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 in the history 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 renounced astrological figure known 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.

Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz – Get Ready for the Next Household Name in Comedy!

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Photo: Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz

Latinos loved to be entertained. We love, laugh, cry and yearn to see our cultural truths and customs depicted – especially on social media. And in recent years, many comedic Internet superstars have emerged and drawn material from their Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican heritage with hilarious content. Taking it to the next level, with popular audio streaming services, is Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz, who co-hosts the weekly podcast“ “Latinos Out Loud” on the Revolver Network with Michael “Juan Bago” Diaz, Jaime “JFernz” Fernandez, and Frank Nibbs. Now in its 7th season and winning a Tecla award for “Best Podcast Content Creator” this Latino vehicle is amplifying Latino voices throughout the country. We chatted with comedienne/actor/producer Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz to get the inside scoop as to why this multi-hyphenate star on the rise, merits the spotlight. Apart from cohosting “Latinos Out Loud,” Rachel is part of the comedy troupe Room 28, featured on NBC’s “Bring on the Funny,” hosts and produces HERlarious, a diverse and all female collective featuring the best sketch, stand up and character acts in New York. With her involvement in variety of entertainment projects, Rachel is primed to shake up the Hollywood status quo for Latinx.

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Room 28 Comedy Troupe on NBC’s “Bring on the Funny,” Photo: Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz

DSMC: What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be in entertainment?

Rachel: I can remember as far back as age 9 when my parents would go out on Saturday nights and leave me behind with my older siblings. They were 9 years older than me. And they’d let me stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live so I’d stop annoying them. I was in awe. These actors would interpret these different multiple roles and act them out. I remember thinking to myself: That’s the coolest thing ever! I want to do this! I was always involved in the performing arts in school, growing up in South Brooklyn, I was very much part of after-school life. Participating in plays, rehearsals, dance, and theatre. Growing up with a Dominican mother, my mom was like “No, mija that’s not going to make you money…Aaa-aah.” So I went to college. Pursued a career in marketing and I never let the acting bug go, once it’s in you – you never let it go. It’s like a parasite and it creeps into your system, until finally, you’re like fine! It has to come out. When my son Donovan was born 4 years ago, that’s when it came seeping through my pores. I said to myself: Why am I here, in corporate America? The money brings me some happiness, but there’s nothing like making other people smile, laugh – entertaining them. I gave all the corporate stuff up and said: Fuck it! Let’s see where this goes. I want to be the mother that I always wanted to be and the actress that I wanted to be. Those are the two things I’ve been pursuing hard body full-time the last four years.

DSMC: Brooklyn College is both our alma mater. At one point they had a thriving diverse performing arts program? Did you receive formal acting training from Brooklyn College?

Rachel: I took a few undergrad classes, but when I decided to pursue acting full time with formal training, I enrolled in private acting lessons with well-known teachers. I’m a two-time recipient of the diversity scholarship at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. With a career in comedy it’s smart to understand the methods and approaches of the different schools of comedy that are recognized and accredited throughout the world. I began with Improv Comedy 101 and heard about the diversity scholarship. I saw the lack of diversity within the student body. I went for it. I didn’t get it the first 3 times I applied. I just kept at it. Finally, I got the good news in 2016. Since then, I’ve been nonstop. The beauty of being a diversity scholarship recipient is that they hook you up! If there are open seats, in other classes that don’t sell out, the scholarship recipients are the first to get the notifications about open seats at UCB. I’m so thankful. Now that I’m 40, I’m super focused, and want to do everything I can to add “sazón” to the comedy bucket. I’m trying to hone in on where my passions lie and that’s sketch comedy right now. I just finished the sketch writing circuit at the school. I’ve touched on the 3 pillars of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB).

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Center: Amy Poehler, Photo: Courtesy of UCB

Side note: The Upright Citizens Brigade, which readers in case you didn’t know – was co-founded by the supremely talented, Amy Poehler, which also founded Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, bringing to the spotlight incredible women making strides in varied industries. The Upright Citizens Brigade is the only accredited Improv and sketch comedy school in major cities like New York and Los Angeles. To learn more about the Upright Citizens Brigade, click here.

DSMC: You have a lot on your plate with acting, parenting two toddlers, producing, podcasting. You co-founded the podcast: “Latinos Out Loud” What’s it like sharing the airwaves with 3 men?

Rachel: Finding your voice is so important, but maintaining it, is equally as important. Sometimes, all the testosterone around me can easily drown me out. We have this ongoing joke that they have crowned me the Queen Bee of the podcast. And, “Dejame decirte!” I’m not about that life: Oh, bow down! You know, Beehive, but I have to maintain that position. I can get stepped on, not literally, but figuratively. I gotta represent. The female voice within this crowd of funny men is so important. I feel I have to play multiple roles. I modulate and sometimes I have to be the voice of reason, or the voice of femininity. When there’s too much dick talk, and I’m like, all right guys let’s bring it back to comedy.

DSMC: You have a knack for switching up character voices on the podcast, after listening to the 100th episode with Lin-Manuel Miranda Jr. and Sr. as guests, I observed that. Congrats on this milestone! You’re able to do urban, prim and proper, corporate voice, whereas the others on the podcast panelists struggle at times.

Rachel: Thank you, I don’t think I code-switch. I do think it’s important to know your audience. I actually attribute and thank my corporate background for having that ability to modulate, because we need to. I could be hood, but there’s a time and a place. I’m working on me also. I’m a work-in-progress on the Mic. I went from dropping F-bombs on the 1st season every other minute to occasionally using the N- word and that’s not who I wanted to be on the Mic. I still struggle with the F-bombs. I’m from Brooklyn. You know what Im sayin’? I would like to get to the point where I don’t need to say it. The same way I don’t need to say the N-word or curse every other 3 words. I want to be who’d I like to listen to on a podcast. I listen to every episode of the podcast 5 times. It’s my method. I look for errors to edit and fix in the car. To make sure the episode is the best it can be audibly. I’m very structured and anal with voice and what I’m projecting. We take a lot of pride in the audible quality. I get angry when I listen to some of my favorite podcasts and the jokes fall flat, and not because they’re not funny, but the crispness of the sound isn’t there. Nobody wants to hear white noise, black noise, and hear anything else other than the podcast host. We’re all on the same page and I love that. It’s our friendship and our interdependence that makes it thrive. Collectively we’ve been friends for a little over 10 years. We hang out with each other on the side, holidays too. We’re still friends. It’s cool.

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Top (L) Jaime Fernandez, Bottom (L) Juan Bago, Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz, Frank Nibbs, Photo: Revolver Network

DSMC: I remember listening to Howard Stern and Robin Quivers, when it was free on local NY stations. And they had great chemistry. They did pop culture, comedy sketches. Sure, it was controversial, but funny. There doesn’t seem to be anything like that for Latinos. What comes close is New York’s 97.9 FM La Mega, and they seem to fall short. What are your thoughts on this?

Rachel: I would love that – to eventually be the Howard Stern, Robin and Bababooey for the Latino market. We don’t have that. We recently had the president and CEO, and co-founder of Casanova Advertising Agency, Ingrid Otero-Smart. She’s Puerto Rican and has been in the industry for a while. We asked her about the current state of Latinos in podcasting? And she mentioned: “You guys are pioneers right now. You are setting a path for those that are going to follow in your footsteps and it’s so important to make the best decisions you can.” There is a huge weight on our shoulders. She’s right. We don’t have a textbook to read, handbook or manual or someone that came before us. What comes close is La Mega, “El Vacilón de La Mañana.” That’s not a podcast!

DSMC: Whenever I heard “El Vacilón De La Mañana,” I’d interpret the skits and majority of the listeners as gullible – a dumbing down of the Latino population that I never liked. That’s not who Latinos are. We’re educated. We’re smart. We are not here to be disparaged. 

Rachel: I appreciate what the Luis Jimenezs’ of the world do. My mom still thinks he’s hilarious. Sadly, I do not. I don’t relate to most of the content. He’s a funny man. I get it and he’s talented. No disrespect. I’m 40 years-old. I’m on a different comedy wavelength than those guys. We have to do our part to elevate this void. I watch SNL, white/black/Asian sketch shows. When I was out in L.A. to do NBC’s “Bring on the funny.” I was in The Ubers – hittin’ up the dispensaries, left and right. One night I was with the director of Room 28, Jerry Diaz, in the back seat. And, the Uber driver turns around and says: “Rachel “La Loca” – Latinos Out Loud.” Yeeees! That’s me. “I listen to you guys all the time. “You don’t know how much we need you.” I said, really, how so? “They feed us this chancletazo bullshit or Mexican-American comedy that we don’t find funny anymore. My friends and I listen to you even though you’re Caribbean, Dominican, even though your jokes have a New York-centric attitude, my friends and me think it’s hilarious. It’s still Latino, it’s still cultural, and we can still relate.” I think this divide we saw in the past, among different pillars, one of them comedy, is fading out – it’s fizzling away. Finally, we are approaching this convergence that black comedy has already crossed, where we are just about each other and NOT where we are from anymore and it’s about the cultural relevance and the unity, especially with 45 right now. Comedy will always be a universal language.

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Daniel Craig on SNL, Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews

DSMC: What’s next for Rachel “La Loca”? Are you doing more sketch comedy? Continuing with the “Latinos Out Loud” podcast?

Rachel: Collectively, the 4 of us are treating this as a business. We are rebranding and redoing our website and looking to elevate the brand for 2020. We are looking to do more live shows – especially with the markets that have shown us a lot of love; right now it’s a tie between New York and L.A. Our top five markets are New York, California, Chicago, Texas and D.C.; it fluctuates. We want to bring more live shows, hopefully with sponsors attached to them across the country. Our listeners hear themselves when they listen to us. They feel like they’re chillin’ with their cousins snappin’ on each other in a living room. We want to do pop-up podcasts across the country.

Rachel con’t: We took 2019 to focus on our network television debut, branded content development and performing in the comedy festival circuit, as well as a bit of company restructuring, and are really looking forward to our off-Broadway return after our stint on NBC’s “Bring the Funny.” We’re proud to have released a 5-part web series written, produced and starring Room 28 players for the non-profit organization Somos Community Care. The goal of the content is to connect our community with in-culture and in-language primary care doctors that can target the ailments that plague our community before they get to urgent levels.  The organization’s research has shown that on average, our people wait until the last minute to seek medical attention when it comes to the ailments that attack their health, thus making it harder to combat at that stage.  We partnered up and created the “Sick!!” series where our very own Jaime Fernandez plays “El Profeta de la Salud,” a Walter Mercado-like character that can predict your health future.  I believe this is Jaime’ best character yet! He’s a stellar writer. The series is available on the MiSomos app or on their web site https://misomos.com/sick.

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Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz and Jaime Fernandez

DSMC: You mentioned acting as your passion, apart from the sketch comedy and podcasts, what are you looking to do acting-wise?

Rachel: I’ve set this goal for myself: my manager and I are trying to get me booked on networks with co-starring roles. I’m coming so close! I’m out there. I’m auditioning. I’m getting callbacks. I had booked a gig for Identification Discovery. I did a crime-scene reenactment; I was the principle for one episode. I would love to do a recurring role on a network. Pilot season is coming up. I did background work recently. Over the summer I got a taste for film, I did background for West Side Story, working with Spielberg was amazing, and every now and again I do background for SNL. I don’t want to do steady background work anymore unless I’m absorbing and learning something from it. The goal is to book a feature film gig.  

With the ongoing global pandemic grinding life, as we know it, to a startling halt, Latinos everywhere know how to persevere and make the best of the current situation. And that means getting creative when producing comedy. Whether we turn to memes (JLo and Shakira’s history-making halftime show performances are still on people’s minds and social feeds) or creating TikTok videos to Bad Bunny’s or J. Balvin’s tunes, our resilient spirit will never wane. We just can’t hug or kiss like we used to when greeting people – but we make do! Recently, Latinx has made significant strides with shows like Gentefied making its debut, and with the returning season series: On My Block – on Netflix. Latino visibility only accounts for 3% of representation in Hollywood – a dismal situation at best. But, with personalities like Rachel “La Loca” Strauss-Muñiz committed to breaking barriers in the entertainment industry and paving the way for more Latinx stars, our stories will finally be told and knock mainstream entertainment on its head. Check out and subscribe to the “Latinos Out Loud” podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, iHeart and Stitcher today.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Urbanworld Film Festival 2019 Review: More Than A Platform for Filmmakers – A Community of Content Powerhouses and Artists Breaking Barriers

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival

Urbanworld’s 23rd Film Festival has come to an end but the lasting impression their 78 official film selections made still lives on. Opening this year’s festival was Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, The Caveman’s Valentine). Harriet tells the story of Araminta Ross, born into slavery in Dorchester, Maryland as 1 out of 11 siblings in her family. She became famous for freeing over 300 slaves in the south as a conductor in the Underground Railroad and integral leader of the Civil War. Lemmons does a fantastic job of portraying Tubman, played by Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo (Color Purple on Broadway, Widows), as a crusader. This isn’t just another film about slavery depicting atrocities and pulling at your heartstrings. It’s the impossible tale of a true female warrior with incredible perseverance. When we first meet Araminta, she seems scared; she’s illiterate and a bit crass, having suffered a childhood assault, and possessing divine vision and clarity, she executes numerous and courageous efforts to lead her family and others to freedom. This is the 19th century Oscar-worthy biopic we’ve been all been waiting for – the heroine of our dreams makes her way to the big screen. Harriet comes out November 1st. Click here to learn more.

Other narrative features worth spotlighting are DC Noir, and the female-led cast, If Not Now, When?

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Photo: Urbanworld Film Festival, Actor, Gbenga Akinnagbe in DC Noir

DC Noir is an anthology of 4 films based on writer/producer/director George Pelecanos’ (The Wire, Treme, The Deuce) critically acclaimed short stories. Each story is based in Washington D.C. and follows working class characters that in some way or other want to escape their circumstances, yet find themselves riddled with obstacles and propensity for crime. Pelecanos does a remarkable job of capturing the essence and culture of the urban communities he writes about and DC Noir is no exception. Long-time collaborating actor-turned-director, Gbenga Akinnage (The Wire, The Deuce, To Kill A Mocking Bird – currently on Broadway) directs and stars in one of the shorts. Pelecanos hires many of the same actors in his television series and now film series, to portray his three-demensional characters. During the panel discussion after the screening, I saw many familiar faces supporting Pelecanos and the cast and audience members emphasized his stellar efforts to characterize people from the places he writes about with authenticity. To learn more about DC Noir, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R, Meagan Good and Tamara Bass on set of If Not Now, When?

Next up: If Not Now, When? The predominantly black cast led by stars-turned directors, Meagan Good (Think Like A Man, Minority Report) and Tamara Bass (Krazy Actress Productions) bring a poignant film about high school friends and the ups-and-downs they’ve encountered 15 years later. The film is reminiscent of 90s film, Waiting to Exhale with Whitney Houston and Angela Basset, as it explores the complexities of female friendships and love interests. If Not Now, When? tackles addiction, love-loss, infidelity with grit and honesty. The characters aren’t always likeable and that’s okay, you still root for them. Good and Bass directed the movie by chance, after their original director dropped out. According to Good, “I feel like I’m cheating on acting by saying this, but I definitely love directing as much as acting, maybe a little bit more sometimes.” Good and Bass have been friends for over 21 years and took turns behind the camera. To learn more about, If Not Now, When? click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba Film Still

I’m always in search of documentaries that strike a nerve in me – good or bad- and leave me thinking about the subject matter for a while. This year’s Urbanworld Film Festival presented: Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba and Skin – two films that have taken up residency in my mind.

I’ve been to 7 of Cuba’s provinces. I was born there and left for the United States at the age of 4. It took my 28 years to finally return to my motherland. And I’ve always wanted to go to Oriente where my mom was from and where the movie Bakosó is based, but I’ve never quite made it there on my 4 trips to Cuba. Habaneros, or those from Havana have always thought people from Santiago were guarijos (hicks from the countryside) and spoke a weird dialect the rest of Cuba couldn’t understand. Wow, are these Habaneros wrong! After watching Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba, directed by Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, and seeing the energy and vibrancy Santiagueros have, I completely understood what the people from the region of my native Cuba had to say and I want to visit Santiago more than ever. The film starts off with Isnay DJ Jigüe Rodriguez’s grandmother smoking a cigar and moving to African chants. African rhythms are a central theme in this documentary. DJ Jigüe takes us through the various parts of Santiago and introduces us to artists making due with homemade speakers and equipment. It’s Cuba after all – electronics and anything for that matter, are in short supply. He also shows us neighborhoods bursting with new dances and young people celebrating their local Bakosó superstars like: Ozkaro Delga2, Maykel El Padrino and El Inka making their music and receiving recognition for their upbeat and innovative contribution to Hip Hop. To learn more about Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Skin Film Still

The second documentary that made an impact on me was Skin, directed by Daniel Etim Effiong, starring and produced by Beverly Naya. Naya poses the question: Why do women and men bleach their skins and succumb to “supposed beauty standards” they feel they need to conform to? Naya is on a quest and travels to different regions in Africa and interviews public figures, cosmeticians, actresses, beauty entrepreneurs, local women and school children who feel compelled to feed into the beauty myth – that lighter is beautiful. Naya addresses her own insecurities growing up with her skin color and learning to accept her beauty and confidence as a grown up. Naya does a wonderful job of exploring this sensitive topic that is universal and warrants discussion amongst people of color within their communities. Skin color does not merit the worth of a person and Beverly Naya is an excellent advocate for championing this message. Please go see this movie and embrace how God made you – beautiful to the last cell of your body! To learn more about Skin, click here.

Launched in 1997 by founder Stacy Spikes, co-founder of MoviePass and former executive of October Films, for over two decades Urbanworld Film Festival is the premiere platform for emerging filmmakers and musical talent to showcase their work and partner with distributors such as HBO, BET and Warner Media for global exposure. Spikes believed people of color were underrepresented in film and there was a void to fill, and embarked on establishing, what is now known as the: Urbanworld Foundation Inc. Under the umbrella of the foundation is also Urbanworld Digital, which includes esteemed panelists in television and film holding invaluable conversations on how to get great content out there and what the process entails. Gabrielle Glore serves as Festival Director &Head of Programming. To learn more about the Urbanworld Film Festival, click here.

Harlem Stage Debuts The Mystical World of Afrofuturism – Bewildering and Charming Experience

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Movie Poster Still From Film, “ROXË15”

Before attending the Order Out of Chaos, a night of Afrofuturistic short films, music performances and a ‘Mind Share’ panel discussion recently, I had a vague understanding of the term: Afrofuturism. The phrase: Afrofuturism, was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 in his essay: “Black to the Future.” Dery, a cultural critic, essayist and journalism professor, examines the intersection of sci-fi and African pride. According to Dery, “a community of people whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” The wildly successful Academy-Award winning pop culture movie: “Black Panther” is a testament to Dery’s hypothesis and focuses on black diaspora and technology – central themes in Afrofuturism.

On this night, Harlem Stage’s audience was treated to two experimental short films delving into the theories of Afrofuturism. The first: “ROXË15”, directed by Celia C. Peters, is a film about a virtual reality female programmer, living in a bleak futuristic New York City setting, searching for a better life through technology, reliving certain events she can’t escape from that prevent her from moving forward; it’s jarring and uncomfortable, but hints at the limitless possibilities technology has to shape our lives.

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Still From “Prototype” Film, From Left to Right, “Android 499” and Sol

The second short, “Prototype,” by writer-director, Christopher Ortega examines human emotions when a black female scientist tests out different android prototypes in her mother’s lab to determine if they can experience empathy. In her quest for substantiated results, she discovers family secrets about her mother and her own existence. It’s “Black Mirror” meets modern-day Telenovelas; and I’m here for it. Would love to see a full-length feature made and have the subject matter explored further.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, From L to R, Celia C. Peters, Craig T. Williams, Nona Hendryx, Craig Harris and Darian Dauchan

Post film screenings, director and moderator, Celia C. Peters led a discussion on the origins of Afrofuturism with fellow speakers: Nona Hendryx, acclaimed vocalist, record producer, songwriter of the hit song “Lady Marmalade” and former member of the group, Labelle, Craig T. Williams (filmmaker) of upcoming movie: “Hanging by a Thread,” Craig Harris (jazz-musician) and avant-garde composer, and Darian Dauchan, award-winning actor, writer, musician of the off-Broadway production of: The BroBot Johnson Experience. These talented artists discussed the past, present, and future of Afrofuturism. The role technology plays and one of the first innovators of the concept of Afrofuturism (before it was labeled a concept), Sun Ra – a jazz musician, who infused elements of space and jazz in his work. Sun Ra, in an NPR interview said: “In my music I speak of unknown things, impossible things, ancient things, potential things,” Known as recording pioneer, cosmic philosopher and poet, Sun Ra claimed to be from Saturn.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, Nona Hendryx

Following the panel discussion, the galactic sights and sounds of Nina Hendryx filled the auditorium – Hendryx is currently resident Artistic Director for Afrofuturism at Harlem Stage. With her band mate on the drums and the visual backdrop of colorful orbiting bodies, 74 year-old Hendryx confidently sashayed on stage and made her way to the audience wearing a black cat-suit and digital audio tutu with synthesizers; multifunctional fashion. Hendryx is a force. Younger musicians can take a cue from Hendryx’s sultry appeal and career longevity.

Closing the night was Darian Dauchan as his Brobot Johnson character. He raps. He beat boxes. He dances. Moving to simulated outerspace sounds, manifested on screen with shapes and figures, Brobot Johnson (dressed as a robot, complete with silver hair) got the audience pumped and made his performance interactive. It was strange, yet unexpectedly entertaining to watch as some of the loud, pulsating sounds lingered.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, Darian Dauchan as Brobot Johnson

For over 35 years, Harlem Stage has been one of the countries’ leading performing arts centers fostering and showcasing contemporary artists of color, bringing exciting and diverse performances daring to be provocative and engaging new audiences transcending cultural experiences. To check out more Afrofuturistic performances throughout the year and explore other phenomenal programs, click here.

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.

Female Filmmakers Rule The Spotlight At The 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

If you’ve had enough of the quintessential Hollywood hyped films that have been – and will continue to be – splashed all over TV stations and streaming services with overly saturated ads (after all it’s only the beginning of June), then check out the roster of films at the 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival to embrace global innovation and creativity. I’ve seen a few films thus far, in the narrative and documentary features and shorts, and experimental and animation categories, and wow! have they made an impact on me. And, we still have 6 more days of film festival-ing to revel in and see more fascinating films.

It all began with the presentation of The Gathering on BFF’s opening night and this year’s festival theme of empowering women to tell their stories and call out Hollywood for their inaction towards predatory powerful men. The Gathering, directed by Emily Elizabeth Thomas, showcases actresses dressed in character (the nun, elf queen, spy) all sharing personal accounts of sexual assaults within the film industry. The film and director’s message: “NYC…Brooklyn is a space for the other, the weird, the disruptors. And, that a better Hollywood is possible.” Following this powerful short film was the world premiere of Above The Shadows by Claudia Myers starring Olivia Thirlby, Alan Ritchson, Jim Gaffigan, and Megan Fox.

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Olivia Thirlby and Alan Ritchson, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Above The Shadows is a supernatural action romance between a tabloid photographer (Holly) and a disgraced MMA fighter (Shayne). Holly has been invisible to her family and society for more than a decade. After discovering that one of her tabloid photos resulted in Shane’s downfall, she tracks him down to make things right and realizes he can see her and has the potential to restore her existence in the world. Director Claudia Myers brings a softer perspective to the sport of MMA and reverses the age-old boy-saves-girl paradigm with Thirlby as a believable heroine and savior of the day.

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Elephant in Africa’s Congo Basin Region, Photo: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Film Festival

Regardless if you love elephants or whether you just love all animals, the documentary, Silent Forests, is worth seeing. Taking place in Africa’s Congo Basin region, the film follows Cameroon’s first female eco-guard conversationalist, a Congolese biologist studying elephant behavior, an anti-poaching sniffer dogs team leader led by a Czech conservationist all tackling the unbelievable corruption, lack of funding and weapons, as they deal with the huge crisis of the decreasing population of forest elephants. The film is eye-opening and sentimental in the depths these activists undertake to examine the problem head-on,  from poaching to conversation and vice-versa. Check out director Mariah Wilson’s documentary feature on June 4th at 10pm at the Wythe Hotel.

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Numa Perrier as Susan (Center), Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

A recent film that had me immersed in thought long after it ended was: Una Great Movie by Director Jennifer Sharp. The story begins with an African-American woman (Susan) traveling back to Mexico to rekindle a romance with a former lover; then it cleverly switches to the film’s screenwriter second-guessing her characters and their actions in the film and the all-too-familiar producers, “screen therapists,” agents, and movie insiders injecting their formulaic and over-used anchors to drive the film to “sell” and have a mass appeal. This film will speak volumes to all, but is especially poignant for any creative who has dreamt, tried-but-failed, or succeeded in making their vision come to life. It’s funny, full of heart, and entertaining for the entirety of its 96 minutes. Check it out and buy tickets to the world premiere on June 7th at the Wythe Hotel at 8pm.

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Mollie Cowen as Casey, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The documentary short, 3 Sleeps, by painter-turned-director, Christopher Holt is based on the true story of a 9-year-old girl (Casey) left to take care of her younger siblings for a whole weekend in a tough London neighborhood. After her mother leaves young Casey with little money to watch over herself and sisters, her youngest sister, aged 5, becomes ill. While Casey is forced to make the harrowing decision to either protect her mom or save her sister’s life, the audience is at standstill – grappling and sympathizing with Casey’s predicament. Fine acting by actresses Mollie Cowen, Keira Thompson, and Emily Haigh. 3 Sleeps has its U.S. premiere tonight at the Wythe Hotel at 6pm and encore on June 7th.

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Bernard in Bristled, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The animation short Bristled is a gem of a film that captures the idiosyncrasies of dating perceptions in the modern world. After countless failed blind dates, Bernard believes he may have found “the one,” only to find yet another fault in the person and is quickly consumed with his perceived “fault” she possesses, only to discover he’s not perfect either. The narration’s comedic dialogue and timing is superb. Bristled, by Scott Farrell has been selected by the Beverly Hills Film Festival, Chicago Comedy Film Festival, and Canadian International Comedy film Festival to name a few. Go see this quirky film on June 5th at the NY Media Center.

This year The Brooklyn Festival’s programmers are committed to advocating for filmmakers who are working in critical systems, taking risks and challenging themselves to tell stories that are breaking barriers. Please check out these amazing films and support these extraordinary and talented artists. To see Brooklyn Film Festival’s full schedule, click here. Plus, don’t miss my festival wrap-up piece next week. The Brooklyn film festival will be running through, June 9th.

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