Controversial talk show host and best-selling author Wendy Williams recently put on quite a display as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” and now “the Queen of Radio” turns her attention to the Great White Way, making her Broadway debut as Matron “Mama” Morton in the Tony Award-winning musical “Chicago.” Williams will play a seven-week limited engagement beginning June 25 at the Ambassador Theatre, 219 West 49th St.
Wendy Williams burst onto the talk show scene in July 2009 with the launch of the nationally-syndicated weekday program, “The Wendy Williams Show,” which airs in 52 countries. Now in its fourth season, the show has been renewed on Fox through 2014.
Prior to achieving success in daytime television, Williams built a highly susccessful 23-year career in radio, including a stint at Power99 FM in Philadelphia. “The Wendy Williams Experience” was Williams’ top-rated, daily radio show. Syndicated nationally, it aired on WBLS in New York and enjoyed an audience of more than 12 million listeners. One of the most popular personalities in radio, Williams was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in November of 2009 - one of only a handful of women with that honor.
Williams made her motion picture debut in 2012, taking a surprising comedic turn in the hilarious ensemble piece “Think Like a Man,” inspired by the Steve Harvey best-seller, “Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man.”
In the role of Matron “Mama” Morton, which earned Queen Latifah an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal in the film version of “Chicago,” Williams takes over for celebrated actress and comedienne Christine Pedi, who is currently making her debut engagement with the show.
“Chicago,” directed by Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie, also stars Amy Spanger as Roxie Hart, Amra-Faye Wright as Velma Kelly, Tony Award nominee Adam Pascal as Billy Flynn, Raymond Bokhour as Amos Hart and R. Lowe as Mary Sunshine. Williams’ seven-week summer engagement will continue through August 11.
As the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts takes place in venues throughout the city, the internationally acclaimed Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) returns to the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater April 19-21 in response to the festival’s 2013 curatorial theme, “If You Had a Time Machine…”
The company will take patrons back “13 Billion Years Ago” with “The Big Bang,” choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins. “It was commissioned by the Kimmel and the National Endowment for the Arts, and it’s about ‘The Big Bang theory,’” said Joan Myers Brown, founder and artistic director of Philadanco. The program will also include Milton Myers’ “Love n’ Pain,” set to music by Aretha Franklin, and Ray Mercer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
When initially informed of the festival’s “Time Machine” theme, Brown contemplated the formative years of her world-class company, which she established in 1970.
“They said, ‘Where would I want to go if I had a period in time that I could go to?’ I said, ‘I would like to go back to the beginning, when I didn’t have to pay anybody, when the dancers wanted to dance all day and all night, when I had to put them out the studio - people look at their watches and everything now and want overtime every time they breathe. And the commitment the dancers made in the beginning to make sure that Philadanco happened.”
Brown will present the dance company’s first ballet, “Time/Space” (1971), choreographed by Harold Pierson.
“I brought in all the dancers that had been in that ballet, and we put it back together, and then afterward, on opening night, we’re going to do a panel with those same dancers to talk about where they went after Philadanco, and how was their experience in making the contribution to Philadanco,” she said.
“I’ll give you an example,” she continued. “One of the boys (Michael Harrison), for 14 years, he was Big Bird — ‘Sesame Street’s’ Big Bird, on tour. Then we had like five dancers who spent 10, 12 years with (Alvin) Ailey. And then some of the boys, I put in a program to train them how to be paperhangers and painters to supplement their income, and one of the boys is still doing that. So these are interesting things that they went through. One of the girls, Pat Scott, I sent her to Freedom Theater for two weeks, and she’s been there for years. Those kind of things, we’re going to talk about after the show.”
Tickets are available for purchase at PIFA.org, (215) 546-PIFA (7432), or at the Kimmel Center box office lat Broad and Spruce streets (open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., later on performance evenings). Ticket prices vary for performances and events.
“In Performance at the White House,” the superb PBS series celebrating American music, retuns to WHYY with “Memphis Soul,” airing at 8 p.m. on April 16.
According to the network “In Performance at the White House: Memphis Soul” will honor the “memorable soul sounds from the mid-to-late 1960s that came from Memphis.” Tennessee and legendary labels like Stax-Volt Records, that featured artists such as Al Green, Mavis Staples, Ben Harper and Alabama Shakes. The evening pays homage to Memphis, a segregated city in the 1960s where many whites and Blacks nonetheless came together to make soulful music, a mix of gospel and potent rhythmic grooves known today as “Memphis Soul.”
The star-studded lineup also includes William Bell, iconic Stax guitarist, Steve Cropper, Queen Latifah, Cyndi Lauper, Joshua Ledet, Sam Moore, of the legendary duo Sam & Dave, Charlie Musselwhite and Memphis native Justin Timberlake, as well as Music Director Booker T. Jones, whose dynamic quartet Booker T & the MGs, can be heard backing most of the Stax artists during the label’s glory days.
Highlights of the program include Moore and Ledet’s rendition of the Issac Hayes composition “Soul Man,” originally recorded by Sam & Dave, as well as Mavis Staples’ interpretation of “I’ll Take You There,” the first mega-hit for the Staples Singers. Timberlake and Cropper team up for the Otis Redding classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,’ and Eddie Floyd delivers his hit “Knock on Wood,” which was interpreted by Amii Stewart during the disco era. Queen Latifah, the versatile Academy Award nominee and Grammy winner, sings “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and the entire cast takes the stage for the rousing finale, “In the Midnight Hour,” originally recorded by Wilson Pickett.
So far, “In Performance at the White House” has saluted Memphis Soul and the Motown Sound. Can The Sound of Philadelphia be far behind?
TBS puts a “different twist” on hidden-camera comedy with the brand new series “Who Gets the Last Laugh?” premiereing April 16 at 10 p.m. Hosted by Donald Faison, formerly of the sitcom “Scrubs,” the series will pit some of the industry’s most well-known comedians and comedic actors against one another to see who can pull the most outrageous practical jokes.
Each week on “Who Gets the Last Laugh?” which is the brainchild of “Punk’d co-creators Jason Goldberg and Ashton Kutcher, three comedians must dream up the funniest and most outrageous pranks possible, then “successfully unleash their ideas on an unsuspecting public.” A live audience then determines which comedy star really got the last laugh, with the winner earning $10,000 to be given the charity of their choice.
The series premiere features Kunal Nayyar, who sets people up to be pulled over by “police”; Bill Bellamy, who “causes a “crappy situation for some poor innocent cars” and Jeff Dye, who “causes some innocent people to make the biggest mistake of their lives,” and the comedians are positively gleeful as they set people up to be tormented. After all three pranks, the studio audience votes to determine who gets the last laugh.
Among the comedians who have lined up to participate in “Who Get’s the Last Laugh?” are Andy Dick (“Newsradio), Tom Green (“The Tom Green Show”), D.L Hughley (“The Hughleys”), Chris Kattan (“The Middle,” “Saturday Night Live”), Bam Margera (“Jackass”), Bill Bellamy (“Last Comic Standing”), Charlie Murphy (“Chappelle’s Show”) Cheri Oterei (Saturday Night Live”), Alan Thicke (“Growing Pains”), Nicole Sullivan (“MADtv), Kunal Nayyar (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Finesse Mitchell (“Saturday Night Live”). Hidden-camera shows drives me absolutely crazy, but I must say that the hidden-camera capers staged by these creative comedians are hilarious.
April 10 marked the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson signing with Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, effectively breaking the color barrier. However, it did not come without a cost, and “42,” open today in theaters nationwide is a riveting and emotionally charged account of a moment in history that made it possible for superstars such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Lou Brock, Dave Winfield, Ken Griffey, Jr., Kirby Puckett, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard to play Major League Baseball (MLB).
The captivating and compelling screenplay by Brian Helgeland, who also directed the film, begins on a high note, with the courtly Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) proposing to his girlfriend Rachel (Nicole Beharie) over the telephone. She accepts, and the young couple optimistically begins their new life together.
Shortly thereafter, Robinson, who is enjoying a stellar career in the Negro League is approached by Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), who is contemplating the daring decision to integrate the team, and begins to search for the perfect player to fit the bill. Perusing the Negro League rosters and poring over statistics, he decides that Jackie Robinson has the talent and temperament to take on such a daunting task.
The film candidly dramatizes the well-documented racism, prejudice and unabashed cruelty that Robinson and in many cases, his wife, was routinely subjected to as a Black pioneer in a “white man’s sport.” During a frank discussion with Rickey, he asked, “Why me?” and his boss unflinchingly ticked off all the reasons why he felt that Robinson was the right man for the job, when superb players like Satchell Paige and Roy Campanella were willing and available.
The Philadelphia Phillies were the most zealous in their racial vitriol and violations, with their manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) standing nearby whenever Robinson was at bat, and chanting, “Ni**er, ni**er, ni**er” at the top of his lungs, as if it were the lyrics to a song. His display was so disgusting that even Robinson’s teammates, who were also racists, were embarrassed by it.
Adding continuity to the story is Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), a newspaper reporter who followed Robinson from the beginning of his career. Though suspect at first, he was struggling with his own issues with discrimination, and soon became a trusted friend.
While the story in itself is nothing short of amazing, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe Chadwick Boseman’s protrayal of Robinson, who actually played himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story,” which was released on May 16, 1950, and featured Ruby Dee as Jackie’s wife, Rae Robinson. While that version soft-pedaled the plight of baseball’s Black pioneer, Helgeland’s interpretation does not back off from the harsh reality of racism, allowing Robinson, who showed super-human tolerance and control in public, to lash out in anger and frustration behind closed doors. There was a dignity behind Boseman’s piercing gaze indicating that while Robinson was tolerant, he was by no means a pushover.
Harrison Ford was so immersed in the character of Branch Rickey that I didn’t even realize that he played the role until the credits rolled. As a man who was apparently way ahead of his time, Rickey had no illusions about the nature of white America, and indeed set out to exorcise a few demons of his own. His performance was quiet and captivating. Nicole Beharie, an emerging actress who has appereared in “Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day” and Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” showed the strength and sensuality that was absolutely essential to stand by a man in such a groundbreaking position.
Even if you have never seen a Major League Baseball game, “42” is a must-see. While the content is historic, Helgeland’s handling of it is not “preachy” and Boseman’s portayal of Robinson is brilliant. This is an engaging, enlightening and entertaining piece of cinema. (Rated: PG-13)