NJPAC And Crossroads Theatre Company Present Duke Ellington's SOPHISTICATED LADIES
Andr De Shields directs this high-stepping revival for the 21st century, starring a dazzling cast of Broadway talent and featuring an onstage band well-versed in Duke's greatest music at New Jersey Performing Arts Center 1 Center Street, Newark NJ Victoria Theater $69 - $89
Duke's high-style music is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by Andr De Shields. Presented in the year marking the 120th anniversary of Ellington's birth, this revival of Sophisticated Ladies brings the heyday of Harlem's swanky Cotton Club into the 21st century. Andr De Shields returns to NJPAC after directing and choreographing the first co-production between NJPAC and Crossroads Theatre Company, 2018's critically acclaimed Ain't Misbehavin'.
All those glorious Ellington numbers Satin Doll, It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing), Cotton Tail, Take the 'A' Train and Mood Indigo are in full swing with a glamorous cast of Broadway veterans, bright young stars and an onstage band versed in the tradition of the orchestras of Duke Ellington and his son, Mercer. It's a high-stepping salute inspired by the ritzy nightlife and sensuous highlife of a man who lived to love.
The ensemble features Johmaalya Adelekan, Ken Ard, Jacqueline Arnold, Wesley Barnes, Lamont Brown, Kaleigh Cronin, Lianne Marie Dobbs, C.K. Edwards, Danielle Kelsey, Jenny Laroche, N'Kenge, and Tommy Scrivens. Mr. De Shields' creative team includes Kimberly Schafer (Choreography), Nat Adderley, Jr. (Musical Director), Burke J. Wilmore (Set and Lighting Design), and Gail Brassard (Costume Design).
When asked about the relevancy of Sophisticated Ladies in 2019 compared to its opening in 1981, De Shields said, "In terms of cultural agency, the 1980s in America are remembered as The Golden Decade, when bigger was better: big television, big Rock & Roll, big Wall Street, big hair, big soul ... big fame, big film and yes big Broadway musicals. Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies was one of those opulent productions that ruled The Great White Way during the 80s. I still have vivid, visceral recollection of the spring of 1981. I was returning from having performed a six-month engagement of Ain't Misbehavin' in Paris. Once in New York, I discovered The Grapevine alight with rapturous acclaim for the lavish and glamorous Ellington revue. Inspired by the discography of Edward Kennedy Ellington later to adopt the moniker "Duke" Sophisticated Ladies played its first preview on February 16, 1981, at The Lunt-Fontannne Theatre, opened on March 1, 1981, and closed on January 2, 1983, having run a total of 767 performances. Arguably the greatest American composer of the Twentieth century, Duke Ellington had finally become a player on America's main stage for live theatre. Audiences and critics alike were hard-pressed to find the adjective that possessed just the right amount of panache and gravitas to describe the lavish production that was Sophisticated Ladies. The word "fabulous" would soon acquire an even more prodigious connotation."
"Fast forward nearly another two decades to 2019, and the culture has gone through a tectonic shift. No longer made solely of the solidly impervious fabric of male dominance, contemporary American culture has been stretched to the point of porosity. And those porous imperfections are currently being mended by the stitch work of twenty-first century, self-empowered womanhood. Flipping the script has become a necessary tool of the postmodern female. And since it is the responsibility of my generation to explain to the prior and succeeding generations how we got from There to Here, I searched for a piece of entertainment that could be unpacked for its implicit information regarding the psychological, emotional and intellectual relationships between men and women. It occurred to me that Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies was ripe for the picking. The title alone begs to be parsed. For example, have we actually ever heard from the sophisticated ladies referenced in the title? Isn't it about time that we get to better know the women that the Duke and his collaborators apotheosized in song for sixty years? One of the several definitions of "sophisticated" is "enlightened." I suggest that we all lean forward, and open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the perspective of the enlightened woman, wherever she is encountered. I am convinced that we will find her revelations "beyond category."
The American Song series at NJPAC is presented, in part, through the generous support of the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, the David S. Steiner and Sylvia Steiner Charitable Trust, and the Joan and Allen Bildner Family Fund. Andr De Shields made his NJPAC debut six years ago in Prudential Hall as Zeus during an orchestral performance of The Creatures of Prometheus. He returned in 2017 to direct and choreograph the first co-production between NJAPC and The Crossroads Theatre Company, the critically acclaimed Ain't Misbehavin'. In his half-century artistic career, Mr. De Shields has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, choreographer and educator. His numerous accolades include an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival's Living Legend Award, the Black Theatre Network's 2016 Winona Lee Fletcher Award, and many more. His body of work includes Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theatre, feature films, television, and cabaret. A multiple Tony Award nominee, Mr. De Shields is best known for his show stopping performances in four legendary Broadway musicals: The Full Monty, Play On!, Ain't Misbehavin', and The Wiz (title role).