BWW Interview: Director Marshall Jones III and A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Crossroads Theatre Company
Crossroads Theatre Company continues their exciting season with a holiday show for all. A Christmas Carol will be performed at New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC) in the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater from December 5 to December 15. Directed by the Company's Artistic Director, Marshall Jones III, the production promises to put audience members in the holiday spirit.
Crossroads' interpretation of A Christmas Carol is a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' novella written 176 years ago. The play comes alive through music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Book by Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent. Menken is the Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Oscar-winning American composer whose work is familiar to many audiences via Disney's stage and screen productions including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Pocahontas.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Marshall Jones III about his career and A Christmas Carol.
Marshall is the Producing Artistic Director of Crossroads Theatre Company. Since 2007, he has led the Tony Award® winning Company navigating a wide variety of challenges as the reputable theater company arrives on the dawn of a new era as a resident company member of the new state-of-the-art theater complex, NBPAC. Marshall recently directed the critically acclaimed production of Paul Robeson starring Nathaniel Stampley. He has over 30 years of experience in key executive positions at NYC's institutions that include Harlem's, Apollo Theater, Madison Square Garden, and Radio City Music Hall. As a director, Marshall has helmed plays at Crossroads including world premiere of Walter Mosley's Lift, which later played Off Broadway at 59E59 Theater. He directed Nikkole Salter's Repairing a Nation, which also was recorded for TV broadcast on WNET. He directed the world premiere of Beyond the Oak Trees about Harriet Tubman and world premiere of the comedy Back to the Real by Pia Wilson. In spring of 2018, Marshall was the Creative Consultant for the Off Broadway production of LITTLE ROCK, which received NY Times Critic Pick. Since 2002, Marshall has been on faculty at his alma mater as professor of Theater Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. For 8 years, Marshall has proudly served on the Board of Directors of the Theater Communication Group (TCG) and now currently serves on the Board of the NJ Theater Alliance.
What was your earliest interest in the performing arts?
When I was five, my cousin starred in a production of the King and I at the school where my father taught (Broadway Jr. High). Then during my freshman year in high school, I saw A Chorus Line on Broadway, and I knew the performing arts and Broadway were what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.
Tell us a little about your education at RU.
When I enrolled as a freshman in 1981, the Mason Gross School of Arts was just five years old. From the start I knew it was a special place, with great teachers located in a place where there were growing opportunities to experience and learn performing arts and theatre. All of us got solid training. When we finished our four-years, there was no doubt we were ready to pursue a career in professional theater, and to this day, every show I work on I galvanize the teachings of teachers and mentors like Hal Scott (directing. The first African-American to helm a Regional Theater - Cincinnati Playhouse in 1972); Joe Hart (the importance of the body); Vicki Hart (acting). We all got solid training.
As a professor at Mason Gross School of the Arts you now influence a new generation of performers. How does your work as a professor complement your career as an Artistic Director?
I believe that working professionally makes me a better teacher, and teaching makes me a better professional. The current generation grew up with the Internet and therefore have access to information unlike ever before, empowering them to learn and experience performing arts from a variety of perspectives. When they are in my class, they feel they can do anything, and they'll research how to do it. That kind of energy can be inspiring to an older professional like myself. I remember how excited I was when I was in college and I attended my teachers' show - it was thrilling. And I see the similar reaction from my students. I try to link the theories in class to actual practice.
Crossroads Theatre is now celebrating four decades of great theatre. Tell us a little about the long-term success of the Company.
The story of Crossroads Theatre Company began 41 years ago and from then through to today, Crossroads is and will continue to be the nexus and the connection between people, cultures, places, ideas and conversations and the incubator for actors and theatre professionals to hone and perfect their craft. One of Crossroads proudest achievements is when it received the Tony Award® in 1999 for Outstanding Regional Theatre Crossroads is a place rooted and grounded in the celebration of a history, culture and the spirit and voices of the African Diaspora. We bring the community into the sphere of the Black experience; the joys, pains, trials and tribulations of a people who have incredibly meaningful and powerful stories to share. It's a special theater that is unapologetic about its honest portrayals of people of color from around the world; it educates audiences and those in front and behind the stage, by creating bridges of understanding between people of all cultural backgrounds and provides a nurturing working environment for writers and artistic collaborators.
While Crossroads Theatre Company just celebrated 41 years of bringing stories of the African Diaspora to light and life, we are still evolving and even today marking many firsts. We hosted our first signature fundraising gala, A Night With Crossroads. We inaugurated the first Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Living Legends Award and the first recipient of that prestigious honor was award-winning, iconic actor, director and producer, Mr. Denzel Washington. Our long-term success is founded on always being true to our mission which is our legacy.
How does it feel to be in your new home at NBPAC?
It's a great feeling, to come home to NBPAC, particularly after coming off the road after two year while our new home was being built. As a resident member company of NBPAC, we have access to a state-of the-art performance and rehearsal facility that allows us to focus all of our energy on stage production and developing our artists and collaborators. Additionally, as a member company of NBPAC, we get to help usher in a new era of arts and culture for our city and be an important part of the kaleidoscope that is New Brunswick's arts and culture scene.
NBPAC is the culmination of many dreams; a convergence of cultural, social and business imperatives of the city that Crossroads Theatre Company calls home.
We are excited about "A Christmas Carol." What can audiences expect from the show?
This production has all of the ingredients that Crossroads needs to deliver the kind of quality and entertaining production that our audience has come to expect through the story, the music, the choreography and our multicultural cast of superb actors. First off, this show was conceived by a 'dream team' of composers and lyricists. The play comes alive through music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Book by Lynn Ahrens, Susan Stroman and Mike Ockrent. Menken is the Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Oscar-winning American composer whose work is familiar to many audiences via Disney's stage and screen productions including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Pocahontas. I know first-hand the feelings and enjoyment this show can emote as I was fortunate to have worked on it in a variety of capacities in other venues in my career.
Crossroads production of the timeless holiday classic features a multicultural cast that brings the story of kindness, grace and the spirit of Christmas to life through music, dance and song in a way that only Crossroads can deliver. The cast, that includes Broadway and large and small screen veterans, is led by Count Stovall (Scrooge), who has acted in a Crossroads' production for each of its four decades.
There are several productions of A Christmas Carol happening through-out the region but ours is the only musical. Come enjoy this holiday classic with us.
Tell us a little about the cast and creative of "A Christmas Carol."
Our cast and creative artists are super talented and will bring this story home with every performance. On the Creative side - we've got four women of color whose talents are nothing short of amazing and I assure you our audience will have an awesome theatre experience, that will include a lot of toe-tapping, hand-clapping and seat dancing.
- Camille Moten, Choreographer and recent MFA Grad from Rutgers, is fierce. Her dances are so imaginative, and they complement both the music and the performer.
- Dr. Mesia Austin, Musical Director who also got her doctorate from MGSA. She has put together an incredible orchestra of musicians.
- Jeanel LeBlanc, another Mason Gross grad in music, has taught some serious harmonies and has added some R&B flare at appropriate times.
- Kayla Kim Votapek, Crossroads Associate Producer who received her Bachelors from Rutgers University and her Masters from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, UK.
This cast of performing professionals are passionate artists who are multi- talented. You'll see how amazing the dancers are; they tap, they waltz, there's jazz, Broadway, Zombie dancing and even hip-hop. Our ghosts - what a rainbow! Ghost of Christmas Past - Justine Rappaport (Japanese ancestry) has a wondrous melodious voice with a full burst of energy. Ghost of Christmas Present (Dwayne Clark) has a cool R&B sound reminiscent of young Donny Hathaway. And the interpretation of our Ghost of Christmas Future (Arisa Odaka) as a prima ballerina is stunning. Arisa dances on pointe and has grace and depth.
Can you share some information about the future of Crossroads Theatre Company?
The future of Crossroads is bright with many more great productions on the horizon; the development of more new works; and initiatives to mentor and cultivate aspiring actors and actresses on the horizon. As a resident member company of NBPAC, we're harnessing the opportunity to build our brand market-wise and financially. Most importantly, we're focusing on building our subscriber and membership base, a key ingredient to our successful future and 40 more years as New Jersey's, the region's and the nation's premier black theatre.
Crossroads Theatre Company is located at NBPAC, 11 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ. For more information, and to purchase tickets for A Christmas Carol, please visit http://www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org/ or call 732.545.8100.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marshall Jones III