Tuesday, June 19, 2018

2018 NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL AUG 3-5

PAT METHENY, CHARLES LLOYD, GEORGE CLINTON AMONG ICONS STAR AS WORLD'S OLDEST JAZZ FESTIVAL TURNS 64


by Dwight Casimere

 Newport Jazz Festival Artistic Director Christian McBride leads his Big Band

NJF Artistic Director Christian McBride waves to the crowd after George Wein makes official announcement of his appointment

Newport Jazz Festival Founder George Wein expounds on passing the baton to Christian McBride

Harlem Swing Dancers get into the groove

Just into his first year as the Artistic Director of the Newport Jazz Festival, Christian McBride has left his indelible mark on this year's lineup.  The 64th Annual Festival features one of the living legends of modern jazz, the legendary Charles Lloyd, celebrating his 80th birthday during all three days of the festival, August 3-5 in three different settings. Friday, he will perform with his current group, Sangam. Saturday, he'll reunite with his longtime quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland. Sunday, he'll team up with singer and songwriter Lucinda Williams. Friday Night's Concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame features the meteoric Pat Metheny with Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh and Gwilym Simcock.

The rest of the weekend is a cornucopia of the most diverse and exciting talent on the current musical horizon. Long-time Newport Jazz favorites like Jon Baptiste, Joshua Redman and Michel Camilo return to the Fort Mason stages, along with a dazzling array of searing vocalists. Gregory Porter makes a triumphant return along with the scintillating Jose James, who celebrates Bill Withers at the Friday Night Concert with a tribute concert, Lean On Me.

Lovers of jazz piano will delight in the talents of Matthew Whitaker, Isaiah Thompson and Emmet Cohen in the intimate setting of the Storyville stage. 

Laurie Anderson makes her Newport Jazz Festival debut. Other first-timers include GoGo Panguin, Martquie Hill, Sonnymoon, Nicole Mitchell and the Black Art Jazz Collective. Newport Harbor won't need fireworks to round out the festival, the inimitable pilot of the Mothership, George Clinton, sets the Harbor Stage ablaze with his P-Funk All-Stars. Satellites orbiting the northeast coast will be sure to pick up the spontaneous combustion emanating from the festival stage.

Welcome to the 64th Annual Newport Jazz Festival!

Here are some scenes from last year's festival:

 Jack DeJohnette presents Hudson with John Scofield on guitar

 John Scofield and Jazz DeJohnette present Hudson, they're latest collaboration


 Cecile McLorin Salvant on the Fort Stage
 Esperanza Spaulding mounts the Storyville Stageto host a tribute to pianist Geri Allen who passed away just weeks  prior to last years festival

Benny Golson presents his many compositions in concert


Macao Parker performs what he calls "jazz with a little grease on it"
 Trombone Shorty electrifies the Friday Night Concert stage at the International Tennis Hall of Fame


 The Roots Band at the Friday Night Concert

 A full moon over the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the  Friday Night Concert



Newport Jazz Festival Raffle winner

 Sunrise and sunset over Newport Harbor


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS NOW THRU JUNE 24


PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT SUZAN-LORI PARKS CONFRONTS THE IRONY OF BLACKS WHO SERVED THE CIVIL WAR CONFEDERACY

by Dwight Casimere

 KAMAL ANGELO BOLDEN AS HERO
 HERO WITH AIME DONNA KELLY AS HIS LOVE PENNY
 CHICAGO BLUES STAR MELODY ANGEL IS THE MUSICIAN/NARRATOR

PLAYWRIGHT SUZAN-LORI PARK


Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Park's Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2,and 3) clocks in at a whopping 3 hours and 15 minutes (including two 10-15 minute intermissions), but audiences will find themselves preening their ears to hear every word, with unwavering attention. The plays tells the story of Hero, a Texas slave during the time of the Civil War (played with resounding conviction by Chicago theatrical favorite Kamal Angelo Bolden (Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) , who is faced with a dilemma; join his master as his servant in the Confederate army with the (alleged) promise of freedom, or stay behind as a slave on the plantation. Not much is said in the history books about the role of slaves who served on the side of the Confederacy, but it is a fact that many were brought into the war by slave holders, some as manservants to their masters and others who fought willingly and vigorously,  with the promise of freedom once the war was over.

 Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks confronts Heros's conundrum head on with a brilliant and absorbing play that presents itself in blank verse, a similar form to that used by Shakespeare. At times, her work rises to Shakespearean proportions with its use of alliteration, hyperbole and irony, tragedy  and  a touch of wry humor, thereby touching all of the theatrical bases over the course of the play's three-plus hours. It is a masterpiece of theatrical writing and director Niegel Smith brings this epic trilogy to life on the Owen stage with an electrifying production.

The play opens with Chicago blues artist Melody Angel in her Goodman debut  as the Narrator and Musician, setting the tone for what lies ahead with full-throated vocals and strumming guitar, bringing to mind the late great Odetta. Her vocals act as a reference point and a reflection throughout. The rest of the cast is similarly superb. The rapid-fire verbal interplay between 30-year Goodman veteran Jacqueline Williams as Leader and fellow Goodman veteran Ernest Perry , Jr.  as The Oldest Old Man at the beginning of the play is priceless, and an indicator of the on-stage delights that come.

Performances are exceptional throughout. Aime Donna Kelly in her Goodman debut as Penny, Hero's devoted love, who waits for him while he is away at war, explodes with the force of Kilauea in the final scenes. Jaime Lincoln Smith is a bottomless pit of suppressed emotion as Homer (in his Goodman debut), the would-be runaway slave who loses his foot due to Hero's betrayal. Goodman Theatre regular Demetrios Troy brings a touch of irony in his role as Smith, the Union Army mixed-race soldier who offers Hero yet another path to Glory. A bright spot in 'Father' is the long anticipated appearance of Brittney Love Smith as Odyssey Dog, also in her Goodman debut. 

Suzan-Lori Parks is the only African American woman playwright to win A Pulitzer Prize. From this production of Father Comes Home From The Wars, its conceivable that there are many more such accolades in store for her in the future. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS' FIRST 100 YEARS NOW THRU JUNE 10

VETERAN RESIDENT DIRECT CHUCK SMITH SCORES HIT WITH MAJOR REVIVAL OF EMILY MANN'S STAGE ADAPTATION








by Dwight Casimere

Goodman Theatre veteran Resident Director Chuck Smith's revival of Emily Mann's Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, is the triumph of the Chicago theatrical season. The play, starring Ella Joyce (Goodman's Jeff Award-winning Crumbs from the Table of Joy) as Bessie. and Marie Thomas (Broadway's Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope, TVs L.A.Law, Amen, Knots Landing) as Sadie, is an historical time-travelogue, narrated by the two sisters who speak to the audience from a  magical set by 30 year Goodman veteran Set Designer Linda Buchanan. It recreates the living room and kitchen of the Delaney's Mount Vernon, N.Y. home. The back story of how they managed to purchase the home in 1957 in the then-segregated lily-white suburb is one of the play's many  narrational gems. Goodman's veteran Costume Designer Birgit Rattenborg Wise also deserves praise for her spot-on designs as does the creative work of Lighting Designer John Culbert and Sound Designer Ray Nardelli. The artful use of historic photographs projected on screens above and around the stage, by Projection Designer Mike Tutaj, further enhances and advances the story-telling.

The history books don't really tell you a lot about what life was really like for blacks who lived in the south in the years after the Civil War and the end of slavery and about the early years of the black migration to the north's urban centers. We hear the names of W.E.B. Du Bois, Bookler T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune, and others, but the Delany sister's acccount, as authored by Amy Hill Hearth, who did the original article on the Delany sisters in the New York Times in 1991 and co-authored the subsequent book which became the foundation for Emily Mann's stage adaptation, gives verbal flesh and blood and a vivid pictorial image of those turbulent years. In those times, America saw the emergence of the black middle class and the resulting backlash of Jim Crow.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Delany's New York Times bestselling memoir, and as co-author Hearth and playwright Mann have pointed out in numerous interviews, its a pity how little has changed in terms of race relations. Particularly striking is the fact that Bessie and Sadie, were the daughters of a father who was raised as a slave, and a mixed-racial mother who was the daughter of a free African American woman, and a father who was a white Virginia farmer. The two lived a common-law marriage in separate houses for fifty years because mixed-racial marriages were outlawed in the entire country.

The Delany sisters lived a privileged life as children, even by today's standards. Although they grew up in North Caroline, they were raised on the campus of St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina where their father, the first African American Episcopal bishop, was the vice principal and their mother worked as a matron. The  sisters then moved to New York as young adults to pursue higher education and careers; Bessie to become only the second black woman to become licensed to practice dentistry in New York City, and Sadie to become a school teacher, the first to be certified to teach high school-level domestic science (at a white school, no less) also in New York City. 

Their story of the impact of Jim Crow laws, which began in their home state of North Carolina when the girls were grade school aged, is particularly telling and frightening. Seen from a child's perspective, the two relate how they were suddenly ordered to the back of the streetcar that they rode regularly while sitting in the front ("so the breeze could catch Sadie's long hair!", and forced to drink from a separate drinking fountain at the park they frequented as children on family outings without any prior restriction. Sadie's recounting of her childish act of defiance (I'm gonna drink me some of that white water!) is one of the play's funniest, yet saddening, moments. 

Their narrative also depicts the dawning of the segregation movement, which spread like wildfire, particularly with the premiere of the film Birth of A Nation (Originally titled The Clansman) by D.W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish in 1915. The film fanned the flames of racism and brazenly displayed beatings, lynching and untold brutalities against blacks, which fomented similar acts around the country. W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP mounted protests at the films' premiere and sparked a national movement against Jim Crow laws and lynching. The sisters had their own tale of Bessie's brush with a lynch mob, while she was traveling North to attend college. The story is conversely funny and chilling.

The Delany sisters recount their stories with a great deal of pride and joy, proudly presenting family sepia-toned photos from a tattered family album, brandishing them as if they were priceless historic objects, which are artfully reproduced in overhead screen projections.The photos act as footnotes to their stories of racial pride and prejudice.

 Its amazing how thoroughly actors Joyce and Thomas inhabit the personas of the Delany sisters. They literally become submerged in their characters. I found myself reflecting on my own late mother and aunt who, in their later years, lived as an inseparable couple, much like the Delany sisters.

During the two-hour performance, with one intermssion, the audience feels as if they are actually sitting in that house with them as they sip tea and prepare a celebratory meal in honor of their revered father's birthday. Just rattling off the menu of sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pound cake and other soul food delicacies is enough to make your mouth water, just as the sister's at times loving and at others, heartbreaking recounting of their trials and triumphs, will have you wanting to hear more. These two remarkable  women who survived the odds and whose  lives straddled two defining centuries in the history of America. Through it all, they held their heads up, to paraphrase Henley's Invictus, "bloodied but unbowed," and emerged proud, and fiercely loyal to their race, their heritage and their country.

BELOW: SCENES FROM HAVING OUR SAY-Photos Courtesy Goodman Theatre







Friday, May 11, 2018

MOUNTAIN DEPICTS IN WORDS AND MUSIC HEROICS OF WORLD'S MOUNTAIN ADVENTURERS NOW IN THEATRES


MOUNTAIN AVAILABLE IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE, ALSO IMAX AND ALL VIDEO


 WILLEM DAFOE WITH DWIGHT CASiMERE AT THE NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

DIRECTOR JENNIFER PEEDOM AND NARRATOR WILLEM DAFOE- PHOTOS: DWIGHT CASIMERE
DIRECTOR JENNIFER PEEDOM DISCUSSES MOUNTAIN WITH NARRATOR WILLEM DAFOE AT THE NEW YORK NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE



by Dwight Casimere

MOUNTAIN, the sweeping cinematic and musical journey among the world's highest peaks, opens this weekend in theaters everywhere and is available on all video platforms. Narrated by three-time Academy Award winning actor Willem Dafoe and directed by British Academy Award (BAFTA) nominated director Jennifer Peedom, renowned for her documentaries SHERPA, MIRACLE ON EVEREST, LIVING THE END and SOLO, it also features a musical "narration" scored and played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Showing in IMAX and other large screen formats in a number of theaters, MOUNTAIN is a complete sensory immersion in the world of big-league mountain climbing.  Large screen format is the most-recommended form of viewing for this particular film.

The film had its North American Premiere at the Australian International Screen Forum in New York City.

Willem Dafoe lends his dulcet tones to create a spell-binding narrative. Based on the words of novelist and mountain climbing adventurer Robert Macfarlane from his book, "Mountains of the Mind," the film traces the fascination with mountain peaks from the dawn of time.

Filmmakers, led by Cinematographer Renan Ozturk , who is recognized as one of the world's foremost professional climbers and a team of cinematographers armed with Go-Pros, drones and helicopters, to take viewers to the highest altitudes and extreme locations in Tibet, Australia, Alaska, Norway and beyond to experience their death-defying exploits. Ozturk's claim to fame is the BAFTA nominated documentary SHERPA which chronicles events before and after Mt. Everest's most devastating tragedy, the 2014 climbing disaster that left 16 Sherpas dead. Although no lives were lost in the filming of MOUNTAIN, viewers experience an astonishing visual symphony of mountaineers, ice climbers, free soloists, helicopter skiers, wingsuiters, snowboarders and, the most unlikely and breathtaking spectacle of all, parachuting mountain bikers cycling among the world's highest peaks and careening down the sides of steep mountainsides.
MOUNTAIN is about as close to the real thing as anyone of us will experience. In terms of a filmgoing experience, it will have you gripping the armrests of your seat and gasping at the mind-boggling perspectives of the precipitous landscapes seen from the point of view of the climbers and camera operators. Willem Dafoe's hypnotic voice and the atmospheric music of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, which combines classical favorites interspersed with original music, makes for an engrossing cinematic experience unmatched by any of the epic space fantasy and action films currently dominating the market. The mountain adventurers depicted in MOUNTAIN are the true superheroes of this age and display capabilities that stretch the boundaries of human capability to the fantastic.

IMAGES FROM MOUNTAIN

 WILLEM DAFOE REACTS TO A QUESTION AT THE NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
 IMAGES FROM THE FILM MOUNTAIN

THE AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA IN LIVE PERFORMANCE WITH THE FILM

A "HELIBIKER" BRAVES THE STEEP TERRAIN

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE UNTIL THE FLOOD GIVES VOICE TO RAGE OVER FERGUSON SHOOTING

UNTIL THE FLOOD LAYS BARE THE SOUL OF RACISM IN FERGUSON/U.S.









by Dwight Casimere


Dale Orlandersmith's Until The Flood, playing in the intimate Owen Theatre at Goodman Theatre now though May 12 is exactly what the Greeks had in mind when they invented theatre. It brings together strong words and nuanced characterization that are both symbols unto themselves and representative of a larger truth. The play uses the words of actual Ferguson residents compiled from moths of in-person interviews conducted in and around the now infamous  Missouri city  where 18 year old Michael Brown was gunned down by a young, white police officer, Darren Wilson, on the night of August 9, 2014. The incident became, literally, the racially charged shot that rang around the world, sparking international protests, and a wave of rising cynicism and outcry over similar incidents of police over-use of force in black communities around the country. The most recent manifestation is this stage production by Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Dael Orlandersmith. 

Until The Flood was originally commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 2016 and debuted there in a theatre just blocks from the scene of the tragedy. Since then, the play has played to rave reviews Off-Broadway. After its limited Goodman engagement, it continues its journey to Seattle's Contemporary Theatre and Portland Center Stage.

Playing eight composite characters based on her extensive research into the moods of actual residents in the years following the Ferguson shooting, Orlandersmith inhabits each of the personages with an uncannyy and often unnerving accuracy. Watch as she dawns a shawl (one of the lone props in this minimalist production by Set Designer Takeshi Kata) and slumps into an old wooden  chair as the 72 year old retiree Louisa Hemphill, whose poignant words paint  vivid verbal image of what it was like to grow up in segregationist Ferguson in the 1950s.  She refers to the  racial sword of Damocles that hung over every black person's head; "Don't let the sun go down on you in this town." The threat  implies a violent result for those who dare not comply with its decree.

We then hear from Rusty,a retired white Ferguson career policeman who defends the right of police to use force when there's the slightest doubt, to Hassan, a 17 year old street kid who dares the white establishment to point a gun at him and fire. Next, there's Connie, a well-intentioned young white teacher at an all-black school who finds solace in a glass of Chardonnay in the area's only upscale wine bar.  There, she unburdens herself by alternately boring and offending her one black friend, a fellow teacher, who listens to her guilt-ridden racial platitudes with chagrin.Then comes  Dougray, a young white self-made man who is perhaps a symbol of those upwardly mobile young whites who are gentrifying black neighborhoods around the country. He makes no bones about harboring a deep animosity toward  blacks who are his neighbors and sociological kin. So deep is his resentment that he says he'd just as soon line up all young black men and shoot them down. In his twisted logic, he's making the world "Clean. White. Purified!"

Orlandersmith uses words like a sculpture etching indelible images into a piece of stone. She moves seamlessly from character to character, not giving us so much as a psychological breath.  The cumulative effect is a psychological tsunami that leaves one emotionally drenched, yet wanting more. We're drawn to Orlandersmith's characters like moths to a flame, only the flame is the smoldering embers of a racial Armageddon, both ignited and sanctified by the blood of Michael Brown. Until The Flood is a haunting piece of theatre with words that reverberate far beyond the parameters of the Owen stage. They are a clarion cry of conscience that rightfully echo deep in the subconscious long after the theatre lights have dimmed. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2018 MOMENTUM GENERATION HONORS LEGENDS OF SURFING




MOMENTUM GENERATION CHRONICLES THE RISE OF SURFING FROM A DANGEROUS HOBBY TO A WORLD CLASS EVENT

by Dwight Casimere

From an Executive Producing team led by Robert Redford comes one of the best sports movies in a generation, Momentum Generation, which is screening in the final days of the 17th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. The film tells the story of a rag-tag group of surfing enthusiasts from some of the unlikeliest coastal backwaters and socio-economically starved communities and some of the unlikeliest places (try Chicago) to spawn an interest in the then-unlikely sport of surfing. Their various backgrounds were all but ideal. In fact, most of them grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. More than one of the subjects might well have spent a lifetime of dodging the law or in jail, were it not for the love of surfing. 

Surfing is probably one of the most dangerous endeavors you can engage in, but it has spawned a following of cult-like enthusiasts around the world. All that's needed to participate is a wooden surf board, not much bigger than an ironing board, and a steel-willed daring to brave the elements and possible death at the hands of an unforgiving sea. Using archival footage, much of it shot by the participants themselves, the film traces the rise of the sport from a mere personal interest into the big moneyed international phenomenon it has become today, complete with sponsorship, corporate endorsements and big money. 

The core subjects of the film are its presumptive progenitors, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Taylor Steele, Kalani Robb, Paul Roach, BenjI Weatherly and Pat O'Connel, who by happenstance all came together in their early teens in the home of Weatherly's mom on the north shore of Oahu in the early '90s. Over the next 20 years, they nurtured their dreams of becoming the world's premiere surfers. Field by their camaraderie and fierce competitiveness, the hapless crew managed to rise to their top of their sport on the world stage. Their growth in expertise mirrored the rise of the sport from a mere amateur endeavor for daredevils, to a big money proposition, which brought with it rivalry and broken friendships. Just as the Beach Boys rose to fame romanticizing the surfer lifestyle in song, so did the careers of these young daredevils. Their ascent was not without tragedy. The specter of death arose just as the zenith of surfing was on the horizon. The previously tight-knit crew unraveled under the weight of fame and fortune. Directors Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist weave a masterful cinematic journey combining archival footage, private photos, personal interviews and early TV film and video to create a comprehensive survey of the sport that is both informative and inspirational. Much of the early unedited  and some of the most poignant and telling material in the film is supplied by the unedited footage by surfer Taylor Steele, then a burgeoning amateur filmmaker and one of the original surfing posse.  MOMENTUM GENERATION earned second place in the Audience Award Documentary category at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Its a film that merits more than a single viewing as a testament to what sincere commitment and loyalty to an ideal and to one's comrades can accomplish.



 



Friday, April 27, 2018

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE-TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2018