New Haarlem Arts Theatre Sets Second Season: MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, SWEET CHARITY and More

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This summer, New Haarlem Arts Theatre (NHAT), the professional theater company of City College of New York (CCNY), has expanded its programming and will present mainstage productions of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Sweet Charity," as well as a show for young audiences and a readings series. The theater, led by Eugene Nesmith, is entering its second season and will again be in residence at Aaron Davis Hall, located at W. 135th Street and Convent Avenue, Manhattan (Hamilton Heights).

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by August Wilson, directed by Eugene Nesmith and starring Johnnie Mae as Ma, will be presented June 14 to July 8. "Sweet Charity," with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon; originally conceived, staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse, has been re-conceived as a Latina's story by Julio Agustin, who will direct it July 26 to August 19 with choreography by Lainie Munro. The play for young audiences, "Flying Fables," is conceived and adapted to the stage by Obie-winner Stephanie Berry and will be presented July 14 to 27. A readings series, "Unheard Voices for the American Theater," curated by Rob Barron, will be held June 18, June 25 and July 2.

NHAT aims to become a professional theater uptown that ranks among the best in the country and to produce bold theatrical works that express the true history, culture, and diversity of America. Under Eugene Nesmith, founding Artistic Director, a management team was formed last year to build and sustain a vibrant cultural institution in partnership with CCNY to offer a home for a professional theater company in which emerging professional actors from the CCNY community work alongside veteran artists of distinction. NHAT works to unite students and local residents in a range of programming that addresses the professional and educational aspirations of the unique and culturally essential neighborhood that is Harlem. Productions encourage artistic freedom, risk taking and bold experimentation with theatrical forms. NHAT also strives to attract audiences from around the City to Harlem again.

Last summer, In its inaugural season, New Haarlem Arts Theatre produced "Blues for Mister Charlie" by James Baldwin, directed by Eugene Nesmith, and the musical, "Ain't Nothin' But The Blues," directed by Alfred Preisser. Both productions had casts that mixed New York professionals with recent graduates of the CCNY theatre department and student actors. The shows were roundly praised by critics and audiences alike and the company was recognized as an important contributor to the culture of our city and an excellent platform to launch careers for students in the CCNY theater department. Its production of "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues" was honored with three AUDELCO Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre: Musical Production of the Year, Best Director (Alfred Preisser) and Best Choreographer (Tracy Jack). The production was extended one week in order to share it with a wider audience, but regrettably, the added performances had to be canceled due to Hurricane Irene.

Tickets to all NHAT events are available through SMARTTIX, (212) 868-4444, www.smarttix.com. The theater's website is www.newhaarlemartstheatre.org. Free parking is available in the South Campus Parking Lot (enter at 133rd Street and Convent Ave.). Subways are #1 to 137th Street; A, C or D trains to 135th Street or 145th Street. Tickets to "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Sweet Charity" are $30 general admission, $25 seniors, $10 with CUNY ID. Group sales are 10+ tix @ $25 each. Season tickets, good for all three events ($65 value!) are $40. Opening night tickets ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" June 16 at 7:00 PM; "Sweet Charity" July 28 at 7:00 PM) are $100 (includes performance and reception; evening dress suggested).

2012 SEASON AT-A-GLANCE

JUNE 14 TO JULY 8

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM
By August Wilson, directed by Eugene Nesmith.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM, matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM.
$30 general admission, $25 seniors, $10 with CUNY ID.
Theater B. Running time 2:20 with intermission.
Opening night tickets June 16 at 7:00 PM are $100 (includes performance and reception; evening dress suggested).

This electrifying drama, set in Chicago during the Harlem Renaissance period, explores the blues, what it means to be an artist, and race relations in America. The play's epic voice speaks eloquently about the nature of our culture, the struggles of artists and how different generations have perceived the opportunities available to them: opportunities which reflected changes in the society with regard to power dynamics and race.

The title role of Ma Rainey will be played by Johnnie Mae, who is well-known as Louanne, the notorious housemaid in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." She has performed with the Classical Theatre of Harlem, New Federal Theatre and National Black Theatre and appeared last summer in NHAT's debut production, "Blues for Mister Charlie." She won an AUDELCO Award for Best Supporting Actress in "Why Old Ladies Cry at Weddings" and "What Would Jesus Do?" She appears regularly in TV shows including Showtime's "The Big C," NBC's "30 Rock," FX's "Louie" and all three incarnations of "Law & Order."

The cast also includes Reginald L. Wilson, Joresa Blount, Rollessia Hurd-Rosa, Branden Baskin, Michael Anthony, Luther Wells, Peter Jay Fernandez, Steve Macari, Dennis Jordan, Mikell Pinkney and Mike Metzel.

Eugene Nesmith (director) is the Founding Artistic Director of NHAT and the Chair of CCNY's Theatre Department. For years he was a member of New York Theatre Workshop's Usual Suspects Group. He was selected to be a member of Lincoln Center’s first Directors Lab. Most recently, he was selected to be a member of ATHE's Theatre Leadership Institute. Mr. Nesmith has directed various productions at regional theaters and Off Off-Broadway theaters in New York City. He has published critical essays in The Village Voice and in such scholarly journals as Yale Theater, American Theatre Magazine, and Black Theatre News. His critical writings can also be found in such book length projects as "A Source Book on Black Performance," edited by Anna Marie Bean, and "Black Comedy," edited by Pamela Faith Jackson. He has been a judge for The Village Voice Obie Awards and a panelist for the Theater Grants and Policy Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. As an actor he has performed in various roles Off Broadway and in Regional Theaters, in such roles as Brutus in "Julius Caesar" with Shakespeare and Company, Aaron in "Titus Andronicus" with Target Margin Theater and Baylen in "Glenn Garry Glen Ross" for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. In 1993, Mr. Nesmith was co-founder with Victoria Norman of The African-American Theatre Program at the University of Louisville.

JULY 26 TO AUGUST 19

SWEET CHARITY
Music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon; originally conceived, staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse; conceived and directed as a Latino story by Julio Agustin, choreographed by Lainie Munro.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM, matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM.
$30 general admission, $25 seniors, $10 with CUNY ID.
Theater B. Running time: 2:30 with intermission.
Opening night tickets July 28 at 7:00 PM are $100 (includes performance and reception; evening dress suggested).

The Latino spirit is alive in this Fosse-Jazz favorite American musical, re-envisioned to reflect the changing roles of Latinos in our society."Sweet Charity," the famed 1966 Broadway musical, was based on Federico Fellini's screenplay," Nights of Cabiria," a tale of the romantic ups-and-downs of an ever-hopeful prostitute, with the central character adapted to a dancer-for-hire at a Times Square dance hall.

Director Julio Augustin saw similarities between this endearing protagonist and a succession of Latina stars, including Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Eva Longoria, Eva Mendez, Shakira and Rita Hayworth, each of whom, through tumultuous relationships and (for the most part) public divorces, maintained a public image of innocence and held out hope for a love that is happily-ever-after. ("I am a good, gentle person, but I am attracted to mean personalities" confessed Margarita Carmen Cansino, better known as Rita Hayworth.) Thus was born an idea to make the title character into Caridad, a Latina Sweet Charity, setting the musical in a neighborhood that is both 60s in feel and fun, but also urban, edgy and contemporary. NHAT's production will bridge the world of Latino culture with the traditional sound that is so prevalent in the score of the show.

It will also showcase the talented students of color who are prevalent in the theater program of CCNY. Its 25 actors will be a mixture of established New York professionals and emerging artists. (By opening its casting to current students and recent graduates of the theater program, and also by providing understudy opportunities and double-casting in the chorus and supporting parts, NHAT provides valuable work experience for new performers.) The cast features Cedric Leiba, Jr. as Vittorio Vidal, Dennis Wit as Charity's domineering boss, Herman, and introduces Edlyn Gonzalez as Charity (a.k.a. "Caridad").

Watch for a surprising plot twist at the end that gives the female protagonist a strength she hasn't had in past productions!

Julio Agustin (director) has taught, directed, and performed on and Off-Broadway, regionally, and internationally. He has been a Lecturer and Deputy Chair of the Department of Theatre and Speech at CCNY since 2007. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Florida State University and an MFA in Directing from Penn State University. He has directed productions of "The Wild Party," "Metamorphoses," "School for Scandal,: "The Life" and "Whistle Down the Wind." He performed featured roles in the Broadway musicals "Chicago" and "Bells Are Ringing" (revival) and appeared in the original companies of "Fosse," "Never Gonna Dance," "Steel Pier" and the Lincoln Center musical "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," directed by Bartlett Sher. He choreographs annually for the Mid-Atlantic Summer Dance Festival in Virginia and will be an Artist in Residence in Theatre Dance for the James Madison University Dance Program in the spring of 2013. He also coaches voice. He has conducted his Transition Workshop, a career development program for actors, at Western Michigan University, Shenandoah University and Florida State University, among others (www.TheTransitionWorkshop.com). He is a member of SDC, AEA, SAG, AFTRA, and VASTA.

JULY 14 TO 27

FLYING FABLES
Based on classic fables from around the world, conceived and adapted to the stage by Stephanie Berry, directed by John Martin Green.
One evening show: July 14 at 7:00. Matinees at 2:00 PM: July 15 (Sun) through July 20 (Fri); July 23 (Mon) through July 27 (Fri).
All tickets $5. Recommended for children ages 6 to 106.
Runs :45 (followed by 15-20 minute audience participation). Theater C.

Aiming to become a community anchor with the capacity to unite theater professionals, students and local residents of all ages, NHAT will present its first play for young audiences. "Flying Fables," adapted by Obie-winner Stephanie Berry and directed by John-Martin Green, is a modern, urban fairytale about a young ambitious couple, Marie and Charles, who are in flux in their marriage. Waking one morning to a common dream, they follow the dream’s instructions to search for a trunk which they believe holds the key to their happiness in the tunnels of the subways. They are transported into the magical world of fables where they are ushered through a series of tales (from Africa, Asia and South America) by their childhood alter-egos. As the moral of each story unravels, the main characters experience powerful revelations. Using drama, music and movement the performers bring fresh interpretations to traditional fables.

Stephanie Berry (adapter) is a dancer, an actress, an English teacher, a community and political activist, and an OBIE Award winning playwright. Audiences know her from films including "The Invasion," TV shows including "Law and Order" and her one-woman show, "The Shaneequa Chronicles: The Making of a Black Woman," which received a Village Voice Obie Award and two AUDELCO Awards. Her other plays include "Trouble in Mind," "Distracted," :Gem of the Ocean," Intomate Apparrel," "Spunk," King Lear," "Lady Macbeth," "Hamlet" and "The Tale of Madame Zora." She is a 2009/2010 recipient of the TCG/Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship as a "Distinguished Artist." She is a pioneer in arts-in-education and a founding member of Blackberry Productions Theater Company, a Harlem based organization that develops new works and brings theater to underserved populations throughout New York. She is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre.

JUNE 18, JUNE 25 AND JULY 2

READINGS SERIES: UNHEARD VOICES FOR THE AMERICAN THEATER
Curated by Rob Barron
FREE. Theater B.

In this reading series, NHAT facilitates new and established writers in experimenting, imagining and creating theater for the new century that speaks to our shared history and the changing demographics of America.

June 18, 7:00 PM: "Down in Mississippi" by Carlyle Brown

In this "gospel play with music," idealistic college kids from the northeast travel to Mississippi in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. What they witness – and what they discover – is far from anything they expected.

June 25, 7:00 PM: "Clean and Press" by Corwin Moore

Two cops, and a suspect with blood on his hands. As the suspect negotiates a path through his interrogation, the story of his family is revealed; as well as the secrets that threaten to explode his past and his present.

July 2, 7:00 PM: to be announced

Rob Baron (curator) is Associate Artistic Director of NHAT and a produced playwright. He has co-authored musical adaptations of "Ferdinand and the Bull" (co-authored with Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (co-authored with David Spencer). He has also directed over 100 theater productions for young audiences, many of which were for Theaterworks USA and Two Beans Productions, including "Charlotte's Web," "Little Women," "around the World in 80 Days" and "Romeo and Juliet." A graduate of Yale School of Drama, Brown University and Phillips Exeter Adacemy, he is a theater professor at CCNY.

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