Review: ‘Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado’ – Nostalgic and Magical!

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Walter Mercado, Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Growing up in my Latin household, I was guaranteed three things: flavorful rice and beans, the sound of salsa, and exposure to astrological phenomenon, Walter Mercado. I miss and relish all three, but what stuck with me throughout the years is the influence of the latter. I attribute my love of sparkles and all things astrology to the enigmatic Walter Mercado. I can’t remember any other time during my Cuban childhood home, or my extended family’s, where we’d sit in complete silence, listening to Walter Mercado deliver new developments for each sign of the horoscope. We were all captivated by his presence and larger-than-life TV persona. And, come July 8th you will be too, as Netflix begins streaming Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado globally, to entice – existing and new fans – with this wonderful documentary of the iconic clairvoyant.

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Eugenio Derbez, Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

The documentary begins with a series of Walter Mercado images from the height of his popularity on television, displaying his signature choreographed arm moves to draw the viewer’s attention, and in true Mercado form – he succeeded in commanding it! Millions of Latin families tuned in daily to listen and absorb new astrological insights pertaining to the zodiac. Actor/Comedian, Eugenio Derbez says: “ When I first saw him on TV, I was like, What is this I’m watching? Is it a woman, a man, a sorcerer?” Derbez was hooked! Legions of Walter Mercado fans continue to experience this sentiment. With his grandiose beautiful outfits, soothing voice, and mesmerizing gaze he was unstoppable. Undoubtedly, gender non-confirming Walter Mercado was a pioneer for LGTBQ+ personalities we see today. As the documentary delves deeper into his life, we learn that he refused to adhere to societal rules, and instead, opted to break them.

Mercado, born in 1932, knew he was different from the outset and destined for a different life from that of his siblings and the poor rural area of Ponce, Puerto Rico where he was from. After breathing life into a small bird on the brink of death, young Walter Mercado became the talk of his town and was deemed a mystic figure people sought advice and help from. His mother accepted and encouraged his newfound adulation and set up a designated space in their home for Walter to thrive as fortune consultant. Following his natural gift for entertainment, Mercado enrolled in the University of Ponce and pursued dancing and acting and landed telenovela roles with Telemundo.

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Walter Mercado at home, Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

A momentous visit to the set from the head of Telemundo at the time, prompted Mercado to create a promo for the soap opera that would launch his astrological career. For decades, Mercado’s message of peace, love, and prosperity has impacted Latinos and Americans around the world. He’s the most renowned astrological figure nationally and internationally, meeting the likes of prime ministers, former presidents with special guest appearances on American talk shows. The documentary doesn’t just focus on his successes, tragedy befell the icon, which almost left him for dead and the film does a superb job allowing Mercado, and those close to him, tell his story. Mucho Mucho Amor (Mercado’s signature catchphrase) captures the essence of the legend and depicts his ups and downs with authenticity and grace, from the music to the use of tarot cards. Although Mercado left the limelight and remained dormant for a while, his comeback was almost inevitable as a new generation of adoring fans surfaced on social media and beyond.

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Walter Mercado and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Mucho Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch, and produced by Alex Fumero has a run time of 93 minutes and begins streaming on Netflix, July 8th. Don’t miss this spectacular documentary and special appearance by Lin-Manuel Miranda fan-boying Walter Mercado as he meets the iconic psychic in Puerto Rico. To learn more about the film, click here.

Film Independent’s Project Involve 2020 Showcase Raises The Creativity Bar With Thought-Provoking Films

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Jonah Beres as Sam in Balloon, Photo: Courtesy of Film Independent

We are living in unprecedented times. That’s a given. A global pandemic claiming more than 2 million lives and counting, a monumental Black Lives Matter Movement calling for the dismantlement of systemic racism rooted in American foundations. Yet, in the midst of all this chaos (ultimately for the greater good) there is beauty waiting to be discovered through the magical storytelling lens of filmmakers. Stories about communities underrepresented on the screen that need to be seen. This year, Film Independent unveiled 6 short films from their 27th Project Involve program poised to make a lasting impression on audiences. 4 of these films are laced with bittersweet, funny, and controversial themes expressing emotions validating our universal experiences we share as humans.

Balloon, directed by Jeremy Merrifield, and edited by Bowei Yue, follows 14 year-old Sam (Jonah Beres) in the middle of an active-shooter drill, led by the talented Paul Scheer (Officer Hart). Sam, a quiet teen, is the target of harassment after a video of him crying goes viral after being punched by school bully, Jason (Carson Severson). Jason is dead set on seizing any opportunity to get a rise out of Sam and his other victims. Sam’s friend, Adam (Jaylin Ogle), tries to console Sam and urges him to fight back, while not wanting to be labeled as weak by the other boys. When Sam discovers he has super powers to defend himself from his aggressors, he’s at a crossroads: fight back or continue enduring the brutal torments. The film reveals an all too familiar toxic masculinity in American culture and what’s at stake for children and young adults to survive in school. It’s relevant and timely and worth watching.

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Lara Cengiz as Kati in Bambirak, Photo Courtesy of Film Independent

The film Bambirak by director Zamarin Wahdat, about an 8 year-old Afghan girl (Kati) and her single father (Faruk), adapting to a new country they’ve sought asylum in is poignant and speaks to the collective solid bond fathers and daughters have. The story begins with Kati (Lara Cengiz) hiding in her dad’s delivery truck. Once he discovers her while making deliveries, Faruck (Kailas Mahadevan) becomes desperate to drop Kati at the grandmother’s home, although she’s nowhere to be found. Faruk enlists Kati to be his assistant. Everything seems to go smoothly until a racist turn-of-events challenge the father-daughter duo. Tensions flare, accusations are made, and with minimal dialogue, the father-daughter team accept the trade-off of being in a new country. Wonderfully acted and scripted, Bambirak is a gem of a short film.

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Buck, the narrative short by director Elegance Bratton and co-director Jovan James follows Lynn (Malik Shakur), a young gay black man dealing with his depression in a self-destructive manner that has the potential to lead to tragedy. The film starts off with Lynn’s mother pressing him about his meds. Determined to seek happiness with a visit to his white male lover, Richard (Gabe Peyton), the encounter proves to be disappointing. Lynn realizes there is another gay couple waiting for him to partake in a sexual party. Reluctant and declining to participate, Lynn decides to leave even though he’s taken a hit of Meth, is barely conscious, and is rescued by fellow black gay man whose life is on borrowed time. With the 25 million Americans suffering from depression to date, we don’t see nearly enough films examining and exploring individual experiences with this disease and Buck does a great job of portraying someone who battles mental illness, with empathy, not pity.

 

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Saint from La Gloria film, Photo: Courtesy of Film Independent

La Gloria a film by Mary Evangelista explores the aftermath of an attempted suicide by a young gay Latina (Gloria). And she how copes with lovesickness and sorrow with the help of her grandmother’s optimism and dream-channeling to achieve hope and peace. While the rest of her family glosses over her suicide attempt and go about their everyday lives. Gloria (Chris Gris) and her grandmother’s bond is authentic and compelling. It offers a sweet glimpse into relationships between younger and older generations. And we are here for it!

Film Independent’s 2020 Project Involve Showcase, a carefully curated program of short films spotlighting some of the program’s most exciting new filmmakers. Project Involve (PI for short) fosters the careers of talented filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the industry, and is celebrating 27 years of working toward a more inclusive entertainment landscape. The program serves as a valuable incubator for diverse talent and has cultivated the careers of more than 820 filmmakers. Notable alumni include Linda Yvette Chavez & Marvin Lemus (Gentefied); Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians); Jomo Fray (Selah and the Spades); LaToya Morgan (Into the Badlands); Justin Simien (Dear White People); Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Kim Yutani (Director of Programming, Sundance) and many more. To learn more about Film Independent and Project Involve, click here.

Review: ‘West Side Story’ – A Modern And Riveting Revival

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Cast of West Side Story, Photo by Jan Versweyveld

It’s challenging not succumbing to presumptions, especially before attending a remake of an iconic musical. Recently, this was my dilemma, before the global pandemic crisis we are all currently facing became our new normal. The latest production of West Side Story by Tony Award-winning director Ivo van Hove (A View From the Bridge, The Crucible) exceeded my expectations and my doubts quickly dissolved. The electrifying young and diverse cast (most making their Broadway debut) blew me away. And, I’m certain you will be too when you experience the flurry of captivating choreography, impassioned acting, and vocal intonations that will permeate the theatre and leave you speechless.

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(L) Isaac Powell as Tony, (R) Shereen Pimentel as Maria, Photo: Jan Versweyveld

The cast, led by Isaac Powell (Once on This Island) as Tony and Shereen Pimentel, (The Lion King) as Maria have undeniable chemistry. Powell and Pimentel play off each other’s acting abilities and are superb as the infamous angst-filled couple. The timeless story of two lovers coming together in the midst of racial conflict between their families couldn’t be timelier. More than 60 years after the critically acclaimed musical, written by Arthur Laurents, composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins made its debut on Broadway and changed American theater forever. Now, it is back to remind us that there is no place for hate and intolerance as these detrimental emotions destroy everything in their path, including love. Originally based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with a storyline focusing on the mistreatment of Puerto Ricans in New York City, the musical’s themes strike a nerve with the rising problem of xenophobia in this country.

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Amar Ramasar, Yesenia Ayala (Center), and West Side Story Cast, Photo: Jan Versweyveld

The phenomenal dancing in this classic Broadway favorite lets audiences follow the otherwise inevitable doomed classic love story. The tantalizing new choreography, by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is magnificent. All of the performers glide with fluidity and grace and you can’t keep your eyes off them, especially Amar Ramasar (Bernardo), the classically trained New York City Ballet dancer. Adding to the visual stimulation: the LED screens capturing the dreary backdrops of New York City and handheld cameras projecting each actor’s facial expression up close driving the narrative. After all, this is a modern interpretation of a beloved classic, and new audiences, young and old, will definitely appreciate these additions.

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Dharon E. Jones, Amar Ramasar, and West Side Story Cast, Photo: Jan Versweyveld

West Side Story runs an hour and 45 minutes, sans intermission, and will return on April 12th to the Broadway Theatre in New York City. Yes, a bit of a wait as Broadway actors and staff can’t work from home. If you’d like to donate, please go to Broadwaycares.org. When the lights do come back on, don’t miss Ivo van Hove’s Broadway musical debut with the revival of this widely revered classic and the ageless songs: “America,” “Maria,” and “Tonight,” to sing along. To learn more about the show and get tickets, click here.

Credits: Music: Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim; Book: Arthur Laurents; Director: Ivo van Hove; Choreography: Anne Teresa De Keermaeker; Set and Lighting: Jan Versweyveld; Costume Designer: An D’Huys; Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons; Video Designer: Luke Halls: Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick; Music Director and Supervisor: Alexander Gemignani.
Cast: Isaac Powell, Shereen Pimentel, Dharon E. Jones, Yesenia Ayala, Amar Ramasar, Ahmad Simmons, Elijah A. Carter, Danny Wolohan, Jacob Guzman, Kevin Csolak, Matthew Johnson, Zuri Noelle Ford, Daniel Oreskes, Pippa Pearthree, Thomas Jay Ryan.

Illustrious Choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson Supersede Expectations With Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s New Season!

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L to R: Dancers: Candy Tong, Tatiana Melendez, Eriko Sugimura Performing “Love Rocks,” Photo: Justin Chao

Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s 26th season is back in full swing. Bringing to the stage previous audience favorites from the last two decades and sensational world premieres such as “Kaleidoscope,” “Elegy,” and “Love Rocks”. And, if you’re an aficionado of dance and Lenny Kravitz, you’d be remiss to overlook this magical performance as Complexions pays homage to the Grammy award-winning songwriter and advocate of love and unity.

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L to R Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s Pre-Professional Program Dancers, L to R Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Photo: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN

The evening, celebrating Complexions Contemporary Ballet fundraising Gala, highlighted co-founders Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden’s educational initiatives to guide the young dancers of tomorrow through scholarships, mentorship programs and reinforce the artistic directors’ methodology of dance training. A testament to Richardson and Rhoden’s dance instruction was manifested by the dancers from Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s Pre-Professional Program performing “Kaleidoscope,” the aspiring professional dancers are poised, (some hail from as far as Winnipeg, Canada) to join an acclaimed dance company in the near future. Actress, songwriter, and musician Rhonda Ross kicked off the night to remind audience members the importance of dance as self-expression and daring everyone to reach for more – sentiments shared, and at the heart of Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s mantra.

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Singer, Songwriter Rhonda Ross, Photo: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN

Setting the stage ablaze with her statuesque physique and mesmerizing dance moves was Jillian Davis. Davis has been with the company since 2014 and not only does she tower over the other dancers – male and female; she owns her height and glides across the stage with grace and confidence. On this night, Davis’ solo and world premiere of “Elegy” solidified her talents as a solo act and theater patrons will marvel at her performance.

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Jillian Davis, Photo: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN

The final act of the evening was “Love Rocks” – a compilation of Lenny Kravitz’s music catalogue set to Dwight Rhoden’s choreography and performed by the entire company. These dancers did not miss a step. With their beautiful movements, the dancers captured Kravitz’s soulful and sultry voice. “Are You Gonna Go My Way, “ Fly Away,” and “I Belong To You,” – are some of the rock star’s popular songs featured in the tribute. The sensual costume design coupled with equally titillating mood lighting and backdrop, set the ambiance and ended the night on a high note.

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Dancer Tim Stickney and The Company, Photo: Steven Pisano

Complexions Contemporary Ballet will showcase their 26th season now through February 2, 2020 at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan. Do not miss this opportunity to see these incredibly gifted dancers on stage featuring classical, modern, and experimental ballet. To get tickets for upcoming shows and learn more about Complexions Contemporary Ballet, click here.

Credits:
KALEIDOSCOPE
Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden; Staged by: Natiya Kezevadz & Clifford Williams; Music by: African Drums and Soukouss – Beat the Drum, Mari Samuelson, Konzerthausorchester Berlin & Jonathan Stockhammer – November, Michael Bublé – Who’s Lovin’ You; Featuring the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Pre-Professional Program.
ELEGY
Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden; Music by: Beethoven; Lighting Design by: Michael Korsch; Costume Design by: Christine Darch; Performed by: Jillian Davis.
LOVE ROCKS
Choreography: Dwight Rhoden / Desmond Richardson; Music: Lenny Kravitz; Costume Design and Construction: Christine Darch; Lighting and Set Design: Michael Korsch; Sound Design: Corey Folta; Performed by: The Company.

Review: ‘A Christmas Carol in Harlem’ – Modern Twist of a Favorite Classic: Delightfully Uplifting

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L to R: Emery Jones as Tiny Timothia and Charles Bernard Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge, Photo: Jill Jones

The holiday season is upon us and as you plan the rest of your entertainment activities with friends and family for the month of December look no further than A Christmas Carol in Harlem to fill you with glee. The Classical Theatre of Harlem brings to the stage a new adaptation of the beloved Charles Dickens novel. Its main character Ebenezer Scrooge, is a real estate mogul and community curmudgeon, who’s acquired his wealth at the expense of others and lacks empathy towards the less fortunate. He refuses to part with his money to help the needy without getting something in return. Scrooges’ lonely existence – and world – is turned upside down by the visit of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former business partner, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. And, is forced to contend with the error of his ways. Almost two centuries old, this famous tale is as timely as ever with income disparity becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the country and citizens being displaced from their neighborhoods.

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L to R: Kaden Jones as Young Ebenezer, Charles Bernard Murray as Scrooge, Eryn Barnes as Ghost of Christmas Past, Photo: Jill Jones

Set in present day Harlem, this dynamic cast’s interpretation is replete with magical strobes; hip-hop, lively dance numbers and singers with impressive vocal range. The festive and wintry backdrop sets the tone and Charles Bernard Murray (Honkey Tonk Nights) portrays the miserly Scrooge with conviction and wit. The most memorable ghost in the production: Christmas Past, as she sashays across the stage with interpretive dance to transition between Scrooge’s past memories – a wonderful creative touch as only the Classical Theatre of Harlem group can conceive.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary season, The Classical Theatre of Harlem brings A Christmas Carol in Harlem production, with a 90-minute runtime, to the City College Center for the Arts’ Aaron Davis Hall from now through December 21, 2019. Don’t miss this spectacular holiday show for children and adult of all ages. To learn more about A Christmas Carol in Harlem and buy tickets, click here.

CREDITS:
The company of “A Christmas Carol in Harlem” includes: Eryn Barnes (as The Ghost of Christmas Past), Reed HarrisButts (as Bennie),  Kahlil X Daniel (as The Ghost of Christmas Future), Gabrielle Djenné (as Fan and Belle; The Bacchae), Daniel Echevarria (as Fezz; In The Heights, Something like a Fairytale, The Open Gate), Ure Egbuho (as Sierra Jones; Good Friday, Locked Up Bitches; SCRAPS), Paula Galloway (as Claudette; The Colored Museum, Ain’t Misbehavin’), Steve Greenstein (as Jacob Marley; Flashdance the Musical), Emery Jones (as Tiny Timothia), Kaden Jones (as Child Scrooge and Bennie), Charles Bernard Murray (as Scrooge; The Bacchae), Andrei Pierre (as The Ghost of Christmas Present), Angela Polite (as Clock Shop Lady; MARY SPEAKS, Flambeaux), Jeffrey Rashad (as Bob Cratchit and Young Scrooge), and Kenzie Ross (as Mrs. Cratchit; Blood at the Root, When We Left). The ensemble features dancers from Elisa Monte Dance includingTracy Dunbar, Kat Files, Daniela Funicello, Ashley LaRosa and Sai Rodboon.
Based on the Charles Dickens Novella; Adapted by Shawn René Graham; Director: Carl Cofield; Choreographer: Tiffany Rea-Fisher; Costume Design: Lex Liang and Margaret Goldrainer; Lighting Design: Alan C. Edwards; Music Director: Kahlil X Daniel: Scenic Design: Izmir Ickbal; Sound Design: Kathy Ruvuna; Production Stage Manager: William V. Carlton; Projections Designer: Shawn Boyle; Props: Samantha Shoffner.

 

Broadway Review: ‘Tina’ – Riveting, Heartfelt, and A Testament To Tina Turner’s Indelible Star Power

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Photo: Manuel Harlan

Upon hearing that the Tina Tuner musical was coming to town, I had trepidation and a bit of skepticism. As a theatre and musical lover, I had no choice but to succumb to a new rendition of one of my childhood idol’s life portrayed on the Broadway stage. Would the actress playing Tina measure up? Would she be able to convey this powerhouse of a woman justly? Would the music move me? The answer to all my resounding questions: Absolutely! Tony-nominated actress, Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along, Bring It On: The Musical) reprises her role of rock legend, Tina Turner; Warren had performed ‘Tina’ in London’s West End this past spring with rave reviews. And, now she’s traveled to New York to shatter all expectations of fans and critics alike. Warren’s portrayal of Tina Turner is sensational. The octaves in her similarly raspy voice to Turner’s are spectacular. Warren interprets Tina’s signature moves with grace, sans mimicry.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan, Steven Booth as Phil Spector, Adrienne Warren as Tina

The musical begins with Warren seated on the stage floor wearing Turner’s iconic red leather dress reciting a Buddhist chant. Turner, a Buddhist since 1973, credits the religion for helping her endure life’s hardships. Then the audience is introduced to a young Tina (given name: Anna-Mae Bullock) played by Skye Dakota Turner masterfully, belting out church songs with fervor in her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee, where her mother, Zelma, played by the talented Dawnn Lewis (A Different World, This Is Us) isn’t too pleased and constantly scolds her for being to loud and boisterous. At the behest of her grandmother, played by Myra Lucretia Taylor (Macbeth, A Streetcar Named Desire), she pursues her talents as a singer, and moves to St. Louis to be with her mother and sister.

The pacing of the musical is perfection. There are no lulls. We transition through the different phases of Tina’s life with Tina’s hit songs and sets so visually stimulating the rest of your senses have to play catch up! The scenes between Tina and Ike are electrifying. Their chronicled relationship is replete with success and abuse at the hands of Ike Turner played by Daniel J. Watts (Hamilton, The Color Purple). Ike Turner is undoubtedly the villain from what is known about his persona and documented past relationship with Turner. Watts does an excellent job of balancing the complexities of Ike, as the abusive husband, yet talented musician that discovered Anna-Mae Bullock’s talents at 17 years-old, Watts is able to convey this atrocious man, with comedic flair at times, while showcasing his singing and dancing abilities. After all, this is a musical and the tone shouldn’t be too gloomy.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan, Adrienne Warren as Tina, Daniel J. Watts as Ike Turner

Executive produced by Tina Turner, directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia, The Taming of the Shrew), and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast (Mamma Mia!, Sister Act) ‘Tina’ is a true gem for biopic and musical aficionados. Run! Don’t walk to see this fantastic production of the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. Tina, The Tina Turner Musical will be on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre through September 2020, for upcoming performances, click here.

 

PRODUCTION: A presentation by Stage Entertainment, James L. Nederlander, Tali Pelman, Feste Investments B.V., David Mirvish, Nattering Way, Teg Dainty, Katori Hall, Mark Rubinstein Ltd., Warner Chappell, Peter May, Eva Price, No Guarantees, Caiola Productions, Jamie DeRoy, Wendy Federman, Roy Furman, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Marc Levine, Carl Moellenberg, Al Nocciolino, Catherine Adler, Tom Perakos, Daryl Roth, Iris Smith, Candy Spelling, and Anita Waxman, in association with Tina Turner, of a musical in two acts, with book by Katori Hall (with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins), originally produced at the Aldwych Theater in London, by Stage Entertainment, Joop van den Ende and Tali Pelman.
CREATIVE: Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Choreography, Anthony Van Laast. Sets & costumes, Mark Thompson; lighting, Bruno Poet; sound, Nevin Steinberg; projections, Jeff Sugg; hair & wigs, Campbell Young Associates; orchestrations, Ethan Popp; musical supervision, arrangements, additional music & conductor, Nicholas Skilbeck; production stage manager, Kristen Harris.
CAST: Adrienne Warren, Dawnn Lewis, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Daniel J. Watts, Steven Booth, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Gerald Caesar, Holli’ Conway, Kayla Davion, Charlie Franklin, Judith Franklin, Matthew Griffin, David Jennings, Ross Lekites, Robert Lenzi, Gloria Manning, Jhardon Dishon Milton, Destinée Rea, Mars Rucker, Jessica Rush, Carla Stewart, Jayden Theophile, Skye Dakota Turner, Antonio J. Watson, Katie Webber.

 

Review: ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Edward Norton Resurges Dynamic Film Noir Storytelling

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20 years in the making and the film adaption of Motherless Brooklyn is finally here. Triple threat Ed Norton serves as writer, director, and star of this highly stylized film noir rendition of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name. Unlike its printed predecessor, Norton’s film takes place in the 1950s, whereas Lethem’s crime novel describes a 1990s Big Apple. Some resistance from the author could have been expected, but according to Lethem, when Norton asked for his input, he said: “Just run with it.

And Edward Norton did just that. For two decades the artist researched the New York City of the 1950s and its place in history with politics, race, community displacement and power struggles interwoven – the major components that make up this crime drama. Edward Norton plays Lionel Esrogg, a junior detective with Tourette’s syndrome that is determined to find the truth about his mentor’s (played by Bruce Willis) murder, all while uncovering unsavory truths about New York City’s powerful and disenfranchised. Joining Norton in this dramatic ensemble are acclaimed actors: Alec Baldwin, as the powerful, money-hungry and bigoted developer, Moses Randolph intent on bamboozling anyone and any institutions that get in his way of seeing his projects through (loosely based on actual New York developer, Robert Moses). Baldwin’s casting and interpretation of Randolph is quite apropos and authentic as his portrayal of Trump has been well received by the public and condemned by the president; and well, extremely timely.

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. L to R, Alec Baldwin and Edward Norton

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, a mixed-race lawyer and activist intertwined in this crime story is fantastic. Mbatha-Raw and Norton have great chemistry on-screen and there’s a beautiful connection their characters convey with an unspoken recognition of the struggle each has endured within a less-than accepting society. Rounding out the cast with electrifying performances are Willem Dafoe as Paul, Moses Randolph’s more humane, and less corrupt brother and Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) as the trumpet man with keen situational awareness.

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. L to R, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton

Edward Norton has a gift for portraying dimensional characters. He can go from 0 – 100 instantaneously, from self-deprecating to exuding complete confidence without hesitation; his Academy Award nominations for Primal Fear and American History X speaks to this. It’s a given. The audience will root for underdog, Lionel Essrog, to defeat the villains in Motherless Brooklyn but what is most compelling about Norton’s brilliant portrayal of Lionel’s disability is the way he outsmarts those who believe he’s no match for them with grace, humility and humor. And as the audience, we buy it.

The cinematography (Dick Pope) and set design (Kara Zeigon) conjures ups a romanticized nostalgia moviegoers crave. Manhattan and Brooklyn streets littered with 1950s Cadillacs and Chevys in an array of models and colors is a sight to behold. At first glance, you might think you’re in a tourist attraction in present day Cuba, but no, it’s the extraordinary production team that made this era come life with beautiful visuals. The film is lengthy but worth sitting through and witnessing wonderful storytelling. Motherless Brooklyn comes out tomorrow, November 1st. Click here for showtimes.

3rd Annual Festival of Cinema NYC: Hosted Brave, Brash, and Beautiful Films

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Photo: Courtesy of Festival of Cinema NYC

Festival of Cinema NYC has wrapped its 3rd season – and it was a season replete with films tackling trauma, love, and hope with authenticity. Cinema fanatics from not just Queens (host location), but all over the world were treated to more than 125 films, relentlessly holding audiences’ emotions hostage and settling up well-deserved ransoms at the end of each screening with sensational works of art.

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Photo: Courtesy of Red Dress. Red Straps film

This years’ roster of indie shorts held their own and commanded as much attention as their full-length narrative features and documentary counterparts. The films that merit mention: Red Dress, Red Straps, Keylight, and Coffee and a Donut – brief in presentation, robust with long-lasting, heart-felt and controversial themes that permeated well after their screenings. Red Dress. Red Straps by director Maryam Mohajer follows the story of a young girl in her grandparents’ home in the midst of Iran-Iraq war in 1985. She’s enamored by a pretty pop star’s red dress she sees on television all the while listening to her grandfather’s favorite radio program spouting “Death to America” chants. The child is nonetheless consumed with how the dress her grandmother is making for her will turn out during this upheaval in her life. The whimsical animation touching upon war, coupled with a child’s perception of the world she lives in is bittersweet and enchanting. Red Dress. No Straps was produced in the U.K. and won the Best Animation award from the 11th annual NYC Independent Film Festival. To learn more about Red Dress. Red Straps, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Keylight film

Keylight by director Simon Kay begins with former child star Sarah, (Samantha Strelitz) about to audition when she’s suddenly confronted with what seems like stage fright but turns out to be thoughts of a traumatic incident in her past she’s incapable of letting go. Sarah finds a way to channel this experience to bring forth her best stage performance – but via dark introspective means. Winning the Festival of Cinema NYC’s Best Cinematography Award, Keylight offers a fresh perspective on how people can address past trauma to release cathartic enlightening and rise above it. To learn more about Keylight, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Coffee and a Donut film

Finally, the last narrative short that resonated with me was Coffee and a Donut by director Cary Patrick Martin. The story is about a young Spanish-speaking immigrant (Memo), whom after hearing a patron request a coffee and a donut at a local diner, perpetually asks for the same order because it’s the only English phrase he’s learned. He suffers in silence as he watches others order mouth-watering pancakes and the like – until he meets a fellow Spanish-speaking customer (Rocio Mendez) that helps him learn English, but not without some hiccups. This short film has resonated with audiences as it explores the universal immigrant experience of adapting to a new country they now call home; it’s sweet, funny and empathetic; a film so vital in today’s current political climate, particularly with the current administration’s animosity towards immigrants. Actress Rocio Mendez received this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC Best Supporting Actress Award. To learn more about Coffee and a Donut, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Over 18: A Documentary About Porn film

Documentaries must be given their spotlight too. After all they focus on topics that are rarely covered in mainstream films. This year’s standouts: Over 18: A Documentary About Porn and The Queens. Over 18 by directors Jared Brock and Michelle Brock chronicle the life of Joseph, a 13 year-old boy recovering from a porn addiction since age 9. Shocking? Absolutely. As the film progresses and shares eye-opening data, the more disturbing it becomes. The filmmakers examine the correlation between the Internet and the easy accessibility children have to porn sites with inadequate, limited restrictions; the male porn stars and companies who’ve profited and continue to make money from pornography, the female stars exploited and left to pick up the pieces – post porn work, and most importantly, the devastating effects and consequences porn addiction can have on children and adults. The directors did a fantastic job of interviewing subjects to discuss their roles in porn culture – specifically content, distribution and consumption; and what ultimately needs to change to safeguard children’s accessibility. To learn more about Over 18: A Documentary About Porn, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Queens film

The Queens documentary introduces audiences to a whirlwind of female impersonators and female illusionists around the country vying for the coveted title of Miss Continental. The national pageant, founded by Jim Flint in 1980, is held annually in Chicago and has preliminary qualifying Miss Continental contests around the country and the world. Forget everything you’ve heard or know about traditional pageants. The true super stars are the contestants in this documentary. Filmmaker Mark Saxenmeyer follows contestants that have invested tens of thousands in becoming Miss Continental; the dance routines they create and practice; the lavish costumes and makeup they spend money on; the perseverance they posses is immeasurable. Saxenmeyer delves into the culture of female impersonators and what’s at stake for them to follow their dreams with grace and integrity. To learn more about The Queens, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Quest: The Truth Always Rises film. L to R, Dash Mihok as Tim and Greg Kasyan as Mills.

In a film festival, more often than not, there’s a film that makes you stop, reflect and ponder for a while what you just saw. For me, this film was: Quest: The Truth Always Rises. Quest, written and directed by Santiago Rizzo, is autobiographical. Rizzo’s character Mills is played by Greg Kasyan. Kasyan (Netflix’s “Daybreak”) portrays a troubled teen in Los Angeles from an abusive home that seems destined for doom with tremendous grit and vulnerability. The teen is a graffiti artist and is talented in his tagging pursuits and expresses interest in school, but lashes out, as he internalizes the consistent physical and verbal abuse his stepfather (Lou Diamond Phillips) bestows on him. There’s a teacher and football coach that takes notice of his behavior and attempts to befriend the youth, albeit with resistance, but ultimately changes his life. The educator played by Dash Mihok (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) shows a display of compassion and lack of judgment so admirable and mirrors Rizzo’s true-life mentor, Tim Moellering. Mihok interprets the character with great stoicism and sincerity and the audience can’t help but root for both student and teacher. Receiving Best Feature Narrative at this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC, I can’t recommend this film enough. We need more stories like these to be told and raise awareness of troubled youth, the good these films can do to improve their lives and impact change. I impart Santiago Rizzo’s words from his emotional post-film Q&A: “Trust Your Struggle.” To learn more about Quest: The Truth Always Rises, click here.

Festival of Cinema NYC’s name was recently changed from Kew Gardens Film Festival to promote film submissions globally. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently acknowledged the tremendous strides the festival is making to promote filmmakers and their work, and the free programming film panels and workshops events they sponsored in New York City. To learn more about Festival of Cinema NYC, click here.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet 25th Anniversary: Bittersweet and Bold!

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Left To Right: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Photo: Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Black History Month has concluded, and the month of February has been replete with exciting events that have left a lasting impression on the patrons of New York City’s cultural art scene. One worthwhile mention: Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s 25th anniversary benefit performance. The night began with host, Courtney B. Vance, veteran television and film actor and consummate supporter of dance programs around the globe, bringing enthusiasm and awareness to the fundraising efforts of the organization. The gala’s aim: To help build Complexions’ educational initiatives through scholarships, mentorship programs and the continued development of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s methodology of dance training.

Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson co-founding artistic directors and executive directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet both have incredible careers spanning decades of choreography and dance performances in some of the most prominent theater and dance companies around the world. Their passion for dance and experimentation with cutting edge performances has earned them worldwide recognition and thanks to their dedication, Complexions Contemporary Ballet celebrates their 25th anniversary this year. This marks the end of an era for Richardson. He is hanging up his dancing shoes as a full-time company member, and is passing the dance torch to a slew of new up-and-coming rising stars eager to enter the dance foray – particularly, the students from the pre-professional New Orleans Ballet Association part of Complexions Contemporary Ballet Educational program. They performed the world premiere of Nostalgia. These students’ focus and commitment to dance is admirable and witnessing the various body types and statures dancing in the company was refreshing. Long gone are the conventional rigid body type requirements of the past; progression and inclusivity is prevalent for the future of dance. Dwight Richardson performed Moonlight as his farewell number. His grace and flexibility are still in tact – as evidenced by his coordination with a chair prop – his dance moves melted seamlessly into the music score.

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Desmond Richardson, Photo: Gene Schiavone

Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie – conceptualized, staged and choreographed by Dwight Rhoden was thrillingly captivating since its premiere in Detroit, MI 2016 and continues to be present day. With new company members debuting their rendition, of this now signature Complexions performance; their dance moves and lip-syncing capabilities were in perfect unison to David Bowie’s haunting and melodious voice. Songs like Lazarus, Changes, Life On Mars, and Modern Love transport you to a time in place where anything is possible and dreams if big enough, manifest. The elaborate costumes, makeup and set design is a sight to behold. The iconic singer would’ve been proud.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Dance Company Performing Star Dust, Photo: Sharen Bradford

Complexion’s educational initiatives were offered in six cities this past year, allowing the company the ability to mentor and train hundreds of dancers. Although their season at the New York Joyce Theater has ceased, these dazzling superstars of contemporary ballet are traveling throughout the country to entertain and enchant audiences. Check out their upcoming performances and get tickets here!

“Nostalgia”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Staged by: Clifford Williams, Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lighting & Design by: Michael Korsch, Performed by: students from NORD/New Orleans Ballet Center for Dance: Angelle Brown, Kaleb Clausell, A’briel Mitchell, Scarlett Mitchell-Yang, Amari Patterson, Chloe Roberts, Manon Scialfa, Violette Stonebreaker, Marguerite Valadi, Amaya Williams, Special thanks to the staff and faculty of the New Orleans Ballet Association.

“Moonlight”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: Kemp Harris, Lyric Composer: Dwight Rhoden, Lighting and Design by: Michael Korsch, Costume Design by: DR Squared, Performed by: Desmond Richardson

“Star Dust”

I. LAZARUS (Blackstar album 2016), II. CHANGES (Hunky Dory album 1971), III. LIFE ON MARS (Hunky Dory album 1971), IV. SPACE ODDITY (Space Oddity album 1969), V. 1984 (Diamond Dogs album 1974), VI. HEROES (Heroes album 1977) Sung by Peter Gabriel, VII. MODERN LOVE (Let’s Dance album 1983), VIII. ROCK AND ROLL SUICIDE (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars album 1972), IX. YOUNG AMERICANS (Young Americans album 1975), Performed by: The Company, Choreographed by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: David Bowie, Staged by: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Costume Design and Construction: Christine Darch, Lighting and Set Design by: Michael Korsch

New York City Center Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Captivating And Nostalgic!

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera. Photo by Paul Kolnik

The holiday season is upon us and if you’re in search of cultural entertainment that will revitalize you – mentally and spiritually – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th Anniversary performances is just what you need. I recently attended the New York City Center’s 75th birthday celebration program featuring Alvin Ailey’s presentation of Piazzolla Caldera, The Golden Section, and Revelations. What a night of magical and transcendent dancing from the company’s members, and tribute to the choreographers that made these acts possible throughout the years at the revered New York City Center. The evening began with an homage to the New York City Center’s historic residency (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is their principal dance company) in New York’s cultural scene. Stage and film stars reminisced about the significance of this cultural landmark followed by an introduction from Alvin Ailey’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

The first act, Piazzolla Caldera, by critically acclaimed choreographer, Paul Taylor, fuses sensuality and the beautiful rhythms of traditional tango with four distinct dance numbers. The dancers role-play fiery confrontations between working class men and women, moving gracefully in a dimly lit club background to set the mood. Duets and trios of dancers interpreting lost loves and predatory conquests round out this act. The melodies emanating from the conventional accordion synonymous with Argentinean tango have never been sultrier.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green and Danica Paulos in Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Remembering one of my favorite revolutionary and experimental new wave bands from the 80s, The Talking Heads, I would have never imagined their songs interpreted to modern dance ballet. Yet, it happened. Listening to David Byrne’s voice electric voice wafting through the theater and witnessing the dancers move to his words was exhilarating. Premiering in the Broadway production of The Catherine Wheel in 1981 by Tony Award winning choreographer, Twyla Tharp, The Golden Section pushes the physicality of dancers with aero-dynamic like movements and superhuman leaps. Truly breathtaking to see. Although over 37 years-old, the production withstands the test of time and has an enchanting futuristic appeal.

The final act of the night was Revelations, created and choreographed by Alvin Ailey at the age of 29 in 1960. Inspired by Alvin Ailey’s childhood memories of church service in his hometown of Texas and the works of James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, laid the foundation for Ailey’s signature work of art. I’ve been fortunate to see Revelations more than once and as you listen to the songs you’re powerless to the grasp of the emotional ride you embark upon with feelings of sorrow, grief, lament, joy, hope and triumph; a tribute to the African-American cultural experience, its message is universal and speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s repertoire of performances never disappoints and pushes the boundaries of creative expression every season. Whether it’s modern dance or traditional ballet, there is something for everyone this holiday season. Don’t miss out on these upcoming spectacular performances now running through December 30th. Click here, for Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater schedule.

Piazzolla Caldera: Choreography by Paul Taylor; Restaged by Richard Chen See; Music by: Astor Piazzolla, Jerzy Peterburshsky; Set, Décor, and Costumes by: Santo Loquasto; Lighting by: Jennifer Tipton; Song: “El sol sueño” Performed by: The Company,  Song: “Concierto para quintet” by: Jacqueline Green, Belen Pereyra, Yannick Lebrun; Song: “Celos” Performed by: Daniel Harder, Michael Francis, McBride, Ghrai DeVore, Jamar Roberts; Song: “Escualo” Performed by: The Company
The Golden Section: Choreography by Twyla Tharp; Restaged by Shelley Washington; Music: David Byrne; Set, Décor, and Costumes by Santo Loquasto; Lighting by Jennifer Tipton; Performed by: Samantha Figgins, Jacqueline Harris, Jacqueline Green, Danica Paulos, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Constance Stamatiou, Solomon Dumas, Clifton Brown, Chalvar Monteiro, Venard J. Gilmore, Michael Jackson Jr., Michael Francis McBride, Jeroboam Bozeman
REVELATIONS: Choreography by Alvin Ailey; Music: Traditional; Décor and Costumes by Ves Harper; Costumes for “Rocka My Soul” redesigned by Barbara Forbes; Lighting Design by Nicola Cernovitch; Song: “Buked” Performed by: Hope Boykin, Megan Jakel, Jessica Pinkett, Yazzmeen Laidler, Courtney Celeste Spears, Khalia Campbell, Solomon Dumas, Jamar Roberts, Riccardo Battaglia Song: “Daniel” Performed by:  Daniel Harder, Hope Boykin, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Song: “Fix Me” Performed by: Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Jamar Roberts, Song: “Processional” Performed by: Kanji Segawa, Megan Jakel, Solomon Dumas, Riccardo Battaglia, Song: “Water” Performed by: Jacqueline Green, Vernard J. Gilmore, Khalia Campbell, Song: “Ready” Performed by: Clifton Brown, Song: “Sinner Man” Performed by: Michael Jackson, Jr., Yannick Lebrun, Solomon Dumas, Songs:  “The Day is Past and Gone,” “You May Run On” and “Rocka My Soul,” Performed by The Company.