One of America’s most influential musical groups and Motown legends, The Four Tops, will perform in Resorts Superstar Theater in Atlantic City tomorrow night, Oct. 13 at 9 p.m.
In addition to helping shape and define the Motown sound, The Four Tops have been recognized for their groundbreaking efforts with more than 20 Top 40 hits, their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and much, much more in a career that has spanned more than 50 years.
“We met in high school and, at that age, were out to impress the girls. So we decided to sing for them,” says Abdul “Duke” Fakir, one of the founding members of what would become the famous Four Tops explaining their beginnings in the early ’50s in Detroit.
“Levi (Stubbs) was a really good singer so we gave him little push to see what would happen. And there we were, singing our hearts out and falling into harmonic parts and our own little roles. That’s when we decided to form our own group and see what would happen,” Fakir continued.
Originally known as The Four Ames, they eventually changed their name to The Four Tops to avoid confusion with the then popular Ames Brothers.
In the beginning, he says, their thoughts were far from the enormous success they were to achieve. “We had no idea we would become as popular as we did and last this long. But I will say that once we really got together and started singing and eventually hit the stage as professionals, we realized this was exactly what we wanted to do with our lives. That was our wish.”
For the first 10 years of their career, Fakir says the group sang all kinds of songs. “We continued to be very versatile so we could entertain everyone on a universal level, audience of all colors, races, sizes and shapes.”
They were doing all that, as well as covers of other artists, and creating so many kinds of sounds that nobody really knew what to do with them — until Berry Gordy Jr. and Motown came along.
“Motown changed our lives,” Fakir says. “Our first record release, ‘Baby I Need Your Loving,’ just took our breath away. There was just such good production that everywhere we went the world loved us. All of a sudden, everywhere we went we’d hear our music. We’d be driving down the street with the car windows open and hear ourselves singing.”
And from that day in 1964 on, Fakir says it’s been the greatest life anyone could have. “And I’m not talking about money but about the love that surrounded us. It’s been absolutely amazing and I cherish each and every one of the moments I’ve had.”
Today, even though Fakir is the only surviving member of the original group, the existing Four Tops continue to make music audiences love. “But it was hard to continue performing when my first one passed away, when Lawrence Payton passed,” Fakir says. “At that time in my life none of us expected anyone to leave. We were shattered. We really did think about just giving up because we always thought we’d just be together. But after thinking about it more and more, we decided that of course Lawrence would still have wanted us to go on singing, and people would still enjoy our music without him here.”
And they were right. Today, the legend of The Four Tops continues. ”I think it all starts with the music — some of the best ever created,” Fakir insists. “But you know what? We’re just some hard working guys from Detroit. The audiences are the real stars because they pay their wages, they buy our records, they come to the concerts and get up on stage and dance. They show you love. And that’s really awesome.”
For times and ticket information, call (800) 745-3000.
“A Free Man of Color,” the most recent work by celebrated American playwright John Guare, takes the stage of the Arts Bank Theater, 601 S. Broad St. in a production by the Ira Brind School of Theater Arts at the University of the Arts. Performances are slated for Oct. 11 to 14.
“This is an ambitious play that’s got its sights set on big ideas about race, imperialism, and freedom,” says director Matt Pfieffer. “And it’s all framed in the guise of a Restoration comedy featuring students of UArts who prove themselves more than worthy of the challenge. It’s inspiring to me and I hope it will be for an audience as well.”
Featured in the production is 20-year-old Jahzeer Terrell, a junior who plays the principal role of Jacques Cornet, the flamboyant playboy who suddenly finds himself deprived of his standing in New Orleans society when America acquires the city as part of its Louisiana Purchase.
“Cornet,” Terrell says, “goes from being a flamboyant playboy to being impoverished and eventually sold into slavery because of the Louisiana Purchase. So the play is both a celebration of good times in history when people were equal and life was fun, to a time when people were waking up to the realities of race and freedom that America always had and holds dear to this day.”
Terrell, who grew up in Philadelphia, began his training at the New Freedom Theatre’s Performing Arts training program at age 9 and continued his studies there, building his skills for what he hoped would be his future career.
“My mother worked there, and I came along with her from time to time,” Terrell remembered. “I used to watch people on the stage singing, dancing and acting, and they all seemed to love what they were doing and proud to be there. There was so much excitement around me that I had never seen before, and I thought I’d like to do it too.”
And so he was enrolled first in the summer program at the Theater, learning core skills that eventually helped him become part of the student body at he University of the Arts. He also began appearing in productions such as “Journey of a Gun,” “Get UP AQND Get into it,” and “12 going on 20.”
“I attended Central High School and was involved in some productions there too. But it wasn’t until my junior or senior year at Central, and the kind of training I got at Freedom Theater, that I made up my mind to become a professional actor,” Terrell said.
Although he thought about attending school away from home, he insists that he was very happy to finally decide to stay in Philadelphia. “I’ve always loved the theater scene here. Even the audiences in Philadelphia seem so much more alive, very responsive, and right there with you as you’re performing. It’s also a comfort to know where you are and have that sense of your roots when you’re acting.”
Guare, the author of works like “Six Degrees of Separation” and “The House of Blue Leaves,” was originally commissioned to create “Free Man of Color,” an ambitious epic work in 2004, and it had its premiere at Lincoln Center Theater in December of 2010.
“I’m really happy to be in this production and look forward to being in many more,” Terrell said. “I always find joy in whatever I’m doing and try never to lose sight of that joy. There are times when the work is really hard and the experience becomes difficult. That’s when you have to push yourself and work even harder. And that’s what I’ve done and will continue to do.”
After receiving over a dozen hit albums and 14 gold records, six platinum records and six Grammy Awards, the 5th Dimension continues to perform around the globe, as delighted audiences at the Sellersville Theater will discover for themselves on Oct. 14.
The group will perform some of their classic hits, including “Up, Up and Away,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” and many others.
“We continue to sing our classic hits because that’s what audiences want to hear, those are the songs they remember us by,” says Florence LaRue, the one remaining member of the original 5th Dimensions. Today, she will be joined on the stage by members Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris and Floyd Smith.
“We work hard to remain true to the sound of the 5th Dimension’s original recordings,” LaRue points out. “We also try to put some new things into the act just to keep it fresh for us, but for the most part, audiences will hear the music they came to hear.”
LaRue, who moved to California after graduation from Abington High School, earned an associate’s degree in music from Los Angeles City College and later received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from California State University.
“Growing up I always had two dreams: One to become a performer, and the other to become a teacher,” LaRue says. “My mother urged me to get my teaching degree — just in case — but I always hated that expression. I think teaching is a noble profession. It’s a very special career and should not be entered into lightly.”
But still yearning for a career in the movies, LaRue entered a number of beauty contests while attending college. She won several and was soon approached by Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo to join their recently formed group The 5th Dimension.
“Truthfully,” she says, “I never thought of myself as a singer, but if they thought I could sing, I guess I could sing. And so I joined the group. In the beginning, I thought we’d be successful or I wouldn’t have agreed to become part of them. But I never thought we’d have the kind of success that we had, success that has lasted this long.”
But today, she continues, “as I sit back and reflect on all the wonderful thing we did, such as singing in the White House and traveling all around the world, I am so proud of the music we produced.”
As a solo performer, LaRue has performed in the national tour of Broadway’s Tony Award winning musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and starred in the Toronto and Calvary production of “Mo’ Magic.”
LaRue says while she enjoys performing as one of the 5th Dimension, she also enjoys her solo career. “I enjoy the contact and immediate satisfaction of performing in front of a live audience. There’s something about the theater that is entirely different from doing concerts. So for the future, I look forward to perhaps starring in another play. I also have my one-woman show, ‘Just As I Am,’ which I wrote and have performed several times. I’d like to do it more often and maybe be on the big screen one day.”
After 47 years with the 5th Dimension, LaRue says she has no plans to retire. “I was told years ago to leave the group and do my own thing. But back then, honestly, I was afraid to go out on my own. And today, I just enjoy singing with the group too much to think about leaving them. I enjoy the harmony and it’s been a wonderful experience for me and for the audience.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 257-5808.
The Media Theatre’s first fall production of “Hairspray,” the Tony winning musical that takes place in Baltimore in 1962, runs Sept. 26–Nov.4.
The show is centered around the Corny Collins dance show attracting the attention of social outcast Tracy Turnblad. She gets her chance to appear on the show, becoming an overnight sensation and is thrust into the limelight. She uses her newfound fame, her big heart and her big hairdo to racially integrate the show in the musical by Marc O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. The award-wining score includes such popular songs as “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
In the musical, Tracy hopes to integrate the dance show and comes across Motormouth Maybelle who just might be able to help her achieve that goal.
Appearing in the role of Motormouth Maybelle is Mt. Airy actress Tamara Anderson. Anderson describes her character as the owner of a downtown record shop and the host of “Negro Day” on the Collins show.
“The show is set in the ’60s, a time of sit-ins and people getting arrested,” Anderson says. “And despite the lightness of the show, it also highlights this need for integration. Motormouth has fought to have ‘Negro Day’ on the show once a month, but Tracy recognizes the need to have it more often.”
Anderson says she can really identify with Motormouth — her tenacity and her spirit. “It’s how I feel, especially about the need for equity and fairness among people. Of course, I love the music and the fun the show creates. As actors we are asked to do a lot of projects. Some we like and some we don’t. But I am very excited about the chance to do this one, which marks my debut at Media.”
While assisting in bringing about integration to Baltimore on stage, offstage Anderson is the creator of a theatre piece called “The Voices Project” that serves as a platform for dropout prevention to shine a light on the dire need for sustainable programs for individuals who self-select to leave or are pushed out of school.
The Leeway Foundation, which annually distributes grants to women and transgender artists that focus on creative expression to create social change, awarded her the 2011 Art and Change Grant to fund the Project. And Anderson insists she finds portraying Motormouth in the Media Theatre’s production of the Tony-award winning musical an extension of her work with young people.
“Both my ‘Voices Projects’ and ‘Hairspray’ provide important lessons for young people and the adults that work with them,” she says.
Growing up in Chicago, Anderson spent several years as a middle school and dance/drama teacher. Later, before moving to Philly, she did the same type of instruction through her Genesis ArtsReach in Chicago and New York. And today, as a faculty member at the University of Phoenix, continues to support her ideologies because of the access it provides to attaining a college degree.
“Few people realize that only 54 percent of students graduate from Philadelphia public schools,” she explains “My hope is to help change that as an education advocate, just as Motormouth in ‘Hairspray,’ assisting in creating change for the better.”
For times and ticket information, call (610) 891-0100.
His mother told him his first stage appearance was as one of the seven dwarfs in a kindergarten play.
And although Francois Battiste can’t remember that play, he does remember high school and playing Seth in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” by August Wilson.
Now here he is back again playing in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” running through Oct. 7 at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern.
“Seven Guitars” is set in May of 1948 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where Wilson was born and raised, and all of the action takes place in the backyard of a house shared by several of the characters in the play.
The play centers around Floyd Barton, a blues guitar player on the threshold of success. Wilson crafts the story as a memory play and we begin after Floyd’s funeral and then flashback to events leading to his death. Throughout the play, characters battle with questions of ambition, love, death, heritage, faith, and individual as well as cultural legacies as all of them struggle to achieve their dreams and find their place in the world.
“I play Canewell, one of Floyd’s closest friends for the majority of the play,” Battiste explains. “As a rule, when you play a character you have to bring yourself to that character and align yourself with his identity so you can understand and hopefully relate to him.”
Battiste thinks doing that is very important to bring the character to life. “I think it’s extremely important to personalize your character and find yourself in his circumstances so that you can marry that to what the character is and does.”
Originally planning on becoming a newscaster, this actor says he wasn’t sure he wanted to be an actor until he was ready to graduate from college and figure out some way to make his way in the world. And once he decided acting was for him, he went on to study his craft at Juilliard in New York.
His studies led to many premiere roles such as “Prelude to a Kiss” on Broadway, “The Good Negro” off-Broadway which led to an Obie Award, several roles in Shakespeare in the Park and others. He’s also been seen on TV in such productions as “Person of Interest” and “Are We There Yet?” And on film in “Delivering the Goods,” “Men in Black III” and others.
“Working on and being awarded an Obie for Tracey Scott Wilson’s ‘The Good Negro’ was certainly a highlight for me,” Battiste says. ‘Actually I love doing it all - stage, film, TV. Of course, my heart craves the stage but my pocket book desires TV and film.”
Adding that the stage is an actor’s medium, he does acknowledge that “film and television have their own obstacles, but present different things you can’t find elsewhere and give you an opportunity to exercise different muscles — necessary for every actor.”
“Seven Guitars” is a celebration of the community, but also the struggles of individuals in their search for the American dream. While that search is important, Battiste offers his own advise for one’s future.
“For that I often quote Shakespeare who says ‘To thine own self be true.’ Certain things you plan for your future are not really choices but a duty if you’ve been given certain gifts. You have to pay attention to those gifts and work with them as best you can.”
For times and ticket information, call (610) 644-3500.