Ep 52: Sheldon Epps
Host Luisa Lyons chats with artistic director, writer, and director Sheldon Epps. Mr. Epps shares what it took to film his musicals Play On! and Blues in the Night, how theatre on television influenced his own career, and why we must continue to film live theatre for television.
Sheldon Epps has directed major productions on and off Broadway, in London and at many theatres across America. In addition, he has had an active television career helming some of the classic shows of recent years. He was the artistic director of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse for two decades, and currently serves as senior artistic advisor at historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Epps new book, My Own Directions: A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theatre recounts his rollercoaster ride of a life in the theatre, with all the excitement and occasional anguish that come with the highs and lows. The author’s journey in the American theatre has been amplified by his experience as a Black man who has frequently been “one of the few,” “the first” or even “the only.”
My Own Directions is available from Amazon and Bookshop.org (as an associate I may earn from qualifying purchases made through these links).
Watch Blues in the Night and Play On!.
The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and on YouTube. Listen elsewhere? Find the show on your favorite podcast app here.
Ep 32: Ricky and Dana Young-Howze
Host Luisa Lyons chats with Ricky and Dana Young-Howze, also known as RnD, theatre critics who throughout the pandemic have reviewed over 200 digital theatre productions.
In this deeply informative discussion, RnD share wisdom about digital theatre, being critics, theatre and accessibility, and the impact of disability on audiences both in person and online.
We chat about how chronic illnesses affected Ricky and Dana’s careers, how the pair became theatre critics, how a series of unfortunate events at the start of 2020 almost led to their quitting reviewing altogether and how the pivot to digital theatre opened up a whole new world of access to theatre. We discuss disability and theatre access, the role of critics in theatre, seeking out work by queer, Black, and disabled artists, why brick and mortar theatres have resisted digital theatre, and more!
RnD also known as Ricky and Dana Young-Howze (they/them) are theatre critics from South Jersey. They have reviewed over 200 digital theatre reviews during the pandemic. They are vocal advocates for how digital theatre can be tool for indie, BIPOC, LGBTQ, and artists with disabilities. Besides reviewing they offer 1-on-1 Theatre Criticism classes, social media consulting, and dramaturgy. Talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find our articles at www.rndyounghowze.tumblr.com and www.howlround.com/two-hundred-digital-theatre-reviews-and-counting. Venmo: @rndyounghowze. Become a patron at www.patreon.com/rndyounghowze.
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Ep 25: MT Shorts
On episode 25 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with Sarah Ellis & Greg Kamp, co-founders of MT Shorts, a new company working to merge short films and musical theatre.
Topics include the creation of MT Shorts, working with Emmy nominated producer & director Kenneth Ferrone, the personal stories behind the short film Jump, the creation of High School Zoomsical during the early days of the pandemic, and more! Includes an exclusive preview to “All of These Goodbyes” from new short Still Here!
MT Shorts Presents “A Jingle”
Music & lyrics: Nat Zegree & Eric Holmes; Arrangements & vocals: Jim Hogan; Vocals: Joey Harrell, Samantha Littleford, Sean Switzer
“All of These Goodbyes” from MT Shorts STILL HERE
Music: Ben Roseberry; Music & lyrics: Ben Roseberry and Chip Klose; Performer: Nathaniel Stampley
MT Shorts is a creative platform where musical theatre and short film meet, forging a new medium of storytelling with a mission to bring the voices of an emerging generation of creatives to screen. www.mtshorts.com. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube.
Sarah Ellis is an NYC-based actor, concert artist, creator and producer with a passion for community building across the visual and performing arts. Her professional credits span across theatre, film, dance, commercial, and symphony work, NYC new works readings and labs, regionally, including the First National Tour of the Tony-Award Winning “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder," and as a frequent guest artist with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Penn State University where she received the Margaret “Peg” French Undergraduate Award in Theatre.
www.meetsarahellis.com Follow @sarahruthliss
Greg Kamp is a performer and producer whose career has spanned stage, screen, and concert venues across the country and internationally. Stage appearances have included the Tony Award Winning Center Theatre Group and Alliance Theatre, Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, York Theatre, Feinstein’s 54 Below, and The Cincinnati Pops as well as Lifetime, FOX, NBC, and Cartoon Network on the small screen. As a producer, Greg has worked with names and companies such as Rosie O’Donnell, Sara Bareilles, Paul Taylor Dance Company, as well as MT Shorts, the production company for which he Co-Founded. www.gregkamp.com
Available wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, make sure to subscribe and leave a review!
Ep 21: James T. Lane
This week on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with actor/dancer/singer James T. Lane.
Topics include the influence of Robert Guilluame and the importance of being able to see people that look like you on stage, Forbidden Broadway and movie musicals as a gateway to musical theatre, Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line, coining the phrase “sad understand”, working at the Jen Waldman Studio, words of wisdom from Baayork Lee, why writers and artists should share their work widely, and the development and staging of James’ new play Triple Threat: A Play That Moves and Sings.
James T. Lane is an actor singer dancer based in New York City. A true triple threat, he brings joy, electricity, nuance, humor, and heart to roles on Broadway, across the United States, and throughout the world. James's powerful love for his craft and for his fellow human beings shines through in all that he does. Learn more at www.jamestlane.com and follow James on Instagram and Twitter.
The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google, Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, and more!
If you like what you hear, please make sure to subscribe and leave a review!
Ep 19: Titanique
This week, host Luisa Lyons chats with actor Jalynn Steele about the upcoming livestream of Titanique the Maiden Voyage Concert. Titanique is a new parody musical that reveals what really happened to Jack and Rose on that fateful night, as told by Céline Dion!
In this laugh-filled chat, we talk about the joy of performing, going to State for theatre, what Jalynn learnt during the pandemic, performing with COVID restrictions, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, and the importance of diverse representation on Broadway.
Jalynn Steele is an energetic light placed here on earth to shine joy to everyone. Through the years she has graced many stages across the world and is extremely excited to join the awesome cast of Titanique! Credits include; Broadway: The Lightning Thief: A Percy Jackson Musical, Off Broadway: Sistas: The Musical, National/International Tour: Fosse, Regional Theatre: Mamma Mia, Beehive, and Little Shop of Horrors. Other credits include; Sesame Street, After Midnight, Rock of Ages, Burn the Floor, The Wiz, Songs for a New World, and recently, many virtual performances. Her life’s creed, “Live, laugh & love!” Follow on Facebook and Instagram.
Titanique the Maiden Voyage Concert will be livestreamed at 7.30pm EDT on May 2. Tickets are available from Stellar.
The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and more! If you like what you hear, please leave a review and help get the word out!
Measure in Love
So, 2020, huh?! It has been a tumultuous, painful, bizarre year with so much loss, grief, and uncertainty. But on the other side of darkness, there is light. And if one good thing has come out of the pandemic, it’s that filmed live theatre content is more available than ever. From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Shows Must Go Online, The National Theatre and Met Opera’s weekly streams, Disney+ releasing Hamilton, to smaller independent theatres like Southwark Playhouse, Wise Children, or Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe releasing previously filmed content, and creating new musicals to stream.
This year I launched the Filmed Live Musicals podcast. I chatted with director and writer Al Monaco, Tony nominee Brenda Braxton, the founder of Scenesaver Caroline Friedman, the executive director of Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Julie Leach, dancer and engineer Lena Wolfe, actor and puppeteer David Colston Corris, actor and producer Kimberly Faye Greenberg, academic Kelly Kessler, dancer and associate choreographer Barry Busby, collector Robert Sokol, and the award-winning composer Paul Gordon! The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available for download wherever you listen to podcasts, and transcripts are available for each episode.
The Filmed Live Musicals database currently has information on nearly 200 musicals. The list I’m currently working on has almost twice that! And that’s not even including musicals that have been filmed without an audience, or the new genre of “zoomsicals”, musicals performed over Zoom.
In 2021, I’m looking forward to continuing to grow the site, learning about new filmed live musicals, and spotlighting artists from all around the world who make them happen.
My Favorite Things (2020)
To close out 2020, here's a list (in no particular order) of my favorite filmed live musicals released this year!
Filmed Live Without an Audience
Zoomsicals (musicals performed online/virtually)
What did you see this year that you loved?
Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter and Facebook!
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Thank you to patrons Josh Brandon, Rachel Esteban, Mercedes Esteban-Lyons, Al Monaco, Jesse Rabinowitz & Brenda Goodman, David & Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist, for financially supporting Filmed Live Musicals.
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Ep 7: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Episode 7 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast is out!
This week I chat with the Executive Director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT), Julie Leach. Based in Sarasota, Florida, WBTT is a non-profit theatre founded in 1999 by Nate Jacobs. The company’s mission is “to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African American experience, that attracts diverse audiences, supports and develops African American artists, and builds the self-esteem of African American youth.”
We look at how WBTT were able to pivot during the COVID-19 shutdown, connection with community, the business end of putting theatre online, and Vinnette Carroll's Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.
Learn more WBTT's filmed live productions Your Arms Too Short to Box With God and Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane in the Filmed Live Musicals database, and check out WBTT's current productions at www.westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Available now on all leading podcast platforms!
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Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love. All the thanks to patrons Josh Brandon, Mercedes Esteban, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, Al Monaco, David and Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist for your support!
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So Here We Stand
The title of this week's blog is a line from the 1979 filmed live musical When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate. The musical is one of less than a dozen filmed live musicals with Black people in the creative team, and also one of less than twenty musicals in the current database with a female director.
Filmed Live Musicals is a space for documenting stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. Writing as a white cisgender female, I recognize my biases of being drawn to things that look like me, and that in the past I have skimmed over the fact that much of musical theatre is created by white people, and, usually white men. Due to the fact that I am only fluent in one language, English, the database does not currently have any musicals in languages other than English.
Going forward, I am committed to making Filmed Live Musicals a space for addressing white male dominance in musical theatre by amplifying non-white voices, and amplifying musical theatre created by non-white artists and creatives.
Over time, I will be updating the database to state when a musical is lacking gender and racial diversity in its creative team and/or cast, and providing a search function that will allow visitors to the site to find musicals by non-white, and female-identifying, writers and directors. I also plan to add a Search by Subject feature which will include Kid Friendly musicals.
This work is a labor of love. It is detailed, on-going, and necessary. I am thankful to my Patreons for financially supporting the site.
Recent studies show we still have a long way to go to shifting the dominance of white bodies, voices, and creatives, in American theatre.
In an earlier post, History Has Its Eyes, I spotlighted filmed live musicals with Black actors in lead roles. This month, I’m taking a look at filmed live musicals with at least two Black people on the production team. Black lives matter, and it matters who gets to create the theatre that we consume and the stories that we tell.
Researching the racial make-up of creative teams is a tricky task as bios, articles, and websites often do not mention ethnicity. I have used self-identification, my own knowledge, and pictures. This method is not always reliable or accurate. For a start, it is possible for a person to pass as white, but still identify as Black. Another difficulty is that producers are sometimes listed as companies, rather than as individuals, so, although statistically small, it is possible that shows and people have been missed as a result.
If I have misidentified, or left off, a person from this list, please let me know and I will rectify the error.
Here is a chronological list of filmed live musicals with at least two Black people in the production team.
When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate
Producer: Urban Arts Corps
Director: Vinnette Carroll
Music: Cleavant Derricks and Clinton Derricks-Carroll
Musical Director: Cleavant Derricks
Based on poetry by: lindamichellebaron, Julian Bond, Linda Cousins, Countee Cullen, Walt Delegal, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Earley, Paula Giddings, Sam Greenlee, Langston Hughes, Saundra Sharp, and Quincy Troupe.
Founded by Vinnette Carroll in 1967, the Urban Arts Corps had the goal of developing the careers of Black and Hispanic actors in New York City, and creating accessible art for Black, Puerto Rican, and under-served communities. Carroll was a multi-talented and highly influential actor, director, and writer who found success in both the UK and the United States. She was the first, and still remains the only, African American nominated for a Tony Award for Best Director.
Staged at the Urban Arts Theater in 1979, When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate was a musical drama featuring the poetry of Black poets. The show was directed by Vinnette Carroll, and filmed live for Theater in America in 1979. The recording released on VHS in 1999, and DVD in 2003.
Music and Lyrics: Fats Waller
Musical Director and Orchestrations: Luther Henderson
Set in a Harlem nightclub, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue featuring the music of stride pianist Fats Waller. The Broadway production opened at the Longacre Theatre in May 1978. It won the 1978 Tony Award for Best Musical, and went on to play 1604 performances before closing in 1982. NBC aired a filmed live recording of the musical in June 1982. It hasn’t officially been released, but a copy has been uploaded to YouTube.
Based on a concept by: Donald McKayle
Music: Duke Ellington
Musical Director: Mercer Ellington
Orchestrations: Al Cohn
Dance arrangements and incidental music: Lloyd Mayers
Vocal Arrangements: Malcolm Dodds and Lloyd Mayers
Choreography: Donald McKayle
Co-Choreography and Tap Choreography: Henry LeTang
Sophisticated Ladies is a revue celebrating the music of Duke Ellington. The musical opened on Broadway in March, 1981, and in November 1982, it became the first Broadway musical to air on pay TV. Due to difficult contract negotiations, and fears the telecast would affect ticket sales, most of the Broadway cast did not appear in the taping. The telecast was released on DVD in 2005, and it is currently available on BroadwayHD.
The Gospel at Colonus
Producer: Yvonne Smith
Make-Up Design: Toy Russell
The Gospel at Colonus is a re-telling of Sophocles’ Oepidus at Colonus through a pentecostal sermn. It was filmed live during the American Music Theater Festival in 1985 and aired on PBS’ Great Performances. The cast included Morgan Freeman, Carl Lumbly, Robert Earl Jones, The Institutional Radio Choir, Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. It was released on DVD in 2008.
Producer: Spike Lee
Loosely based on the life of rock musician Stew, Passing Strange is a rock musical about a young man who leaves his conservative Californian home to find “the real” in Europe. The musical opened on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre in February 2008. Spike Lee filmed the Broadway production shortly before it closed in July 2008. Passing Strange: The Movie was released in 2009 to much acclaim. The film was aired on PBS in 2010, and also released on DVD. Passing Strange: The Movie is available to view on DVD.
Producer: Jay Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith
Book: Bill T. Jones
Music & Lyrics: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
Director/Choreography: Bill T. Jones
Hair, Wig, and Make-Up Design: Cookie Jordan
FELA! is a biographical musical about the pioneering Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. The musical was directed by choreographer and director Bill T. Jones, and featured Sahr Ngaujah in the title role. When FELA! opened in London in 2010, it became the first National Theatre musical production to be concurrently running on Broadway. The London production was filmed live for the National Theatre’s NT Live program, and broadcast in cinemas around the world. It is disappointing that the National Theatre did not release FELA! as part of its National Theatre at Home programme. The musical is not currently available to view.
Musical Director: Kenny Seymour
Orchestrations: Daryl Waters
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Stage Manager: Alexis Shorter
Conductor: Kenny Seymour
Memphis is an original musical about the power of music to overcome racial divides in 1950s America. Despite lackluster reviews, the musical won 4 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and played on Broadway for three years. Memphis was the first Broadway musical to be released in cinemas whilst playing on Broadway. It was subsequently released on Netflix, DVD, and Blu-Ray, and aired on PBS’ Great Performances. Memphis is now available to stream on BroadwayHD and YouTube.
Rockin’ Down Fairytale Lane
Producer: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Book: Nate Jacobs & Joey James
Music & Lyrics: Nate Jacobs
Concept & Director: Nate Jacobs
Musical Director: James “Jay” Dodge II
Choreography: Donald Frison
Scenic Design: Annette Breazeale
Costume Design: Angela Franklin-Mayo
Lighting Design: Michael Pasquini
Stage Manager: Juanita Munford
Videography/Editor: Bill Wagy
Think Into the Woods meets The Wiz. Written by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s artistic director Nate Jacobs. The 2018 production was performed at the Donnelly Theatre in Florida and was streamed throughout most of June on the WBTT website.
Your Arms Too Short to Box With God
Producer: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Book: Vinnette Carroll
Music & Lyrics: Alex Bradford and Micki Grant
Director: Harry Bryce
Musical Director: Jay Dodge II
Choreography: Donald Frison
Scenic Design: Michael Newton-Brown
Costume Design: Adrienne Pitts
Lighting Design: Nick Jones
Stage Manager: Juanita Munford
Based on the Book of Matthew, Your Arms Too Short to Box With God is gospel-infused re-telling of Jesus’ final days. Written by the aforementioned Vinnette Carroll with Alex Bradford and Micki Grant providing music and lyrics, the musical originally opened on Broadway in 1976. The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe staged a production in March 2020 as part of their 20th anniversary season celebrating Black women. The musical was filmed live and released as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown. Due to licensing and Equity agreements, the musical was only available until April 19th, 2020.
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Some Day Someone Will Stand Up
This week's blog title comes from Langston Hughe's poem "Note on Commercial Theatre," which is spoken by Brenda Braxton in the 1979 musical When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate. In researching last week’s blog post, History Has Its Eyes, I was fascinated by the biography of the musical's director, Vinnette Carroll, and decided to spotlight her incredible career in this week's post.
Carroll was one of the first African American women to direct on Broadway, and the West End. She was nominated three times for a Tony Award, and was the first (and regrettably, still the only), African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for Best Director. She was an Obie and Emmy Award winner, and celebrated in her lifetime as a driving force for theatre by, and about, African American people.
Over the course of her career, Vinnette Carroll created and wrote 16 musical plays, many of which were written with long-time collaborator Micki Grant. Carroll also collaborated with Alvin Ailey and Langston Hughes. Her work has been credited with launching the careers of actors such as Cicley Tyson, Clarence Williams III, James Earl Jones, Jennifer Holliday, Brenda Braxton, and Cleavant Derricks, among many others.
Born in New York in 1922, Carroll spent most of her childhood in Jamaica. She returned to New York City to attend high school and, thanks to her father’s thriving dental practice, enjoyed a rich cultural life attending theatre and receiving music lessons.
To satisfy her father, Carroll trained to be a psychologist. Shortly after leaving her PhD program at Columbia University in 1948, Carroll sought to pursue her true passion as an actor. She attended the New School and the Actors Studio, training with Erwin Piscator, Lee Strasberg, and Stella Adler.
Upon completion of her actor training in the early 1950s, Carroll found regular acting work, but was frustrated by the limited range of roles made available to her as an African American woman: maids, and roles that reinforced negative stereotypes of people of color. In response, Carroll created her own work and successfully toured a one woman show.
Carroll began teaching acting at the High School for the Performing Arts in 1955, a position she held for 11 years. During this time, Carroll developed a passion for directing.
In 1964, Carroll won an Emmy Award for the television production Beyond the Blues, a dramatization of works by African American poets.
In 1968, Carroll joined the New York State Council on the Arts as the new director for the Ghetto Arts Program. The Ghetto Arts Program (GAP) sought to provide collaborative theatre experiences for African American and Hispanic communities in New York, and establish a new repertory company that created new work.
In her capacity as director of GAP, Carroll founded the Urban Arts Corps (UAC). Within a few years Carroll left GAP and became the artistic director of the UAC. The UAC trained a troupe of actors from African American and Hispanic backgrounds, who wrote and performed original material. Later knowns the Urban Arts Theatre, the UAC worked in schools, colleges, and prisons to bring theatre, and theatre training, to minority audiences.
Throughout her 10 years with the Urban Arts Corps, Carroll directed over 50 productions. Musical highlights include But Never Jam Today, Don’t Bother Me I, I Can’t Cope, and Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.
Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, which first opened at the UAC in 1970, opened on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre in 1972. The musical earned Carroll a Tony nomination for Best Director of a Musical and played 1065 performances. It will be performed in 2018 as part of Encores! Off Center’s summer program.
Your Arms Too Short to Box with God transferred to Broadway in 1976, earning Carroll her second Tony nomination for Best Director. The musical was revived on Broadway in 1980, 1982, and 1996.
But Never Jam Today, was an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland featuring gospel and calypso-infused music. The musical adaptation began life as Alice, and after much re-working and several off- and off-off-Broadway runs opened on Broadway in 1979. It was a commercial flop and closed within a week of opening.
In 1984, living in Florida in “semi-retirement,” Carroll founded the Vinnette Carroll Repertory Company. The company was renamed the Metropolitan Diversity Theatre at Carroll's request in 2000 after she suffered a debilitating stroke. The theatre is now the home of Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso.
Despite Carroll’s immense body of work, just one of her shows was filmed live for public distribution: When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate. The musical had a short run at the UAC in January 1979, before being presented as part of the Lincoln Center’s Black Theatre Festival in May of the same year. An hour-length version of the musical co-directed by Carroll was presented on PBS in June 1979. When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate was released on VHS in 1999, and on DVD in 2003. Sections of the musical are currently available on YouTube.
In the capture of When Hell Freezes Over I'll Skate, we get a mere glimpse of Carroll’s incredible talent as a writer and director. One wonders if Carroll had been born white, and a male, how much more of her work we could have continued to enjoy watching today.