On Monday night, November 14th, Symphony Space on the Upper West Side hosted “A Portrait of Ray” a musical performance about Ray Charles and his life. Broadway veteran Dwayne Clark (The Color Purple, Spiderman, In the Heights, Rent, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Tarzan and Urinetown) portrays the musical genius and has teamed up with seasoned producer, writer and wife Janeece Freeman-Clark to put such an electrifying production.
The cast and crew includes Ray’s infamous background singers, the Raelettes and a ten piece jazz orchestra featuring world class saxophonist Don Braden. Favorites include “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia,” “What’d I Say,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and many more. In between musical numbers, Clark performs a series of monologues that guide the audience into the narrative and trails and tribulations of Ray’s life.
Check out our exclusive coverage with the talented duo who created it all:
Q: What made you want to tell Ray’s story?
Janeece: When Dwayne is not performing on Broadway, he performs at assisted living facilities and brings Broadway to them. He calls it an hour of music therapy. I’ve gone and supported him before. I just think it’s amazing what he does. I think it’s a true gift he has. He has a real connection with the elderly community. One concert I went to he took out a pair of sunglasses and said “For now on you can no longer refer to me as Dwayne, you got to call me Ray. Alright?” And all of a sudden I forgot where I was. All of the members of this elderly facility screamed at the top of their lungs “Yes!” And he went into Ray heart and soul and banter telling stories, singing his songs. Afterwards I ran up to him saying, “We got to do it! We got to do this show!” He was like, “What show?” and I said “Ray!” So that’s where it all began.
Q: How did you cast?
Janeece: I am musical director at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Every girl that you saw on that stage has been a girl that I have been mentoring for the last 5 years. I’ve been working with each of them individually on their craft. And when this project came along I said this would be a very good opportunity for them to be mentored by a Broadway actor and so I brought them on and they have been very professional- my feeling is they are just as good as professionals. They are slaying it! And believe it or not one of the girls is 14 years old.
Q: How did you prepare for the role? Were your eyes closed?
Dwayne: I read a lot of books. A lot of research online. I watched a lot of his live interviews to actually get his voice under me and that was hours and hours and hours of research. So when I do perform him I do do it with my eyes closed. I think that’s the most authentic thing I can do. Occasionally as I walk I have to give a little peak but for most of the performance my eyes are closed. I try and channel him in as many ways as possible. So method acting is definitely what it is. And I get a lot of practice on the piano from my musical director because I don’t read music which is kind of a plus because Ray was blind so, I just look at the keys and memorize it and that’s how I work.
Q: Any plans to take this to Broadway? What’s next?
Dwayne: That’s what I’m praying. I’m praying that somebody really really loves the work and is willing to put some money behind it to take it to the next level. Broadway would be ultimate. I’m just praying that people come and enjoy it because he’s story is great and his music is timeless and I’m hoping I’m giving it some justice.