News from October

The leaves have changed colors and the temperature has dropped here in NYC…. I can’t believe its November already! October just flew by!  It was a busy month for me and I couldn’t be more thankful.  To kick off my month of October, I was a part of the Mario Fratti-Fred Newman Political Play Reading Series.  You know that wonderful moment, as an actor  when you read a script  where the playwright has given you words to really play with– that’s exactly what happened with Jason Maghoney’s script, HEART. A compelling story about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina & how a young woman tries to show her “heart” on putting the pieces back together. Being able to be directed again by Theater Hall of Fame Producer/Director Woodie King Jr. was a joy!

On Stage after the reading L to R: Woodie King Jr, Playwright Jason Maghanoy, Justin Armstrong, Reynaldo Piniella, Franceli Chapman, Sidiki Fofana, Allie Woods

On Stage after the reading
L to R: Woodie King Jr, Playwright Jason Maghanoy, Justin Armstrong, Reynaldo Piniella, Franceli Chapman, Sidiki Fofana, Allie Woods

Other exciting news of October, The Fall Season of Celi’s Hangout kicked off with vengeance! I took my first ever ON CAMERA Technique class. Dena Tyler is such an awesome teacher I learned a great deal from her and look forward to making my transition from theatre to TV and Film. Speaking of transitioning , it has already begun.  Look at all the screen credits that happened in October: (Click on links to watch)

IMG_0450

Outside the ABC Studios after shooting the Dr.Oz show! One day I will be on a show here!

WEB-SERIES PUSHING DREAMS PREMIERED!   I PLAY A RAPPER NAMED EDEN

MUSIC VIDEO by UK ARTIST LEWIS PARKER   THE LEADING LADY

DR.OZ SHOW                                                         CHEERAEROBICS PARTICIPANT

To round out the month, for Halloween, I paid tribute to actress Uzo Aduba from Orange is the New Black! (I love the show!) I dressed up as character “Crazy Eyes” and uploaded to Youtube a “home video” performing lines from the show. As an actor, its great when there are shows that come along that inspire us. Orange is the New Black is a show that truly shows an array of characters!  Who knows? Maybe some day I can be a Litchfield prisoner as well 😉

Hangout with Orange is the New Black… Latin Style!

maxresdefault

On September 17th I had the pleasure to “hangout” on the couch of 123UNODOSTRES studios with the Latino Cast of the new hit show, Orange is the New Black! To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, 123UnoDosTres (Sponsored by Netflix) asked Adel Morales (Actor/Director-Pushing Dreams) and myself to host! What an honor! We had a blast “hangueando.” If you are not hip to the show, get a netflix account , borrow one, and get ready to be stuck to your computer for the next couple of days! Everyone I’ve spoken with about the show I’ve gotten them hooked! QUE ORGULLO (WHAT PRIDE) it was to sit in a room with these beautiful latinos and chat about who we are, fashion, how the show has impacted their lives and more!  We had over 600 live views!!!!

Thank you so much to UNODOSTRES, Miriam Morales, Olga & the entire team for putting this together! Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

R:L- Dascha Polanco, Laura Gomez,  Adel Morales (Co-Host), Franceli Chapman (Co-Host) Berto Colon, Selenis Leyva, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Diane Guerrero,Jessica Pimentel

R:L- Dascha Polanco, Laura Gomez, Adel Morales (Co-Host), Franceli Chapman (Co-Host) Berto Colon, Selenis Leyva, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Diane Guerrero,Jessica Pimentel

64997_918434593174_1630986910_n

Check out my “INTRO VIDEO” and the “HANGOUT” below:

Hangout with Cinematiq Magazine

2012wpbanner3

On Wednesday, August 21, 2013 I hosted/moderated a cool hangout for Cinematiq Magazine! CINEMATIQ Magazine kicked off their first ever Google Hangout Fund Drive for husband and wife team, Director, Craig Ross Jr  (NCIS, BONES, PRISON BREAK) and Actress, Caryn Ward-Ross (THE GAME, THE SHIELD, GENERAL HOSPITAL)  and their new digital film, THE AFFAIR in conjunction with “Indie Night” at Xen Lounge.  The AFFAIR, will  be shot entirely on the iPhone 5, revolutionizing digital filmmaking.  While I was in Long Island City, NY at the Cinematiq Magazine headquaters, Craig and Caryn  were LIVE in Studio City, CA we “hung” out via Youtube.. Check out the video below: 

The husband and wife producer team exceeded their kickerstarter goal of $15,000! Whoohooo!!  Special Thanks to Cinematiq Magazine founder/producer of the hangout Angel Brown. 

In LA the stars came out to support Craig & Caryn. Some celebrity guest included:  William L. Johnson (BLUE HILL AVENUE), Dan Martin (THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) and his wife, Ella Joyce (TEMPTATION: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor ), Eriq La Salle (ER), Kiki Haynes (Tyler Perry’s FOR BETTER OR WORSE), Keena Ferguson (THE MARRIAGE CHRONICLES), Khalilah Joi (APOLLYON) and a host of others. The film will make it’s debut the start of the new year, 2014. For more information on THE AFFAIR, go to www.theaffair-themovie.com.

1234436_528405493898955_1243071964_n

Founder Angel Brown & Host Franceli Chapman

Venice

veniceCast330w1

“I wanna Love and Be Loved! I wanna Love and Be Loved!” was the tune that was in my soul when I left the theater after seeing Venice! Venice is one of the best new musicals out! It is fresh, hip and alive!  This interesting take on Shakespeare’s, Othello set in the fallen city of Venice, Matt Sax’s music & Eric Rosen’s Book transports us to a place of hope & love.  After a 5 week run at Public Theater, tonight  Uzo Aduba, Jennifer Damiano, Jonathan-David, Emilee Dupre, Claybourne Elder, Semhar Ghebremichael, Leslie Odom, Jr., Victoria Platt, Angela Polk, Devin Roberts, Matt Sax, Haaz Sleiman, and Manuel Stark   will fight for revolution one last time tonight!  Making its NY Debut as part of the Public Lab, I’m hoping Venice will take flight on another stage really soon! This incredibly talented cast has brought life to a show that has been in development since 2011. If you missed your chance to check out Venice,  see video below from their Fan Preview Event at Joe’s Pub.

I am hoping that I can get some of these actors on my new web talk show, Celi’s Hangout! I would love to hear what the process has been like bringing to life this work of art. Leslie Odom Jr. was the perfect villain you loved to hate, while Uzo Aduba(Anna Monroe), Victoria Platt(Emilia) & Angela Polk (Hailey Daisy) put the battery in my backpack inspiring me with their talent, beauty & incredible voices. Venice left me rejuvenated. The magic of theater when its good, you are moved as an artist to be better & do better. So for that I thank the entire cast and crew of Venice, KUDOS!

**Public Lab at The Public provides audiences with access to new work and Shakespeare with low priced tickets and provides emerging and established artists with a platform to further develop their work on stage and in performances with scaled-down productions (shorter rehearsal periods and smaller budgets.)

Comedy of Errors

Usually the Public Theater using the summer to focus on the spectacular event that is Shakespeare in the Park every year, but this summer they’ve had their hands full with the park and two musicals down on Astor Place! (Here Lies Love & Venice) What a glorious and busy summer it has been at the Public Theater thus far!  Shakespeare in Park kicked off this Summer with Comedy of Errors while bring forth a world premiere musical, Venice (based on the story of Othello). Today, (June 30th) both shows will have their final curtains. 

comedy-of-errors1

Going to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is always an event & a special way to see theater. The beautiful outdoor theater creates magic! Whether its the moon shining right above the stage that make it look like a perfect prop to the show or the rainy days where the actors perform there hearts out despite the weather.  This Summer has been a rainy one for the run of Comedy of Errors featuring J. Clint Allen, de’Adre Aziza, Becky Ann Baker, Emily Bergl,  Tyler Caffall, Reed Campbell, Keith Eric Chappelle, Robert Creighton, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Reggie Gowland, Jonathan Hadary, Bryan Langlitz,  Brian T. Lawton, Hamish Linklater,  Michael McArthur,  Rachel McMullin, Heidi Schreck, Skipp Sudduth,  Adrienne Weidert, Natalie Woolams-Torres and Jessica Wu.  See highlights from the show below: (courtesy of Playbill)

Comedy of Errors was a hit! There are plenty reviews out there of how great the show is,  but instead of a review of the show, I rather share with you Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Facebook Status from one of the most memorable shows the Public has had!

Last nights performance (6.27) of “The Comedy of Errors” at The Delacort Theater for  Shakespeare in the Park will be an experience I will remember forever. It will go down as one of the most moving nights I have EVER had as an actor. Here is what happened:

About 30 minutes into our 90 minute show it began to rain. Nothing new for an actor doing out door theater. We continued for about 10 more minutes until it began to down pour. Buckets. At that point our stage manager, Cole made an announcement to the audience over the sound system that we would hold until the storm passed.  The audience cheered, encouraging us that they were willing to wait out the rain with us. After all, they waited all day for the free tickets that got them into the theater in the first place! (New York theater goers are beasts. I love them!)

The rain only got worse. I began to realize it would be very unlikely for us to be able to continue. Our dancers would slip, the expensive sound equipment that we were wearing to amplify our voices would be ruined. Still, the audience stayed, only cheering harder when the rain increased. 

Finally, the storm lightened and Cole announced that we would begin again shortly which was met with applause and cheers from the audience AND the cast. 

Then something beyond mother natures control happened: the sound board fried and shut down. Apparently there wasn’t enough time to properly cover all the equipment and now the entire sound system was down. No mics to amplify. No speakers to play music for the dancers. Nothing. Stage Management was about to announce to the audience that we would have to unfortunately call the show. 

The Comedy of Errors Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

Courtesy- Joan Marcus

Then Hamish and I had an idea. 

Did George C. Scott have a body mic when he did “The Merchant of Venice” back in 1961 at this same theater?

(Granted, he didn’t have to worry about helicopters or private jets flying over the Delacort Theater on their way to the Hamptons). 

Lets finish the show wireless. Unplugged! 

To my amazement Rebecca Sherman, our company manager took a deep breath and just said “Do it. It will be amazing.” 

Hamish and I ran out onto the soaking wet stage and announced to the equally wet audience that we would continue! Using Hamish’s mother’s famed  “Linklater Technique” we explained to the audience that they would have to move down as close to the stage as possible to hear. (Only 600 brave people from the originally sold out 1800 seat house had stayed). 

What proceeded was one of the most magical hours of my life. 

The brilliant De’Adre Aziza started where we left off, with her jazz influenced version of “Sigh No More”, the audience snapping along to keep the beat. 

One of the dance fueled transitions started with Bryan Langlitz, our dance captain yelling out : “And a 5,6,7,8” as the dancers leapt and flew across the puddled stage. 

During a moment that required a sound cue of a bell, I pointed at the church that was meant to be producing the sound and exclaimed “BONG! BONG!” 

When Emily Bergl knocked a gun out of Tyler Caffall’s hand the entire company, in unison yelled “BANG” and then produced the dying cat sound that was meant to follow. 

The Comedy of Errors Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

Actress De’Adre Aziza -Courtesy: Joan Marcus

At one point it started raining sheets again… only this time Cole had no way of stoping us.  We just spoke louder to be heard over the rain that was pounding down upon us. 

Hamish called it the greatest game of “Chicken” ever played. The audience wasn’t leaving because we kept going and we continued on only because the 600 strong stayed put. Everyone was soaked but at this point, who cared.  (Apologies to our brilliant costume designer Toni Leslie James who probably cared a little.)

The play finishes with a quiet moment I share with my long lost twin. The audience stayed completely still and silent to hear the final words of the play, laughing where the jokes were but then silencing immeaditly to hear the next lines. That’s when I lost it. You never would have been able to tell because I was soaking wet but I started to ugly cry. 

I was so moved by this shared moment. It truly personified why I am fueled to put on silly costumes  and wigs and pretend to be someone else in front of a collected group of strangers. 

When we finally reached the end of the play the audience exploded into applause. We didn’t bow though….all we could do was applaud right back to THEM.

From this day forward when I am asked why I want to act I will think upon last night. Thank you to the cast of “Comedy of Errors”! Thank you to the crew at the Delacort for being so game. Thank you to the staff at The Public Theater and to the ushers who never flinched. Thank you to the wardrobe and hair department who had to dry all of our clothes and reset our wigs…and again, sorry. Thank you to our Stagemanager Cole and our company manager Rebecca who told us to just go and have fun. Most of all: Thank you to the 600 amazing audience members who cheered us on and stayed. You have no idea what joy you gave ALL of us. 

Also, R.I.P. old soggy sound board. You will be missed.

Here Lies Love

6a00d8345212eb69e201901b59f0b6970b-320wiHere Lies Love was conceptualized by David Byrne. He  teamed up with Fat Boy Slim to create an interactive dance musical that has been winning over audiences performance after performance. Working for the Public, there was buzz in the air about the show before  it opened and  I knew I wanted to see it, yet didn’t rush to put in for my employee tickets. What a mistake on my part!  before I knew it  previews started,  word got around town and we were sold out! Here Lies Love is definitely a hit!  Many folks have made their way to come check out what all the craze is about. This week alone Jeff Perry (Grey’s Anatomy,Scandal) , Sally Fields and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all come to see HLL. The show has now been extended four times and I was lucky to get in for Saturday night’s performance. The Luester Hall has been transformed into a nightclub and in the trance of the ambiance, rocking music, and flashing lights you are taken to the Philippines.  Not your traditional musical theater setting, the audience is fully immersed in the show. I enjoyed dancing and singing along with the cast. As I watched this incredible ensemble of talented actors I couldn’t help but feel an immense sense of pride for the Filipino community. I just stood there and thought to myself how wonderful it must feel not only for the actors who are in the show to be a part of the show and tell “their” story but for their community to be represented in a place such as The Public Theater.

Photo from the show with Trevor Salter, Conrad Ricamora, Maria-Christina Oliveras and Janelle Velasquez

Photo from the show with Trevor Salter, Conrad Ricamora, Maria-Christina Oliveras and Janelle Velasquez

 When In the Heights won Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008, I cried. It was a beautiful moment for the Latino community, we all won that day. The featured actors shine yet I love to watch the ensemble actors, they work so hard playing multiple roles and bringing the show to life in a fantastic way. For Renée Albulario, Melody Butiu, Natalie Cortez, Debralee Daco, Joshua Dela Cruz, Jose Llana, Kelvin Moon Loh, Jeigh Madjus, Ruthie Ann Miles, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Conrad Ricamora, Trevor Salter, and Janelle Velasquez it must be a dream not only to do what you love everyday but be a part of show that has such a significance in the history of the Filipino people. 

 

L:R Janelle Velasquez, Debralee Daco, Ruthie Ann Miles, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Renee Abulario, Melody Butiu, Natalie Cortez

The Beautiful Ladies of HLL on Opening Night at Public Theater L:R Janelle Velasquez, Debralee Daco, Ruthie Ann Miles, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Renee Abulario, Melody Butiu, Natalie Cortez

One of my favorite moments of the show is a beautiful acoustic performance featuring Kelvin Moon Loh, Renee Abulario, and Joshua Dela Cruz with lyrics from the actual words from the People Power Revolution. Now while I’m sure the show was unable to cover all the historical and political aspects of the time, I believe it did the job of the theater; to teach and entertain. Now, thanks to Here Lies Love my keyboard typing fingers hit google. I did some reading/research on Imelda Marcos and the Philippines. Hopefully the show has the same affect on the others. 

*HLL has been extended 7/01-7/28 if you can. Run, don’t walk to the Public to see this show! 

 

Dunkin’

Catillo-Theatre

Castillo Theatre opened its doors on 42nd street in 2003, after years of laying the groundwork of innovative political theater down in the village. I was only a teen when I met Castillo, during a time in my adolescence where I was lost by the notion of wanting to fit in yet knowing all of what I was doing was not conducive to my growth.  On April 29th, I took the long walk down the New York avenues from the train station down to Castillo Theater as I’ve had many times over the last 9 years. I woke up this morning still basking in the wonderful evening I had last night. Artistic Director, Dan Friedman has written a new play and asked many of long time Youth Onstage Alumni to perform in an intimate reading of his new work. Castillo builders and friends were all in attendance. Being able to perform on stage with actors I worked with in 2004/2005 took us all down memory lane. Castillo is home, where my journey in theater truly began.  As I sat during the talk back and looked out into the audience I thought about how far I’ve come, how much I’d developed and how happy I am to be exactly where I was. I don’t think I could ever repay all the wonderful people in that building that did, are, and continue to help me. Castillo has built a community, a place where people of  all walks of life, despite our differences can work together and come through some really difficult situations to create something together. It is truly a special, magical place. Many performers tell me how thankful they are of how giving I am to my fellow acting community or how I’ve helped them. Well, I’m just carrying the Castillo torch with me everywhere I go; Being an artist that helps community rather than tear one another down. In a business that is full of competitiveness I’m glad to perform as a comrade. 🙂  No matter where my art takes me, I remember HOME. I remember Castillo.

IMG_3556[1]

L:R Sita Sakar(Playwright,POET, YO!2005) Michael Alcide (Actor Director, YO!2003) and Franceli Chapman(YO! 2004)

IMG_3553[1]

Center : Dan Friedman (Artistic Director)

 

Lucky Guy

Lucky-Guy-Playbill-03-13

For a limited engagement, Lucky Guy is on Broadway! Two-time Academy award winner Tom Hanks makes his Broadway debut in this Nora Ephron(Sleepless in Seattle,  piece, directed by George C. Wolfe. I was especially excited to check out Courtney B. Vance’s return to Broadway and rising star Stephen Tyrone Williams (making his Broadway Debut as well).  Thus far the show has been receiving great buzz with the powerhouse headliners and I did some extensive research on the story, Mike McAlary, the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper journalist who covered the police beat in New York in the 1980s and ’90 and Nora’s 13 year journey to bring this play to life!  In June 2012 Nora Ephron lost her battle with Leukemia. It’s quite sad that she isn’t here to see the success of what she worked so hard to get made. “Entering early rehearsals a year ago, Hanks says, “we had, quite frankly, steeled ourselves for [Ephron’s] absence. There’s no other way of putting it. In many ways, I hear Nora’s voice and think of her in the present tense.” Whenever a line befuddled him, “she’d say, ‘Well, Tom, you know me. We’ve worked together. If a line doesn’t work, we’ll change it.’ So I can hear her saying, ‘Yeah, maybe we should change that.’ And if she shook her head, it was very slowly. Very slooowly. And that meant, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ I can see her doing that in some of the ideas that we have.” -NY Magazine: (excerpt from Jada Yuan’s article) 

Lucky GuyBroadhurst Theatre

Photo by Joan Marcus

We all know that when big stars fit the bill, the price for a good seat will cost you a pretty penny. Previews began March 1st but Tonight, April 1st is the official opening!  I was a Lucky Gal last week when my very close friend took me along to see the show. When we arrived at Broadhurst theater to pick up our tickets to our surprise we snagged orchestra seats, third row! I couldn’t believe it!  As we sat there we looked around and realized we were the only colored folks in the entire orchestra section. The play opened up at an Irish Pub somewhere in New York City back in 1988. As we are flashed back to a time of Graffiti filled train stations, the crack era, and NYPD corruption the noise in the news room was booming. Courtney B. Vance plays Hap Hairston(McClary’s Editor) he moves the story along. In the eyes of this viewer he was the narrator, and boy did he tell this story beautifully. At the top of Act 1 Hairston cracks about poverty and makes reference to the rich/white being down in the orchestra and the poor/black being at the top mezzanine. The audience laughed at his swagger in his delivery yet I looked around and knew it was true in this theatre. Many of us aren’t so Lucky to afford to sit down here with the Broadway regulars. By intermission I was impressed by the energy and fervor of the entire ensemble. Tom Hanks was a natural in his element, it was wonderful to watch.  The excitement of the evening continued to build when we learned real life lawyer being depicted on stage by Chrisopher Mcdonald, Edward Hayes was sitting two rows behind us. “What do you think of the show?‘ I asked, “I love it! How could I not!” -Hayes.

In Act 2 we are taken into the world of  the Abner Louima police-brutality case which Mike McAlary  won a Pulitzer Prize for in 1998 for his coverage of the case. Abner, played by Stephen Tyrone Williams opens up to McAlary vividly on his encounter with the NYPD. Williams, in only one scene is dynamic and powerful. It was an uncomfortable  scene to watch. No wonder he was named “Future Legend of New York Theater” by TimeOut magazine. By the end of  the show I was moved by this small glimpse into journalism history. It was a turbulent time in New York, I know where ever Nora is, she is proud. The show is only running until April 30th and if your Lucky enough to get a ticket, go check out it out.

There were so many people waiting  to see Tom exit the theater at the end of the show.  There were barricades, police the whole nine… I was Lucky enough to get backstage access and meet the man himself!

L:R- Stylist Crystal Brown, Tom Hanks, Franceli Chapman

L:R- Stylist Crystal Brown, Tom Hanks, Franceli Chapman

IMG_3195[1]

Tom Hanks and Franceli Chapman

DETROIT 67′

In honor of Detroit 67’s opening at the Classical Theatre of Harlem tonight.. here is the review I wrote for Broadway Black: Published on March 11, 2013 (After it’s Opening at the Public Theater) :

Detroit 67Public Theater

Photo by Joan Marcus

In the intimate black box that is the Shiva at the Public Theater, the audience is packed and every seat is filled as Neil Patel’s scenic design brings us into Chelle and Lank’s basement. Joe Lewis’ black fist is spray painted on the wall and pictures of Muhammed Ali, Malcolm X and Aretha Franklin just to name a few. Its Summer of 1967 in the Motor City during the time the 12th Street riot broke out. These “race riots” became one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in United States history.

Detroit ’67 was birthed from the Public Theater’s Emerging Writer’s group, a bi-annual program that nurtures the work of new playwrights. Dominique Morriseau brought to life characters who may have been forgotten to the rest of the country, while the ashes of the smoke left behind remain prevalent in Detroit today. Its witty, compassionate and a down right good time at the theater. Upward mobility for this family may not be an easy one but it doesn’t stop Lank (Francois Battiste) from dreaming. Sound a little familiar? You are swept for a second into a Lorraine Hansberry classic in this piece yet Dominique weaves the history of the time along with this notion of dreams, family race and a love for Motown so beautifully. It is quite divine timing that Detroit ’67 officially opens on the exact anniversary of the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun. 54 years later a young woman from Detroit has dared to dream big.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted by potential outcomes for your work. And then sometimes the ancestors remind you that you are standing somewhere important in history, and it is not your job to sweat over the small trifles. It is your job to continue the work, pick up the torch, and then pass it on. Remembering the book about Madame Lorraine— To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. We will be the same age at the time of her opening on March 11th. And I am blessed to be creating in her aftermath.” – Dominque Morriseau

There is a magnetism in this magnificent cast that made audience members laugh so hard the actors had to wait to keep going, they yell out to the cast when Chelle(Michelle Wilson) took us to church and even cry when we wanted to reach out and touch Sly’s(Brandon Dirden) hand. From the moment Bunny (De’Adre Aziza) steps on the scene you are captivated by this firecracker. She brightens up the basement! Michelle Wilson’s Nuances and Subtleness was beautiful to watch. Detroit 67′ is billed as such below, yet with this description you would have no idea the laughs, cries and hopes you would leave the theater with.

“It’s 1967 in Detroit and Motown music gets the party started. Chelle and her brother Lank transform their basement into an after-hours joint to make ends meet. But when a mysterious woman winds her way into their lives, the siblings clash over much more than family business. As their pent-up feelings erupt, so does their city, and the flames of the ’67 Detroit riots engulf them all.”

Detroit ’67 will play at the Public through March 17th and then make its way uptown to the National Black Theater-Classical Theatre of Harlem from March 23-April 14.

“True romance. True passion. True dreams.” -James Halloway

The New King of Theater: Dr. Martin Luther King

WRITTEN FOR BROADWAY BLACK: Published 02/28/13

mountaintop-sign

As Black History month comes to a close, Broadway Black reflects on the great man that is the late Dr. Martin Luther King. He contributed so much and gave his life for a dream. The theater has and is a place that provides a political voice for writers, a community for creative artists, and a remarkable presence for the audience that brings people together.
Dr. King did that for us in the 60′s. With Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, these two worlds collide—the legacy that is Dr. King is brought to life in her Obie Award-winning play. After its controversial run on Broadway in the fall of 2011, Mountaintop has taken Regional Theaters by storm. It seems as though everyone is doing a production of it! Dr. King now reigns as the King of theater, appearing to audiences across the country, urging them to pick up the baton. The actors chosen to portray this iconic figure certainly have big shoes to fill.

Broadway Black had the chance to catch up with two actors who, through the community of theater, have been friends for years and now find themselves on opposite coasts, both cast as Dr. King.

Interview with Jamil Mangan and Bowman Wright

Mountaintop_Alley_3

Bowman Wright as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Alley Theatre’s The Mountaintop Photo by Jann Whaley

Bowman Wright starred as Martin Luther King in the Alley Theater (Houston, Texas) production from (January 11-February 3), and is part of a co-production with Arena Stage opening April 4th in Washington DC.
Jamil Mangan has been cast in the Theater Works-Hartford production,  March 29th- May 5th.

Franceli Chapman: The timing of this is pretty awesome! Two friends in the same play at the same time. How exciting? You both have great bios, but who are you? Who is Bowman Wright? Who is Jamil Mangan? How did you get into acting?

Bowman: I grew up in North Jersey and started acting in High School.
I kept at it all through college, up to my master’s degree.

Jamil: I was born in Jersey and raised in Philadelphia. I started modeling when I was seven and went to a special school for kids in the arts. Keisha Knight Pulliam and I actually went to Kindergarten together! I went on to Newark Arts High School and joined the debate team.

Franceli Chapman: Is that how you guys met?

Bowman: We met in high school but attended different schools. Our theater competitions bought us together.

Jamil: We competed against each other often. One week he would win, and the next week I’d win. It was always friendly competition.

Bowman: Jamil is like a brother.

Jamil: We’re really close. We went to college together and now as professionals, although we’ve gone off to have our own careers, it’s good to have someone who really knows you and supports you and always tells you the truth.

Franceli Chapman: It is wonderful to hear that. That’s rare in this business because each actor has a different journey. What’s yours?

Bowman: It’s funny; I joined the Drama Team in high school, led by Ms. Basketville. She’d make the actors read—not just the actual material, but historical facts on the people in the plays. We’d read random books. It was then that I had the epiphany that there is something that can be done through theater that almost couldn’t be done any other way. You can learn from something by watching it rather than preaching it. You can learn something so big. It was crazy reading the history; it made you think about where you came from, all you’ve dealt with, and the different things that make you who you are. Acting is so amazing because the writing is still about people and big ideas. Film and TV aren’t about that anymore. Theater still tells stories about human beings. You can experience real humans beings and people can walk away inspired and touched. That means more to me than a “Bravo.”

Franceli Chapman: It’s really amazing that this play is being done in so many cities, especially in the south. Bowman, you’re performing in Texas, and Jamil, you’re in Connecticut, and both states still experience racial tension. How did audiences receive the show at the Alley Theater?

Bowman: Robert O’Hara is a great director. It’s interesting to see how this play touches people. It touches people in very odd ways. We’ve received standing ovations every night. We go up again at Arena Stage on the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4th.

Jamil: I’m excited to see how Connecticut audiences will respond. I remember seeing the play on Broadway. It was great but I was so consumed in watching the stars perform that I kind of missed the message. I became really engrossed in the play once I read it.

Bowman: I believe that MLK, the man in this play is more powerful than the icon. Every person who sees this play needs to remember that you don’t have to be perfect to do great things. Lord knows that you’re not going to be perfect, but the goal is really to try and stay on the right path. You’ll slip and fall, but you always have to get back up.

379832_2752322120666_2126956826_n

Jamil Mangan

Franceli Chapman: The baton has been passed on to you to play Dr. King; how do you feel?

Jamil: To approach Dr. King from this perspective is an honor. Mountaintop is one of those plays you have to see more than once. Katori packs so much in this play. Reading the script really made me understand his legacy from another perspective, and the controversy behind this play is both fascinating and imperative. I can see the lack of leaders we have [in today’s society]. Our leaders, they stop at a certain generation. They feel like they can’t live up to past leaders. They feel they can’t live up to what Dr. King did, but they’re human, you see how much they are like us and you’re inspired to lead, too. That’s what Katori has done with this character.

Bowman: It means a lot to play Dr. King! When I first got this role, it was a little daunting. I definitely felt like I would be climbing a mountaintop to do this role.

Jamil: I remember when he called me about Mountaintop.

Franceli Chapman: Whom did you call when you got the role, Jamil?

Jamil: I called my mom first and then Bowman. He told me to get in shape. We don’t talk often, but when we do, we talk for hours. He gave me a lot of advice.

Bowman: Doing this show is like running a marathon. There is a great line at the end of play that says, “The baton may have been dropped, but anyone can pick it up.” Seeing Dr. King smoke, drink, curse, and flirt with a woman makes us look at ourselves because half of us have done these things. Dr. King really makes me think about my life differently. Doing this role made me dig deeper and in my research, I found out things [about myself] that I didn’t know…

Jamil: In my research, out found out a fascinating fact. In 1999, the King family won a civil suit against the government for their involvement in his assassination. It was so shocking to read.

Bowman: Playing this role makes me a better Christian, believe it or not, and to think about how he is, it makes me want to go out and do more for my community. It makes me want to do God’s Will. He was a man who gave up everything. I hope more people decide to learn about MLK and African American history as a whole, not just what they teach in the school. What is truly important is that we take care of each other.

Franceli Chapman: This has been great! We are a part of one of the most amazing communities, the theater community. Listening to both of you has been a pleasure.

Jamil: Thank you; you must come see us!

Bowman: Yes. Thank you. Let me know if you can come down to DC and I’ll get you in for the Arena performance. And I must say one thing about my brother Jamil, he’s very modest, but being a part of Theater Works is a big deal and I’m very proud of him. You have to go and see him, as well.