Interview: Theatre Life with Marva Hicks

By: Feb. 07, 2020
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Interview: Theatre Life with Marva Hicks
Marva Hicks

Today's subject Marva Hicks is currently living her theatre life onstage at Signature Theatre in the World Premiere Musical Gun & Powder. The production runs through February 23rd in Signature's MAX Theatre space. You'll be able to see my review of the show on Broadway World soon. Trust me it will be worth the wait.

Marva's debut on Broadway was as impressive as you can get. Imagine being onstage with the legendary Lena Horne in her tour de force The Lady and Her Music show. You'd be hard pressed to describe that feeling. Read on for Marva's remembrance of that experience. Marva has also been seen on Broadway in Motown The Musical; Caroline, Or Change; and The Lion King.

Off-Broadway credits include the City Center Encores! productions of Cabin In The Sky, and Little Shop Of Horrors, and The First Breeze Of Summer at Signature Theatre Company.

Locally you have seen Marva many times over the years at Arena Stage. Credits include Thunder Knocking on The Door for which she received a Helen Hayes Award, Crowns, The Women Of Brewster Place, and Sophisticated Ladies.

She has performed at some of the most prestigious regional theaters in the country as well. Select credits include Oo-Bla-Dee at Two River Theatre Company, Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous and The Women of Brewster Place (Suzi Award) at Alliance Theatre, The Wiz at

Theatre Under the Stars, Sarah Sings a Love Story at Crossroads Theatre Company, and Porgy and Bess at the Zach Scott Theatre. For her work on that production Ms. Hicks received a B. Ida Payne Award.

You might have seen Marva in your living rooms on the TV series House of Cards, Black List, Search Party, Madam Secretary, or Star Trek: Voyager or possibly on the big screen in Virtuosity, or Asunder.

Marva Hick's performance in Gun & Powder is one of the many things in this show you won't soon forget. I highly urge you to grab any seat you can to see Marva and an extraordinary company of performers in this very important new musical.

At what age would you say you got bitten by the theatre bug?

I was 15. In junior high school, and won a pageant contest and part of my prize was going to NY to see a Broadway show with the pageant coordinator and students from Virginia State University.

What was your first professional performing job and what do you remember about that particular opening night?

My first professional performance job was actually at Arena Stage while I was attending Howard University's College of Fine Arts, where I was studying acting and musical theatre. I was given permission to take the job understudying CCH Pounder and another actress whose name I do not recall, in a production of The National Health. I remember my scrubs costume and doing the blocking, but beyond that, I think I was in shock. first paying job as a professional actress!

Interview: Theatre Life with Marva Hicks
L-R Emmy Raver-Lampman, Marva Hicks, and Solea Pfeiffer in the Signature Theatre production of Gun & Powder.
Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Can you please tell us a little something about Gun & Powder and also something about the character you play in the show?

Gun & Powder takes us on a journey with twin sisters, who out of need and opportunity risk their lives to do something good for their mother, but run into unforeseen circumstances that cause them to make two totally different choices that could change everything. It's about family, and about getting lost in what we want for ourselves if given the opportunity to hide behind a mask and get it. In the end we can't deny who we really are.Tallulah, is a post slavery woman, who has also been a slave, who was given a taste of being loved, or so she thought, by a white man, as a free woman, even though it was dangerous. Left with her beautiful babies she's determined to give them a better life, though she's still a sharecropper. She hasn't had a chance to figure it all out yet.

After your first reading of Gun & Powder what were your initial thoughts?

While reading it my jaw dropped. I was in total suspense to see where this story was going. I had not read anything like it. Imitation of Life is my all time favorite movie. Fredi Washington broke my heart along with her mother's when while passing for white she denied knowing her mother. That was so powerful to me, even as a kid to see this story being told. And to now see it come to the American stage. With these two incredibly talented creators is well overdue. It's a real part of our culture that people don't really talk about.

Interview: Theatre Life with Marva Hicks
L-R Emmy Raver-Lampman and Solea Pfeiffer in the Signature Theatre production of Gun & Powder.
Photo by Cameron Whitman.

What do you think audiences will take away with them after seeing a performance of Gun & Powder?

I hope they see the very core of the reason an African American has to try and pass for white in order to get the opportunities due to all human beings. I hope they see hope for us all through the blood that binds us all. I want them to see the power of family.

You had the privilege of working with the legendary Lena Horne on her The Lady and her Music show. Can you please talk about your experience of working on that production?

Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music was my first Broadway show. I was stunned to be on stage with this iconic figure that is a part of the fiber of black people in the film and music industry. She knew what was at stake being a gorgeous and talented woman of color and she used it not just to benefit herself but her people. After closing on Broadway, we toured the show for a while, and I remember walking into the lobby of The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN and her saying to us, that she remembers when she couldn't walk in through the front entrance of the hotel. It just reemphasized for me who I was working with. She has also been a huge influence on my love of jazz standard! She was all in for each and every show. She was elegant and down to earth with the audience at the same time. I stood in the wings in awe of her work. And all the greats came to see the show. From Leontyne Price, Quincy Jones, Ava Gardner, Michael Jackson, it was a continuous flow of homage to her greatness.

Back in the day a company like Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) was the go to place for African-American performers and playwrights. If a company like NEC were just starting out today, do you think it would survive amidst all the regional theatres producing African-American works?

I would say that it's because of companies like the Negro Ensemble Company and the DC Black Rep, that regional theaters are doing the African American works they are doing today. They introduced the writers and the talent that have thrived in our industry to this day. They opened the door so this talent could step through. I think it's unfortunate that they have not been given the recognition they deserve. They never received the funding they needed to survive in our costly industry. Had they had that funding support I would say yes! They would be leading the way introducing more talent.

Interview: Theatre Life with Marva Hicks
Marva Hicks and Peter Jay Fernandez in the 1998 Arena Stage production of Thunder Knocking on the Door.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

You've performed a bunch here in DC. What do you enjoy the most about performing in front of DC audiences?

I love DC! I went to college here and it's where I started to develop my craft and where I ultimately decided that being in the theatre was something I really wanted to do. When I won a Helen Hayes award for my work in Thunder Knocking on the Door, at Arena Stage, this audience gave me a nod that I was doing something right.This DC audience loves theatre and the arts and I am excited to be here again.

You've worked in theatre, TV and film. What would you say is your favorite of the three genres?

Please don't make me say it! LOL! I love them all, and want to continue to do them all. The rewards of doing them are different. But we all know what pays more!

Special thanks to Signature Theatre's Deputy Director, Publicity and Creative Content James Gardiner for his assistance in coordianting this interview.

Additional photo support provided by Arena Stage Publicist Lauren McMillen.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.