Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Marvelettes on, Rainbow Soul

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Marvelettes Grace The Stage at Lehman Center
By Deardra Shuler

Paula Anderson, lead singer for the Marvelettes, took time out of her busy schedule to talk to this journalist about her upcoming show at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts as the opening act for Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Revue on Saturday, April 9 at 8:00 p.m.

The Marvelettes have a long history starting back in the 1960s in Detroit when Gladys Horton and Georgia Dobbins put together 4 singers in high school. Dobbins had to leave the group due to family issues early on but others like Wanda Rogers, Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanette Cowart and Katherine Anderson joined later as did others.

“Being in Detroit and around the home of music, just about everyone thought they wanted to be part of the music biz back then. I personally started in the group in 2000. I went to an audition. I went in thinking I knew it all. Once I got there, I thought this is Motown and to be a part of that is something special. So, I did what I needed to do. I went to several auditions and I finally got through the door and it’s been wonderful ever since. Motown was very particular about who carried on the Marvelettes’ name. As a Marvelette, the others and myself have made sure to keep the integrity of the music. I learned a lot from the lead singer at the time I started with the group. Thus, when she stepped down, I was able to step up and take her place. Motown is loved universally. It shaped music in a very big way” said Paula who is performing nightly with The Marvelettes in Las Vegas at the Rio’s Crown Theatre where they share the bill with The Platters and the Coasters in between going out on the road.

The Marvelettes made history as the very first girl group selected by Berry Gordy to sing for Motown. One can say the Marvelettes set the tone for the girl groups who followed like the Supremes and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The public snapped up over a million copies of the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" which became a big hit for them. The Marvelettes had an 8 year run on the Billboard Music charts. They scored 23 Billboard Hot 100 singles. Of these hits, 3 were top pop singles, 9 were top R&B singles and their debut song was #1 on both charts. Smokey Robinson wrote some of the Marvelette’s hit songs. “Smokey Robinson wrote “Don’t Mess with Bill,” and “The Hunter Captured by the Game.” With Motown it was about being a family. Artists from the label worked with other artists. Marvin Gaye also worked with us. Many may not know that Marvin played the drums. He played drums on some of our songs. Oftentimes various Motown artists became part of each others projects” explained the Marvelette’s lead singer.

“We have been abroad and it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to travel. We went to Austria, Canada and Mexico. Being part of the Marvelettes has afforded me that opportunity. I am fortunate that my husband is in the business so he understands. It makes it all the more wonderful to come home to him after traveling.”
The current Marvelettes are Paula Anderson (lead) originally from Queens who has been with the group 11 years. California’s Sarah Melensum (spelling of names unconfirmed) has been with the Marvelettes for 8 years and New Yorker Tanja Foster who has also been with the group 8 years as well. Other singers who may sing with the Marvelettes at Lehman Center are Deborah Sherman and Annette Bland McCoy. “We have a wonderful rapport together. When you are out on the road you look out for one another. We get out there and do our jobs while having fun at the same time” said Paula of her relationship with her fellow Marvelettes. “I love the music and the fact we are still out there performing this type of music. There is a big demand for it. We are always happy to see young people at our concerts who come out to hear our music with their parents and grandparents.”

The Marvelettes will sing Beachwood 4-5789 (1962) for the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts audience. “You know some of the men in the audience have approached us and said they actually called the Beachwood number. I think some of these gentlemen expected us to answer. I can’t tell you where Beachwood 4-5789 will connect but it’s definitely a phone number,” chuckled Anderson. “We love the grace, romance and elegance of the 1960s era. When on stage, we dress from the era. We wear the big hair wigs, the jewelry and 60’s clothes. It is a lot of fun getting ready for the show. We even do some of the dances. We also do a skit with the men in the audience when we sing our song “Don’t Mess with Bill.” We love our shows. We get a lot of feedback from our audiences after the show. They tell us how much fun they had. ”

Those interested in tickets for the Marvelettes and Dennis Edwards and the Temps can call the Lehman Center Box Office at 718-960-8833 for Saturday, April 9th or go online at Those driving to Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park West in the Bronx, can park for free.

“Cool Blues” in the Pink at the New Federal

By Deardra Shuler

Playwright Bill Harris has joined forces with award winning director Ed Smith to present on the New Federal Theatre stage, “Cool Blues,” a tale of an ingenious and inventive musician named B. “B” could stand for “brilliant,” “blue” and even “burnt out,” all adjectives that would serve to describe B in the various stages of his life. Fashioned after the legendary Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, B is cool but definitely undergoing the blues. Considered a genius, B can blow an alto sax like no other but must do this under the confines of pre-civil rights racism. He can work in the most elegant of places but cannot dine in them. His color prevents him from getting the gigs he deserves or getting the greater opportunities his talent warrants. For all his genius, B cannot figure out how to extricate himself from his plight so he drowns it by abusing his body with drugs. What form of drugs matters not to B as long as it gives him those moments of brilliance that allow him to create. And, provide those vacant temporary moments that allow him to forget his misery.

Genius extracts a price however and before long, B moves from the bottle to the needle. As the dope flows through his veins he surrenders to the music -- playing just as much for his inner satisfaction as for those who come to hear him in the clubs where he performs. Eventually ingenuity turns to nightmare leaving B the shadow of the man people expect him to be. He disappoints. Disappoints others of course but not even their disillusionment can match his own disenchantment with himself. After all, what man does not want to be remembered for those occasions he’s risen to “greatness.” This is the legacy B sought – something to show that despite his fall from grace, he had risen to prominence and at times supped among the wealthy.
Under the influence of his heroin nightmare, B’s memories arise like shadows to haunt him. He seeks to explain, deny, justify, blame and repent. His beloved common law wife Chim (Maria Silverman) darts like an unrelenting shadow through the recesses of his mind, reminding him of the promises he never kept.

His mother (Stephanie Berry) drifts in and out of his dreams and thoughts, a reminder of the countless times he had disillusioned her. Both women skirting over the negative, preferring to recall the good moments -- seeking the return of the man they believe he is. There are moments of creativity, abstinence and joy when B is on top of the world and then the dream ends. B knows the cocoon of drugs he has encased himself within will only temper the pain briefly. He sees his body disintegrating and knows he is beyond doctor’s care. He rails against the injustice and reality of the world created by white society. He knows he can fly high, if only they would let him. Only if they would allow him to play what he hears in his head. Chords which he finally builds via extended intervals such as ninths, elevenths and thirteenths, something untried in jazz before. B realized that the twelve tones of the chromatic scale could lead melodically to any key, thus breaking the confines of simpler jazz soloing.

Is white society responsible for his decline, his self-imposed flagellation and drug induced mutilation? Or does B bear the responsibility for his own weakness? Haunted by the specter of his musical buddy and friend Kid Welpool (Jay Ward), who is a mirrored reflection of Bs own addiction, B admires Kid’s musical chops but is disgusted by his drug use. A drug use that no longer allows Kid to perform as he once could. Of course, B does not see that he too is heavily influenced by the drugs that are sapping his own strength, ravaging his body and stealing his genius until it’s too late. It is only at the 11th hour that B seeks to take the cure.

For all his fame and the famous people he co-mingles with, B feels alone. His body is revolting against him and his musical genius fading in and out in flashes of memories and moments of clarity. It is during those moments that B seeks to do something that will signify his success and be a memorable gift to his mother; a moment of grandeur to reward those who have supported him and his career. Enters jazz enthusiast Baroness Alexandra Isabella von Templeton, - one of the wealthiest women in the world with ties to the Rothchilds. Baroness Zan (as she is fondly called) is based on Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter of the Rothchild family (born Kathleen Anne Pannonica Rothschild). Her stamp of approval matters to B.

Portrayed by Terria Joseph, initially the Baroness comes across as just another useless member of the idle rich; so nasal she can only be described as a one of the hoity-toity snobs whose noses are so far up in the air, they lose sight of the real world existing around them. To the Baroness’s credit however, she recognizes the brittleness of her upper class existence and seeks to save her soul. In the end, she does so admirably.

Ezra Barnes rounds out the cast in this melodrama of greatness, madness and lost chances.

“Cool Blues” continues its run at the New Federal Theatre, Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center Recital Hall Theatre, located at 466 Grand Street in Manhattan until April 3. Performances of COOL BLUES will be Wednesday Through Friday evening at 7:30pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm and Sunday matinees at 3pm.

If you are a Charlie Parker fan you will want to see this production.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

“Nobody Knew Where They Was” Finds its Way

By Deardra Shuler

The weekend started off at the Harlem School of the Arts with “Nobody Knew Where They Was,” a H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players production, directed by Arthur French, written by and co-starring Roger Parris. This thought provoking play ran from February 25 through Sunday, March 20th. Via his drama, Parris puts before the public a masterpiece of intrigue and psychology that richly deserves to be resurrected somewhere on a near-Broadway stage.

"Nobody Knew Where They Was" is a period piece that takes place somewhere in Georgia in 1949. A time in America not so different from now, except back then, racism was overt, wherein modern day, it is covert. To get at the heart of this play, one must follow 5 escaping prisoners to a back woods jute joint owned by the reclusive Black Ruth. Ruth has insulated herself against the harshness of southern white bigotry in a remote forest area where few whites dare venture. Black Ruth likes it that way. She feels safe from the climate of white hatred that could steal away a black life for the slightest offense or even lack of offense. To walk around being black was offense enough as some of the white folks saw it. In the back woods, Black Ruth had created a world of escapism for those black folks who needed a reprieve from the rigors of racism. She served her black clientele a bit of white lightning, music, fun, comfort and all the love she could muster.

As the story unfolds, the audience learns how each of the prisoners unfairly came to work the chain gang. While Lady Justice is content to turn a blind eye, we as the spectator cannot help but emotionally internalize the injustices non-whites have experienced throughout their sojourn in America. Some say Blacks complain too much. Others say they haven’t complained nearly enough. Perhaps the problem has been those of color have remained too divided and have forgotten what was accomplished via a united front.

Through this production, we see what is possible when team work is applied. We are also shown what can happen when fear, mistrust and working against the good of the whole rears its ugly head.

Sonny Smalls played by Ralph McCain, is a northern gent who drives down south in a brand new car not understanding the repercussions of driving into a small southern town inhabited by ignorant minds. Minds obsessed with a false sense of privilege and entitlement demonstrating how truly inferior they are when the local yokels see fit to rob Smalls of his car and his freedom. West Indian Teddy’s (Roger Parris) attempts to rescue his sister and take her back home, insures his penalization for life on the chain gang. One Arm Jimmy was performed by Ward Nixon throughout the play but for two performances, substitute actor Marshall Mitchell, equally mastered the role. It was Marshall Mitchell who performed as One Arm Jimmy the night I saw the play. Embittered and betrayed in childhood by someone who should have been his lifeline, Jimmy has learned to expect the worst from others and thus mistrusts everyone around him. Electric Sam (AC Davison) can fix most anything. He became the scapegoat of a privileged white boy who blamed Sam for his crime in an atmosphere where the black man is always assumed guilty. And, then there is Cocoa (Albert Eggleston), a home spun Southern boy well versed in the ways of white man’s bigotry. He has learned to survive by any means necessary. However, even his wily ways could not save him from the chain gang when the white wife of his boss decides to make Cocoa the object of her flirtation.

These men simply disappeared into the confinement of the Georgia penal system, swallowed up with no way to contact family. They found themselves unwilling pons in a system of legalized slavery designed to keep them ensnared; iron chains on their bodies, mental chains on their minds. This hardens their resolve and leaves little compassion.

What direction should these men run as they seek to be free of the chains that tethered their body, yet remain unaware of the chains that tether their mind? Driven by fear they band together but are made impotent by their mistrust of one another. Do they remain true to the bonds of trust they have built which would assure their escape or do they break them and turn on one another guaranteeing their own destruction?

Black Ruth (Kimberlee Monroe) nurtures them for a time, offering up hope, comfort and love, bringing out their humanity and showing them despite their differences if they work together they have the opportunity to be free. Does she succeed or does she end up doing the unthinkable?

“Nobody Knew Where They Was” gives us as a chance to reflect on whether as a race we know where we are heading. Have we mapped out a direction as a people or will we continue to wander in the dense forest, trapped in the darkness of our mistrust, stagnated and unable to move forward, in the long run betraying ourselves.

June Terry did a fine job with the costuming. The cast was excellent and drew the viewer into the drama. The audience feels both pathos and camaraderie with the characters. You cannot separate yourself from their pain, their joy and their hope because ultimately you can relate.

I hope this play will surface again. When it does, go see it.

As in life, the ending is left open. The choices are yours to make. Therefore, so is the final outcome.