes by Anna-Alise. “Aubade,” a rather complex piece, reflected choreographer Evans’ strong classical ballet technique, while accentuating the earthy sensuality of his dancers. He also incorporated a number of lifts into the piece which, to me, symbolized a woman’s strength.
With constant variations in dynamics, mood and tempo, a number of musical questions were posed throughout, mainly by the wind instruments, which were invariably answered by the piano and brass.
While I believe that overall, the skill and artistry of the dancers was greatly appreciated, there were some purists in the audicence who felt that they detracted from the prowess of the pianist. However, I got the impression that the whiney woman sitting behind me wouldn’t have liked anything that was put in front of her.
Even so, Philadanco, a world-class company, never disappoints and “Aubade” was very well received. For his part, Tommie-Waheed Evans, a talented emerging choreographer, definitely rose to the challenge, which would be expected of any dancer who trained under the esteemed Joan Myers Brown.
In an intriguing collaboration, The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Stéphane Denève, and the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) premiere an original piece by principal dancer and emerging choreographer Tommie Waheed Evans, set to Francis Poulenc’s “Aubade.” Performances will take place at 2 p.m. today, Feb. 28, and 8 p.m. tomorrow, March 1, at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce streets.
The program also includes excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” and “The Firebird” suite by Stravinsky.
A dynamic dancer with impeccable technique and explosive power, Evans, founder of the up-and-coming dance company, Waheed-Works, is gradually building a reputation as a choreographer. His original works include “Black Rose” and “Crossroads,” but even so, he expressed a bit of surprise upon the realization that The Philadelphia Orchestra actively sought him out for this prestigious project.
“The Orchestra contacted JB (Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown), and they said, ‘We’re looking for a choreographer for this collaboration of music and dance,’” Evans said. “So JB, as she always does, she puts things in my mailbox — emails, competitions, all types of stuff — but she kept saying something to me about it. She kept saying, ‘Did you see what I put in your mailbox?’ and I was like, ‘Yes.’ Then she came back and was like, ‘Did you call them?’ And I said, ‘No.’ The next day she said, ‘Did you contact the Orchestra? I think that would be a very good gig for you!’ And I said, ‘Okay.’
“So then I dragged my feet, and then I contacted them, and you know, I thought this was some kind of meeting — a meeting of minds, to ‘see if we like you, show us your work,’ and stuff like that. I get to the meeting, and basically, they had already Googled me and Googled my stuff and saw what I’d done, and basically it was, ‘We want you to be the choreographer for this project.’”
“Aubade,” a “choreographic concerto” for 18 instruments, solo piano and dancers, is an “animated and expressive work,” based on the mythological tale of Diana, the virgin goddess of childbirth and women. The piece, created for five female dancers, features Philadanco members Roxanne Lyst, Lauren Putty White, Janine Beckles, Courtney Robinson and Jennifer Jones. The concerto, featuring pianist Eric Le Sage, is constantly evolving — suddenly erupting from soft solo piano to blaring brass, and rife with musical highs and lows.
“That’s life,” said Evans, a Philadanco veteran who is on faculty at the University of the Arts. “I’m building the piece off of this woman who’s in solitude, and the way I’m working with it, you know how the music goes up and down? That’s life, because walk outside right now and there can be a lot going on, and if you’re in solitude, if you’re depressed, if you’re detached from life, you’re not even affected by what’s going on. This female character is in her own place, and people are reacting to the music, so that goes into, you’re reacting to the weather, you’re reacting to your daily troubles.
“But then, I’m also basing it off of, that this is an all-female piece. There’s no male, yet the music’s so romantic. That means something. That’s some type of desperation. That’s some type of loneliness. That’s some type of emptiness of passion that we all have. But then, there’s being lonely for something you’ve never had, so that can tie into virginity — purity. So I’m basing it off those things: purity, loneliness, passion, solitude — all those things.”
As the supremely talented Evans embarks on this exciting phase of his career, he, as have countless Philadanco dancers before him, paid homage to his celebrated teacher and mentor.
“I’m very grateful to Joan Myers Brown for allowing me the time and opportunity, and really having my back and putting me out there,” he said. “She helped me to go out to get a gig, and it helped benefit the company. I think that’s just so awesome!” To his ever-increasing legion of fans and supporters, he concluded, “I want them to come out and see a beautiful piece. It’s going to be beautiful!”
For tickets and information call (215) 893-1999 or visit www.kimmelcenter.org.
On Feb. 16, 1929, it was impossible to even imagine that such a thing as Black History Month would ever exist, but it is on this day, during Black History Month that we recognize and celebrate the 85th anniversary of the day Philadelphia’s historic and beloved Uptown Theater opened to the public.
Designed and built by Louis Magaziner in 1928, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Uptown, at 2240-2248 N. Broad St., was an important stop on the “chitlin’ circuit”, a network of music venues, diners, juke joints and theaters throughout the Eastern and southern United States, where Black acts could perform when they could not play the white-only venues that were common during the age of segregation (from at least the 1800s through the 1960s).
Once the hub of arts and culture and an “economic engine” for Philadelphia’s Black community, the Uptown Theater produced live shows from 1958 to 1972 that were the brainchild of legendary Philadelphia radio personality Georgie Woods, who was the hot disc jockey at WDAS-AM at the time. His soul spectaculars have become as much a part of the city’s musical legacy as Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”
Linda Richardson, president of the Uptown Entertainment & Development Corp., the organization that is spearheading the restoration and preservation of the theater, has a number of events planned thoughout the year to commemorate the anniversary of the historic venue.
“We have a few activities planned for the 85th anniversary,” said Richardson. “First is the unveiling of the African-American Historic Trail website that will be coinciding with Black History Month. We also are planning our June event. This year, on June 20, we’re going to do a mini-concert at the CBS studios at 15th and Hamilton, and that’s going to be a VIP event. We’re going to be announcing the headliners, but we want people to save the date, and that’s going to be a highlight for our overall campaign to begin the renovation of the theater. We also have our ‘Uptown Kids Doing Good,’ and that’s a talent contest.”
Since the Uptown Theater has been dormant for many years, one might ask why it should be celebrated, and to Richardson, who acquired the building in 2001, the answer is automatic. “The history of the Uptown is celebratory of what happened in the Uptown, and also the architecture,” she said. “When completed, we’ll be one of the only mid-size African-American theaters in the city, if not the region. So for that, to be consumers of the entertainment, we also need to have ownership. It’s important that [the] theater is still standing, and has been a part of the history of music in the city of Philadelphia, and will continue to provide opportunities for art and culture.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans described the Uptown as “a beacon of hope and optimism.”
“I went one or two times when I was very young, but I knew what the Uptown meant to the city,” he said. “You know how we did the West Oak Lane Jazz Event? I think it was very much like the younger version of West Oak Lane, because you had the Delfonics, the Temptations, the Jackson Five, and Georgie Woods was the leader of all that.”
On Oct. 20, 2007, Mayor John Street presented a $1 million to the corporation for the renovation of the theater, and restoration of the Uptown began in earnest in 2012. However, the project suffered a recent setback.
“We were saddened to know that the mural (“Uptown Reunion”), which is on a retaining wall, had deteriorated to the point where it was in danger of collapsing,” Richardson explained. “Rather than be a danger to life and property, we felt that we needed to remediate it by making sure that the part of the wall that was buckling was demolished so that it could be rebuilt. Part one has been completed, and the danger of collapse has been dealt with, so now we have to shore it up and then restore the mural.”
In the process of perpetuating the Uptown legacy, United Entertainment has forged a partnership with it’s neighbor, Temple University, and Richardson explained, “We recently had a great meeting with the Community Relations division of Temple, and they are continuing to work with us by having students work with our neighborhood cleanup campaign, and we are looking to engage some of the schools — Business, the School of Fine Arts, the Theater Department and the Department of Architecture for students to not only learn, but to work with us in their fields of study.
“The architecture students, we are looking for them to help us in the design of the uses of public space, and theater and art students to work on some of the existing performances that we’ll do for fundraising purposes. We’ve also been talking to Temple about potentially having some space that one of their student programs could utilize. That’s an ongoing discussion with Temple.”
While he acknowledges that the music business has changed, Evans, who has been in office since 1980, and was so instrumental in the revitalization of the West Oak Lane section the city, feels the historic venue is still viable saying, “I believe it could do something of a performing arts nature.”
Despite some obstacles, there is overall optimism regarding the future of the Uptown Theater, and Richardson proudly announced the corporation is now a United Way donor choice agency, meaning that interested parties who want to support the Uptown may do so through their place of employment.
“The preservation of the building is a long-term process, so particularly, we’re looking at our young board members like Chris Lyons and our youth coordinator to begin to take over this work in perpetuating the Uptown,” Richardson said in conclusion. “So, in 2014, we’re looking a legacy-building and succession planning. I’m not going anywhere, but we’re looking at succession planning.”
For information on the Uptown Entertainment & Development Corp. and the 85th anniversary of the Uptown Theater, call (215) 236-1878 or visit www.philadelphiauptown.org.