The Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Martyna Majok is officially on-Broadway for the first time since its release in 2016. The production is directed by Jo Bonney.
Spontaneous Duets, Furious Crowds, and Plenty of Opera: Festival Verdi 2022 Celebrates its Opening Weekend
The idea of the opera pulling headlines might seem a bit anachronistic; a niche interest suddenly becoming the whole of the zeitgeist. But this is exactly what Festival Verdi has become over its 20 years in current existence.
Suzan Lori-Parks’ Topdog/Underdog returns to Broadway to celebrate its 20th Anniversary Production!
To start this article with the soliloquy reference, or not to start this article with the soliloquy reference, that is the question.
And because I lack total self control, I just did. But I urge you to think about what comes to mind when you think of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For starers, THEE aforementioned soliloquy. The ghost, the haunting familial betrayal. No matter how “different” the thousands of productions of Hamlet may seem, we have yet to see a production that truly is different – in feel, tone, structure, the list goes on…until James Ijames’ Fat Ham.
Fat Ham (which won the Pulitzer Prize in drama this year) completely reimagines a Hamlet, without putting the play or complex characters in a box. The writing is ever so poignant and approach to adaptation is modern, fresh, queer, and Black and almost Freudian in certain ways – as the show feels so familiar, but so eerily and distinctly different from the original text material from centuries ago. One of the themes that becomes clear throughout the 95 minute show is that nothing is concrete and everything “kind of” still a work in progress – and that’s totally okay!
Set at a summer barbecue in current day, this co-production between The Public Theatre and the National Black Theatre (Directed by Saheem Ali, of Merry Wives) goes here, there, and everywhere while exploring themes of queerness, bravery, and questioning societal expectations. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with Marcel Spears, who plays “Juicy”, our Hamlet-esque character.
TK: We have seen so many productions attempt a “new and fresh” approach to contemporary Shakespeare, but Fat Ham feels SO different for a multitude of reasons – off the top of my head, the Black and queer stories, the layered motifs and themes, but also as different as James Ijames Pulitzer Prize winning work may be, it feels true to Shakespeare’s original work and that’s remarkable. Can you tell us a bit about your approach for mastering that fine line?
MS: I have always had a unique relationship and approach to Shakespeare mostly because when I was first introduced to the work I felt so outside of it; As a young Black actor I always felt like Shakespeare was so inaccessible, I didn’t see very many actors that looked like me doing the work locally, it wasn’t until I started formal acting training that I was able to realize that Shakespeare is full of big messy emotions, and dirty jokes, it’s just as raw and ugly and wonderfully relatable as the world we live in today. It’s for everybody. I respect the structure of the language, but I dive into the work like I do anything else; with and abundance of curiosity and empathy.
TK: Juicy is such a complex, yet relatable character. I was rooting for Juicy throughout the play, even when the unthinkable happens – my heart sank, but I still was on Juicy’s journey and that could not have happened without your remarkable ability to breathe life into the character, flaws and all. Do you feel that you are similar and/or different to Juicy in certain ways – if so, how?
MS: I always put a little of myself into the characters I play, I try to find some common threads to ground the performance. Juicy loves his mom, he’s a southern boy etc. The work of an actor early in the process is to find your characters “why” and I think that was the trickiest part for me. Juicy in someways is absolutely fearless, but in the play he kept making choices that were so different from what Marcel would do. Finding JUICY’S “why” was a lot of fun for me.
TK: And a follow up to that, what is one major takeaway that you have learned about yourself from playing Juicy? Juicy has softened me up a little.
MS: I grew up in New Orleans, it’s a beautiful city, but it’s a tough city. I was always encouraged as a young man to be strong. Because I’m Black, because I’m poor, because I am me; I was to expect the world will treat me coldly and to meet that reality with unwavering force. As much as I have matured I still held on to pieces of that upbringing. Juicy helped to shatter most of that and caused me to reflect and redefine, what can be considered strength.
TK: What was your first reaction to reading the play for the first time? Specifically the scene between Juicy & Larry. (I don’t want to spoil so I’m not getting into great detail)
MS: When I first read this play I just knew I wanted to be apart of it. I hadn’t seen anything like it, I knew it was special. Specifically that scene between Juicy and Larry which is the scene I auditioned with is one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever seen or read in all of tv/film/ and theater. I think that’s all I can say without giving it away but it’s beautiful.
TK: You all look like you’re having a BLAST on that stage, but you really trust each other to go there with these characters – can you tell me a bit about your dynamic with your castmates? Also, how do you not crack up during the karaoke scenes or Tio’s gingerbread man monologue at the end?
MS: This cast has gotten very close very quickly, in theater actors learn to make fast friends, to build chemistry as a company for the purpose of telling a story, but I think early on our director Saheem Ali was so adamant about creating a space for deep and vulnerable work it also created a very tight bond. We genuinely enjoy each others company, and we have fun together, you can see that on stage. And the truth is Chris’ as Tio isn’t the scene that is most likely to crack everyone up, that charge goes to Benja playing Rabby, she breaks everyone, I think she enjoys it.
TK: What is the main thing you would like audiences to take away from Fat Ham?
MS: I think the thing I want audiences to walk away from this play with is a sense that Joy is contagious, even in the most difficult circumstances joy is a a radical act of love and kindness. Joy is revolutionary, it is a gift, and it can change your life and the lives of people around you, like it literally changes the world of this play.
We loved sitting down with Marcel as much as we loved watching Marcel light up the stage. With brilliant performances from Nikki Crawford, Chris Herbie Holland, Billy Eugene Jones, Calvin Leon Smith, Adriana Michell, and Benja Kay Thomas – run, don’t walk to catch this hysterical and relatable show.
P.S. – trust me, you will not be disappointed with the musical performances, but let those be a surprise.
Fat Ham is playing at The Public Theatre through July 31, 2022. Learn more about the full cast, creative team, and tickets by visiting https://publictheater.org/productions/season/2122/fat-ham/
Exclusive: Sharone Sayegh Talks Tony & Olivier Award-Winning Broadway Musical ‘Come From Away’ [Video]
On July 17th, The Knockturnal had the pleasure of attending Disney’s “Winnie-the-Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation.”
Richard III is Shakespeare in the Park’s latest production at the Delacorte Theatre. The play starred Danai Gurira as Richard, who played Okoye in Black Panther and starred in The Walking Dead. The production features a differently-abled cast, including Ali Stroker from Oklahoma!. The stage was designed by set designer Myung Hee Cho. Metal obkelisks in semi-circles rotate around a central trap door, indicating different scenes. I had little interest in Shakespeare before this play, while still feeling like I had plenty of exposure to the old white man. His English required a new ear gear, which after two and half hours wears itself out.
Ironically I found language to be the highlight of this production. Gurira brought Shakespeare to life. Over an hour and a half into the play, the audience was still roaring at 17th century jokes. Shakespeare’s dialogue takes us right up to the heart of the conspiracy just to somersault into a joke.
His contemporaries like Hume and Voltaire who kings asked advice of, looked down at Shakespeare. He bent genres, he invented language and he combined humor with tragedy in the same monologue. They looked at the most influential writer of their time as a regretful case of all passion and no direction. This production does justice to a written tradition of reinvention. Richard III takes Shakespearean dialogue and characters in numerous directions.
Deaf actress Monique Holt plays the Duchess of York and delivers her lines with sign language. There was a moment in the play when the Duchess confronted Richard as a grieving mother and the theater went silent for what felt like minutes. Sometimes she’s assisted by a translator, dressed in all black, playing the role of her voice and servant. I never struggled to understand the Duchess’ pleas, even when the translator was silent.
The dialogue is where the production shines, but the plot is where it falters. Richard III is a quasi-psychological thriller. Shakespeare’s characters whisper their conspiracies to us through the fourth wall. These elements of Shakespeare were played down in comparison to the banter. No matter how entertaining a scene got I often thought, Who is this and why do they care?
Most criticism of Shakespeare in the Park’s latest production is aimed at Richards’ character. Robert O’Hara, acclaimed playwright and co-director, says that Richard’s “internal deformities” are a form of disability. But these internal machinations are understated in comparison to the rest of dialogue. Richard is supposed to be an outcast, forced into the role of a villain. The pace, the language, and the humor rolled over meaningful development of Richards, “internal deformities.” Without developed characters were left with caricatures. Being a black woman is not analogous to being the ugly son of a noble English family, and being a grieving medieval woman is not analogous to being deaf. That’s more of a token then a motif. Identity can’t become character.
Exclusive: Nkeki Obi-Melekwe talks final performances of ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ on Broadway
Tina will end its run on Broadway on August 14 before beginning its 30-city national tour in the U.S. in September.
On Sunday, the biggest night on Broadway returned to its iconic home- New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. Outside of the theater, there were sparkling ballgowns as far as the eyes could see as Broadway stars took a night off from their usual eight-times-a-week performance lifestyle to celebrate the magic of theatre at the 75th annual Tony Awards.
Named for the incredible actress, producer and theatre director Antionette “Tony” Perry (co-founder and secretary of the American Theatre Wing), the awards celebrate the time, dedication, and hard work that goes into every aspect of a Broadway show. After an amazing season full of both original and revival shows alike, the Tony’s 75th birthday was a lively celebration full of well deserved wins and stunning performances. Hosted by Academy Award Winner Ariana DeBose, The show featured performances from Paradise Square, Mr. Saturday Night, Company, A Strange Loop, The Music Man, Girl From The North Country, a special reunion of the original cast of Spring Awakening, and so much more.
We were so thrilled to have celebrated the Tony’s 75th birthday on the red carpet with all of the stars! There truly is no better place to bask in the shine of Broadway. Check out our conversations with our favorite stars below!