Over the course of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s seven-year run as artistic director, Baltimore Center Stage regulars have grown accustomed to seeing him walking around during previews, those first few times a production is performed before an audience. The tall, lean, and handsome Kwei-Armah can typically be found dapperly attired and casually milling about, as if just another theatergoer on a night out. On Saturday, prior to the second preview of “Soul: The Stax Musical,” his final directing effort of his tenure, he stood in the lobby surrounded by a small throng of people, chatting and having a laugh.
Tag: kwame kwei-armah
Center Stage Baltimore’s upcoming season will be artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah’s last with the organization.
Michael Ross keeps coming back to Baltimore. This past July, the Milwaukee native returned to the city for the fourth time to take over as managing director of Center Stage, a position he previously held from 2002 to 2008. During his eight-year hiatus from Baltimore’s largest nonprofit professional theater, Ross served as managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. Throughout his career, he also has consulted on fundraising, board development, executive search, and strategic planning for theaters nationwide.
Upon meeting Ross, his firm handshake, quick smile, and roaring laugh make him seem at once like a trusted friend and the centerpiece of the room. After spending some time with him, what also becomes evident is Ross’s love of Baltimore and his desire to grow its cultural scene, his devotion to Center Stage in particular, and his belief in the power of the theater in general. Recently, he expounded on these themes and more in an interview with Baltimore Fishbowl.
Why have you decided to return to Center Stage?
From Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, comes a world premiere musical based on the life and music of Bob Marley. After surviving an assassination attempt in 1976, Marley left Jamaica for London, where he spent nearly two years in self-imposed exile. Chronicling the events surrounding this earth-shaking moment, Marley tells the story of a man transformed into one of the 20th Century’s most important cultural figures. Set in the soundscape of an era, this new musical weaves together the life and music of a man who, to heal himself, first healed his homeland. Click for more info.
Center Stage sure knows how to pick ’em. And that goes for both the plays they choose to present and the amazing actors they bring to Baltimore’s stage. This week, the new musical Next to Normal began previews at Center Stage’s intimate Head Theater (not the usual grandiose setting one expects for a musical); but the setting is absolutely perfect for the intense and surprising subject matter covered in the Pulitzer Prize-winning show. It’s the story of one family’s struggle with mental illness. Specifically, it follows the story of a suburban mother struggling with bipolar disorder and the effect it has on her family. It’s darkly funny and groundbreaking as it dives boldly into the gaps and crevices of our modern fragmented lives. Set to an electric score, this “brave, breathtaking musical” (The New York Times) gets right to the heart of what it means to truly miss someone.
According to the Associated Press, a new musical about Bob Marley will have its world premiere in Baltimore next spring. Per the AP,
The show focuses on the years 1975 to 1978, when Marley survived an attempted assassination in Jamaica and went into exile in London. It will feature mid-’70s Marley albums as “Exodus,” ”Kaya,” and “Rastaman Vibration,” which include the songs “Jamming,” ”Three Little Birds” and “Roots, Rock, Reggae.”
I have mixed feelings about this.
It’s been an incredible season of theater at Center Stage this year. And while we’re sad to see it come to a close, it’s going out with a bang. Wild with Happy is the adventurous new comedy from Tony award nominee Colman Domingo that will leave you just that—wild with happy—as you head home from the theater. The show officially opened last night, and only runs through June 29th, so we heartily recommend getting your tickets now. Leading the absolutely superb cast is Forrest McClendon (a Tony Award nominee himself for his role in The Scottsboro Boys). McClendon plays Gil, a grief-stricken young man dealing with both heartbreak and his mother’s death. And they couldn’t have found a better actor for the role. Says Domingo, “I am beyond thrilled to hand over the reins of the role of Gil to my dear friend, colleague, partner in crime, Forrest McClendon. In the hands of Jeremy B. Cohen and this dream cast, I am interested in sitting back and seeing what new ideas spring to life and how this talented group will soar above the crazy, madcap challenges of this play.” When the playwright himself is this head-over-heels for a production, you know it’s going to be a must-see.
The Center Stage theater company was so stoked to snag British director Kwame Kwei-Armah in 2011 that they threw him a fantastic party, which I mostly remember because it involved a dance party during which our beloved mayor got down to the camp classic “What What (In The Butt).” Lucky for us, Kwei-Armah liked it here, enough to sign a contract extending his tenure in Baltimore through June 2018. “I found Baltimore to be vivacious. I found the audiences to be intelligent and engaging,” he told NPR this week. Well, shucks. We’re blushing.
Wow. Suddenly it seems we can hardly keep up with all the amazing goings on at Center Stage. Last week we were all atwitter because the PBS documentary on the Center Stage-based “Raisin Cycle” is about to air. But before we can even plan our outfits for the viewing party on Friday, October 25, these folks just go ahead and raise the curtain on Marcus Gardley’s dance of the holy ghosts, which runs through November 17th.
And leading the cast are Michael Genet (whom you might recognize from Spike Lee’s 25th Hour and She Hate Me)and Denise Burse (best known as Claretha Jenkins on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne). The production is directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Center Stage’s new Artistic Director who so far is a non-stop marvel of the is-there-anything-this-guy-can’t-do variety. So between the rock stars in the lead roles, Kwei-Armah’s impassioned direction, and Gardley’s masterful writing– this one is clearly on the must-see list this fall.
“What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?/ Or fester like a sore– /And then run?” Few poems retain such immense power for so long as Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred,” from which A Raisin in the Sun takes its title. And it’s fitting, since Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play also still resonates now, over fifty years after its initial production. And though many plays are produced or years after their debut, few actually inspire other playwrights to create entire other plays in response. Along with A Raisin in the Sun, the two plays written in response to it (Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Beneatha’s Place) form a sort of triptych—the “Raisin Cycle” as it’s being called. You may have caught the productions at Center Stage last spring. But you may not know about the documentary film that was made about the productions. The documentary, A RAISIN IN THE SUN REVISITED airs on PBS—and is screened where it all started—at Center Stage– this month.