Jon Jon Briones, Suzy Nakamura, Lily Mariye and Wendy Chang/Dwight Stuart Youth Fund Among Honorees at East West Players’ 52nd Visionary Awards on April 30

Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest producing organization of Asian Pacific American artistic work, celebrates THE COMPANY WE KEEP, its 52nd Anniversary season with the Annual Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. Recognizing the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft, the gala fundraiser takes place on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City. Proceeds benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

In addition to previously announced honorees Lily Mariye and Wendy Chang/Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, EWP will also honor Suzy Nakamura and Jon Jon Briones.

Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang
Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang

Jon Jon Briones, actor, was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines. At 9 years old he was sent to live at Santo Domingo convent as a boy soprano in the “Tiples of Santo Domingo” choir. This was to be his first formal training. In 1989, he joined the original London cast of Miss Saigon. Recently, he played the Engineer in the London 2014 revival (Olivier Award nominee, What’s One Stage Award winner) and its Broadway transfer (Drama Desk Award nominee, Theater Award winner). He has appeared in several other productions of Miss Saigon, among numerous additional stage credits. He has had the privilege of working with East West players in La Cage Aux Folles (Ovation Award nominee) and A Little Night Music. He was proudly involved in the pre-Broadway development of Allegiance at The Old Globe. Last month, Briones received raves for his chilling and brilliant portrayal as Modesto Cunanan on the television drama American Crime Story: Assassination of Gianni Versace.

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "Creator/Destroyer" Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, March 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) -- Pictured: (l-r) Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY “Creator/Destroyer” Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, March 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) — Pictured: (l-r) Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX
Suzy Nakamura
Suzy Nakamura

Suzy Nakamura, actor. Born and raised in Chicago, Suzy began her career in the touring company of The Second City, and then opened the first two revues at The Second City Detroit. After moving to Los Angeles, she began guest starring on television, landing recurring roles on “The West Wing” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Series regular roles include the ABC comedy “Dr. Ken,” opposite Ken Jeong, and NBC’s “Go On,” opposite Matthew Perry. Recent guest starring credits include “Station 19,” “Elementary,” and “Veep,” and recurring roles on “Blackish,” “The Goldbergs,” and “Modern Family.” Her film credits include Hollywood hits, but she is most proud of smaller independents like Afternoon Delight, Strawberry FieldsTreasure Island, and Timecode.

Lily Mariye
Lily Mariye

Lily Mariye, actor and director, is a 2018 Outstanding Directorial Achievement nominee for the 70th Annual DGA Awards for her episode of Amazon’s “Just Add Magic.” She is a television and film director, best known for CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” NBC’s “Chicago PD,” Freeform’s “The Fosters,” and CMT’s “Nashville.” Model Minority (modelminoritymovie.com) is Mariye’s feature writing and directorial debut and has won 11 Film Festival Awards around the world, including Best Film, Best Director, Best New Actress and Best Cinematography. As an actor, Mariye is best known for her role as nurse Lily Jarvik on the award-winning TV series “ER” for 15 seasons, for which she won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series four times.

Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. Originally established as an independent foundation in 2001, the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund (DSYF) was endowed by Dwight L. Stuart, Sr. (1924-1998) to benefit and serve the needs of children and youth in Los Angeles County. Since 2010, DSYF has been a grantmaking arm of the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation. The Foundation is a programmatic funder of public and private institutions and organizations, whose goal is the improvement of life outcomes for young people in the K-12 education systems in California and Washington State. Mr. Stuart was raised in the Pacific Northwest and lived for many years in Los Angeles. He was president of the Carnation Company from 1973-1983 and was the grandson of its founder, E.A. Stuart. A life-long supporter of youth mentoring and sports programs, he was also a board member of the Stuart Foundation.

“I could not be more proud to announce our four outstanding honorees this year,” says Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “Suzy, Jon Jon, Lily, and Wendy all have a strong and deep connection with East West Players as artists who have performed on our stage, as students in our classes, and as fierce supporters and advocates of our organization. We can’t wait to honor these individuals, who have such a close relationship to us and are affecting great change through their work.”

Also joining the evening’s festivities are Reggie Lee, Deedee Magno Hall, Cliffton Hall, Justin W. Yu, and company members from David Henry Hwang’s Soft Power (produced by Center Theatre Group in association with East West Players) and East West Players’ upcoming production of Nathan Ramos’ As We Babble On.

EWP will honor previously announced honoree Tzi Ma at a future Visionary Awards gala.

Current major sponsors (as of April 9, 2018) of the gala include: TITANIUM: ABC/Disney and Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. PLATINUM: CBS Television Network and NBC Universal. GOLD: Aratani Foundation. BRONZE: Los Angeles LGBT Center, Carmen J. Smith, Randall & Mari Tamura, Lynn Waggoner, and Wells Fargo. COPPER CIRCLE: Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theatre; Snehal Desai, Pia Palomo & Jerry A. Gonzales II; Peter Shimamoto; Nielsen; Union Bank; and Jeff Yang. Additional information will be released shortly.

Gala Committee Members include: Co-Chair Daniel Mayeda, Co-Chair Peter Shimamoto, Albert E. Aubin, Jason M. Blackwell, Kin W. Cheng, Snehal Desai, Nora DeVeau-Rosen, Ken Katsumoto, Jay Kim, David & Carrie Lee, Reggie Lee, Carolina San Juan, Judy Sasaki, Sally Pai Unruh, and Jeff Yang.

East West Players’ 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. VIP Reception for Premium Table Circle sponsors, silent auction, and no-host cocktails starts at 5:30pm. The dinner and awards show begins at 7pm.

Individual tickets are $200- $1,500. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information please contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or galaguests@eastwestplayers.org.

For more information about East West Players, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org.

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Lucille Lortel Nominee Thom Sesma Talks Asian American Representation in the Performing Arts

Thom Sesma. Photo by Lia Chang

Broadway vet Thom Sesma has been nominated for his first Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for his work in Classic Stage Company’s revival of Pacific Overtures. 

Thom Sesma, Megan Masako Haley, George Takei, and Marc Oka. Photo by  Joan Marcus
Thom Sesma, Megan Masako Haley, George Takei, and Marc Oka. Photo by  Joan Marcus

Over the past year, Sesma has commuted to the Village from his Upper West Side home for three gigs. Last Spring, he appeared in Pacific Overtures at Classic Stage Company. In the Fall, he played Leo Tolstoy in Primary Stages’ New York premiere of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Thom Sesma, Michael Laurence, and Duane Boutté star in Scott Carter's The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, directed by Kimberly Senior, for Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre. (© Jeremy Daniel)
Thom Sesma, Michael Laurence, and Duane Boutté star in Scott Carter’s The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, directed by Kimberly Senior, for Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

In February, Sesma joined the cast of Tooting Arts Club’s terrific immersive production of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre, to star as Sweeney Todd opposite Sally Ann Triplett’s Mrs. Lovett. The production celebrated its one year anniversary last month, continuing its streak as the longest running musical to play New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, and has been extended through August 26, 2018.

Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd and Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs. Lovett. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd and Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs. Lovett. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

I sat down with Thom in Father Demo Square, a few days after he was nominated to talk about the diversity of this year’s nominees, Asian American Representation on Stage and on Screen, and all things Sondheim.

Thom Sesma. Photo by Lia Chang
Thom Sesma. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Congratulations on your Lortel Nomination in a season of many Asian American nominees and probably the most diverse class of nominees. What do you think this says about Asian American Representation on the New York Stage?
Thom: We are here. We’re not going anywhere. We’re here to stay. Get used to it. I feel such a great mixture of pride and humility, being in the same landscape of great actors, writers, designers, directors, visionaries, really, many of whom I’m just so lucky to call my friends. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, maybe I can be lulled into a sense of security that things are changing, that there’s a shift in consciousness in the institution. It’s a credit to the Off-Broadway Producer and Theatre’s League to have recognized this. They’ve always been more ahead of the game than their counterparts on Broadway, but this year feels… special…It’s exciting and extraordinary and should be celebrated as such.

2018 Lucille Lortel Award Nominations Announced including KPOP, “Bella: An American Tall Tale,” “Mary Jane,” “The Lucky Ones,” “Pipeline,” “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play” and “Pacific Overtures” 

KPOP’s James Seol, Ashley Park, Jason Tam, Vanessa Kai Among 9 2018 Lucille Lortel Nods, including Outstanding Musical

Classic Stage Company's three Lortel Awards nominated performers, Quincy Tyler Bernstine for As You Like It, Steven Eng, and Thom Sesma for Pacific Overtures.
Classic Stage Company’s three Lortel Awards nominated performers, Quincy Tyler Bernstine for As You Like It, Steven Eng, and Thom Sesma for Pacific Overtures.

Lia: How did you find out about the nomination?
Thom: I was coming home from noon mass at Notre Dame Parish in Morningside Heights and my wife, Penny, sent a text saying “You’re nominated for Pacific Overtures!” I thought she meant the show was nominated for best revival, because I never thought I’d be singled out, because I was just one part of this amazing ensemble. The way we worked together, as a company, really as a family, we were all sort of inseparable from each other, it was a very singular thing. In my mind, this nomination has everyone’s name all over it. I couldn’t have done a single thing onstage without the contributions of everyone else – and I’m not sure I would have wanted to.

Lia: Was this your first time working with John Doyle?
Thom: Oh yeah. And he’s ruined me – the standards of everyone I’ve worked with since then or will work with again are held up against John. And luckily, everyone I’ve worked with since is pretty much right up there. I hope it’s not the last time we work together. John really changed my personal aesthetic in a lot of ways, the approach you take to working, to allowing yourself to immerse yourself in not knowing what the next beat is about, being present, discovering that singular moment, embracing the value of failing at rehearsal every day. We give lip service to things like that all the time, but I don’t think I ever really experienced it in day-to-day practice.

George Takei, Kelvin Moon Loh, Karl Josef Co, Ann Harada, Steven Eng, Marc Oka, Thom Sesma, Austin Ku, Megan Masako Haley Holmes, Kimberly Immanuel, Orville Mendoza and Marc de la Cruz at the sitzprobe at Carroll Music in New York on March 31, 2017. Photo: Karl Josef Co/Facebook
George Takei, Kelvin Moon Loh, Karl Josef Co, Ann Harada, Steven Eng, Marc Oka, Thom Sesma, Austin Ku, Megan Masako Haley Holmes, Kimberly Immanuel, Orville Mendoza and Marc de la Cruz at the sitzprobe at Carroll Music in New York on March 31, 2017. Photo: Karl Josef Co/Facebook

Lia: Had you done Pacific Overtures before?
Thom: Yes, way back in the 90s. I did a regional stock production, really a re-creation of the original production at what was then San Jose Civic Light Opera. It was a beautiful show, all made of plywood and canvas flats, but it was gorgeous. Mako recreated his role as the Reciter in it, Diana Schuster directed it. I played Manjiro, the sailor – in my younger days. I was very proud to be a part of it, but honestly I’d forgotten it. When I auditioned for the production at CSC, John asked if I’d ever done the show before and I said in complete honesty, “no,” became I’d quite forgotten it. It was only when I was walking out of the room that I remembered and turned around to correct myself. Embarrassing. The brain… it goes.

And here you are a year later, you’re doing another Sondheim classic, Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre. Are you becoming an expert interpreter of the master’s work?

Let’s just say, I’m really lucky.

Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Lia: He’s one of your favorites?
Thom: I think he’s one of everyone’s favorites, without question. The closest we have to Shakespeare, maybe, at least in the musical theatre? He’s the Apex. You know, the original production of Pacific Overtures changed my life. I saw it at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when it was on tour, when was it, 1977? 1978? I was finishing up college, getting ready to head to graduate school, studying modern European history, no intentions of becoming an actor. Then this show began and I was floored, from the get-go. I saw a universe I’d never seen before, a landscape filled with people who looked like me, and a story – well, in many respects a story I was familiar with, at least the telling of it: a story of Asian history told through a distinctly American lens, yet couched in the appearance, the physical images of an Asian culture. Yeah, it was in a way, my story. It was so audacious and courageous in its telling, and it never let me go. It still hasn’t. Anyway, from the moment I left the theatre and made the long drive home from downtown LA, I knew the graduate school would only be a detour from the journey that has brought me here. But I gotta say – I never in a million years dreamt that I’d end up doing the show here in New York.

Ann Harada, George Takei, Thom Sesma and Don Buchwald. Photo by Lia Chang
Ann Harada, George Takei, Thom Sesma and Don Buchwald. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Had you worked with George Takei before?
Thom: No. I loved working with George, and hope it’s not the last time. He’s so lovely, one of the kindest, most humble and generous people I’ve ever met. I love him to death.

Austin Ku, Kimberly Immanuel, Karl Josef Co, Ann Harada, George Takei, Thom Sesma, Orville Mendoza, Steven Eng and Kelvin Moon Loh. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What characters did you play in Pacific Overtures?
Thom: I played several characters, including a wannabe geisha, I guess. But my main role was Lord Abe, the de facto Shogun. He’s officious, cynical, not without a sense of humor – he knows the world is changing and has to dancing between holding up the appearance of tradition and easing those changes into the culture – all to maintain Japan’s idea of itself, adapting without changing, as it were. Abe does a very delicate dance between the past and the future. Whether he does so successfully is the great question mark at the end of Pacific Overtures.

Kelvin Moon Loh, Austin Ku, George Takei, Marc Oka, and Thom Sesma in “Pacific Overtures” at Classic Stage Company. Photo by Joan Marcus
Kelvin Moon Loh, Austin Ku, George Takei, Marc Oka, and Thom Sesma in “Pacific Overtures” at Classic Stage Company. Photo by Joan Marcus

Lia: Can you talk a little about the differences between doing Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd?
Thom: Well, the one thing that makes them similar, at least in these productions, is the reduced scale of both from their original iterations. The original PO was huge, epic, it attempted to tell two stories, an intimate, personal tale of a doomed friendship against the backdrop of a clash between two very real civilization, and to tell it in an epic theatrical style – kabuki. The original production Sweeney Todd was also pretty gigantic in scope, and was as much a metaphor about society as it was a deeply personal story of one man’s personal loss and his quest for revenge, right? And in both productions, we now have brilliant visionary directors who’ve ripped away the size and the texture of the originals to dig deeper into the personal narratives. I guess you could describe both as immersive. Sweeney Todd is much more site-specific, I mean the tale unfolds in a pie shop, for God’s sake, and it’s immersive in the sense that the audience is plunged into the activity of the play itself, sometimes as witnesses to Sweeney’s and Mrs. Lovett’s deeds, sometimes as victims! Is that a spoiler?

Orville Mendoza and Steven Eng, center, and the cast of "Pacific Overtures" by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim, at Classic Stage Company. Photo by Joan Marcus
Orville Mendoza and Steven Eng, center, and the cast of “Pacific Overtures” by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim, at Classic Stage Company. Photo by Joan Marcus

Anyway, our production of Pacific Overtures was immersive insofar as part of John’s concept was inviting the audience in less as an audience then as witnesses to how the changing world affected the two central characters Manjiro and Kayama, how it created and ultimately destroyed their friendship – which is really the only thing we wanted to care about in the story the play tells. This was done by John’s very intimate design concept which put the audience on both sides of the stage – we were really playing in an alley between the audiences who were watching not only us, but each other. That’s something that’s shared in the pie shop. The configuration of the seating actually makes the audience participants in the production as much as the action does. People in row B will be watching people in Row E, not realizing that they’re being watched by people in row G, etcetera, etcetera. And their reactions to our actions become part of the action itself. It’s very, very cool, and given the intimacy of the room, we actors are able to watch this happening, which has an affect on how we play out our parts.

Lia: What were your favorite moments in Pacific Overtures? And What are your favorite moments in Sweeney Todd?
Thom: Oh, wow – If it hadn’t been for the pressure of having Stephen Sondheim watch me singing what he’s described as the favorite of all the songs he’s written, I’d say singing the Old Man in Someone In A Tree was the definite high point. Of course, I’m partly kidding. Singing that trio with Austin Ku and Kelvin Moon Loh in this production, for himself or not is definitely something I will never, ever, ever forget. What a privilege, what a blessing. For an actor who sings – it’s the perfect song, about character, about remembering, about forgetting, about what truly matters in the great tides of our lives. You can’t help but make new discoveries about the song, about the show and about yourself every time you do it.

Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd and Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs. Lovett. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd and Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs. Lovett. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

And again, in Sweeney, the pressure of singing for the man himself is undeniable, but when he came to see the new cast, we’d only been performing for a week and change, and we were still finding our feet as it were, which kind of took the pressure off. Believe me, it’s much easier on the ego to be thinking about, “let’s see, do I hold the razor in my left hand and the towel in my right, or is it the other way,” than to think, oh shoot, I feel him watching me he’s shaking his head he hates me. That aside, though, I have so many favorite moments in what is probably one of the only perfectly constructed musical ever written. It changes and I can’t single one out. My Friends is extraordinary, terribly satisfying to get to sing. It keeps me engaged, too because it demands an emotional truthfulness in expression that it keeps me from losing myself in the joy of singing something so beautiful.

Other than that, all of my favorite moments have nothing to do with me – it’s all things that Sally Ann Triplett is doing as Mrs. Lovett. She’s an actor’s dream, a brilliant comedienne and brilliant tragedian, and an absolute love of a person. God broke the mold after he made her. I swear there are some moments during the show when I wish I could just check out and watch Mrs. Lovett at work. She constantly teaches me so many things. Who’s lucky? I’m lucky, that’s who.

Thom Sesma. Photo by Lia Chang
Thom Sesma. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: You have been in the performing arts for many years and have had the opportunity to be cast non-traditionally in lead roles. How has this changed over the course of your career?
Thom: It’s changed a lot with my age – I actually think I’m working more now as an older character – I’m not going to say “mature” because that would imply that I know better now… But I also suppose it has something to do with a body of work that I’ve established. I’m always surprised that people have seen my work or have heard of me, or that I’m supposed to have this reputation as a guy who’s working all the time. Most of the time, whoever I’m working, there’s a little voice inside my tiny little brain telling me I’m never going to work again. But more to the point – when I was younger, there were fewer casting directors, or directors who were actively, and by that I mean self-consciously, trying to cast non-traditionally. But those few who were, did so with a passion, like it was a mission to create an onstage landscape that looked like America. A lot of time it was just in stock or in the regions, but certainly not as much was being done here in New York. People like Jack O’Brien at the Old Globe in San Diego, Steve Woolf at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Ed Stern at Cincinnati Playhouse, Wayne Bryan at Music Theatre of Wichita and others. And I was fortunate enough to work in those places, with those people, and others of like mind. There was an effort here in New York, in commercial theatre, but it was a little limited – there would be, like, one African American woman in say 42nd Street, or one Asian American (that would be me) in the original production of La Cage Aux Folles. But never much more than that, unless a show was actively and purposefully depicting characters of many backgrounds – A Chorus Line, a perfect example. But there was no regular place for, say, a Condola Rashad to play Saint Joan, or Phillipa Soo to play Rebecca in The Parisian Woman. I don’t know what or how things changed – maybe it was Audra that opened traditional people’s eyes that actors of color could be not only qualified but unsurpassable. Or maybe it was something like the literal hundreds and hundreds of incredibly talented people coming out of Miss Saigon – numbers can create results. Slowly, sure, sometimes painfully, but it works. For myself though, to reduce it to basics, it might’ve been classical theatre that opened a lot of doors for me, maybe? I don’t know if it’s still the case, but classical theatre at the time I was young, had a serious cache to it – somehow you were more of an “actor”, or more on an “ah-ctor” if you could pull of a difficult, lesser well-known Shakespearean monologue. And I do know there were a number of casting people in the 80s who wouldn’t take you at all seriously if you didn’t have any classical training – go figure. But I had a couple of lovely credits – which I guess you could call “non-traditional” early on which led to other plays, contemporary pieces, and musicals, and all of a sudden I was being seen for more than Asian or Asian-American roles. I have to say, this is not something I set out to do, it’s just something that happened, with the support of my agents, who were far-sighted and probably had more confidence in my non-traditional potential that perhaps I had. I guess that’s one of the requirements, too, it’s having people on your side who are going to do more than just sympathize, people who are actually going to go out on a limb for you. Anyway, I was certainly pleased, I’m pretty sure I was awfully full of myself, too, but for the most part, this was something I wasn’t in control of. And I was still playing – or just being seen for – the most offensive stereotypes imaginable. Some of these were well-meaning, I guess: I did a deservedly short-lived musical on Broadway called Chu-Chem, also billed as the first Chinese-Jewish musical, which was slightly less authentic than a can of Chun-King Chow Mein, and even less appealing. The opening number was titled “Orient Yourself,” and the show was so indifferently directed, designed and produced that I’m guessing audiences were slightly offended before the overture even began. We played at the Walter Kerr Theatre, then called The Ritz, for something like six weeks, played to tiny, tiny houses, and twenty minutes into the show, we could see people seated in the orchestra climbing over each other to get out.

Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. (1992). Production still, including Griffin Dunne, Keith Szarabajka, Thom Sesma Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-fb5e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. (1992). Production still, including Griffin Dunne, Keith Szarabajka, Thom Sesma Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-fb5e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

But then a couple years later I also got to play a guy named Martin Mirkheim – a universe away from Prince Whatever My Name Was in Chu Chem – in a profoundly beautiful and dark play called Search and Destroy by Howard Korder, also on Broadway, which also ran for only six weeks. But oh, what a satisfying six weeks!

Lia: Have you experienced many of the new younger Asian American voices -new works by new playwrights?
Thom: Yep – not as many as I’d like, but mostly I’ve been involved in developmental readings of plays and musicals but a new and younger generation of Asian American writers and composers, which is very exciting. But it’s not just young voices, I mean, kids coming out of conservatories. These voices have been around for awhile, and we’re just getting noticed. But we’re all over the place. We’re everywhere. And this year, a play by an Asian American playwright will for the first time open on Broadway (Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men). Isn’t that something?

(l-r) Peter Kim portrays Isaac Lee, Andrew Cristi is Jimmy Lee and Thom Sesma is Boo-Seng Lee in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
(l-r) Peter Kim portrays Isaac Lee, Andrew Cristi is Jimmy Lee and Thom Sesma is Boo-Seng Lee in Julia Cho’s Durango at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, September, 2008. Photo by Sandy Underwood.

Lia: Have you noticed a change in casting of Asian Americans on TV or in film?
Thom: Oh my God, yes – network TV, we’re everywhere. It makes me so proud, so excited. Asian Americans, mostly younger, are playing, guess what, contemporary Asian Americans, but also are NOT playing hookers, dragon ladies, opium dealers, kung fu masters, math nerds. Okay, some of us are, stock stereotypes will always be there, right? But Sandra Oh, Daniel Day Kim, Daniel Isaacs, Constance Wu, Li Jun Li, BD, BD, BD freaking Wong – who can play anything, he’s so brilliant. Am I saying, “Is the playing field level?” No, by no means. But God, oh God, it feels like we can take a rest, even if it’s a short one, from fighting the same battles we fought for decades, just to be taken seriously as real, breathing, feeling, multi-dimensional people!

Lia: What roles or directors are on your wish list?
Thom: Well, all the ones who influenced me in my youth, most aren’t as active as they were in their heyday, – Hal Prince, Tommy Tune, Gregory Mosher, John Tillinger, is Michael Blakemore still directing? Or they’ve passed on – Mike Nichols, Peter Hall, or course, Michael Bennett. And I’m never going to complain, I’ve gotten to work – even briefly – with James Lapine, Michael Greif, Chris Ashley, Jerry Zaks, Bart Sher, blah blah blah… Now it sounds like I’m bragging. I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been very, very lucky.

Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Lia: How often do you strive to be part of projects where the cast really reflects what the world looks like?
Thom: Well, ideally, that’s something I strive for all the time. I’m just in a position to ensure that something like that is happening. The only thing in my power – in any journeyman actor’s power, I suppose, is the ability and the willingness to say “no” to something that offends my makes me question my sensibilities about how I may think the world is supposed to look.

The real question should be, how is my work supporting or encouraging how the traditional world can change or evolve so that it more easily can begin to reflect what the real world actually looks like. Am I doing everything I can to serve the play, the production and, I guess, the industry, so that I’m not just a qualified Hapa Asian American actor, but that I’m qualified enough to level the playing field. So, here I am, playing the title role in Sweeney Todd – part of what has to go through my process is not that I’m a Hapa Asian American playing Sweeney Todd but that I may be the only Sweeney Todd a person may ever see. That means I’d better up my game and be as complete a Sweeney as I can be. And being Hapa Asian American in appearance and consciousness is only a small part, a very small part  of that, and ultimately one I have no control over.

Michael James Leslie as Judge Turpin and Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Michael James Leslie as Judge Turpin and Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Lia: What are the three projects over the course of your career that you would say are your favorites?
Thom: Wow. Honestly, I can’t say… I’m not trying to be glib or politic, but I’ve been blessed time and time again with extraordinary experiences, in production, or in workshops, sometimes just readings. I’ve never taken a, you know, a “survey” amongst friends or associates, but I hope everyone feels this way. To tell the truth, it would be easier for me to pick out a small number of things that were NOT my favorites than the ones that are. But – I gotta say, being able to do Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd, both in New York and both in a 12 month period — that’s a lot of icing on a really delicious cake.

The company of SWEENEY TODD. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
The company of SWEENEY TODD. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Lia: What do we have to look forward to from Thom Sesma?
Thom: I’m in Sweeney Todd until August. I hope you’ll come by and visit the pie shop of Fleet Street. I’m perfectly content upstairs by the barber chair.

The cast of Sweeney Todd also features Stacie Bono (as Pirelli & Beggar Woman), Michael James Leslie (as Judge Turpin), Zachary Noah Piser (as Tobias), John Rapson (as The Beadle), Billy Harrigan Tighe (as Anthony) and DeLaney Westfall (as Johanna), and Matt Leisy, Liz Pearce, Danny Rothman and Monet Sabel. Click here for tickets.

Thom Sesma is no stranger to the role of Sweeney Todd, having starred in productions at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in 1997, and the Arden Theatre Company in 2005.

Sesma has starred on Broadway in The Times They Are A-Changin’, Man of La Mancha, La Cage Aux Folles, Search and Destroy. National Tours: The Lion King, Miss Saigon, Titanic. Other Off-Broadway credits include Awake and Sing! (NAATCO/Public Theatre), Othello (Public Theatre), Cymbeline (NYSF), A Hard Heart (Epic Theatre). Regional appearances include McCarter Theatre, Yale Rep, Arena Stage, Old Globe, Cincinnati Playhouse, Signature Theatre, Centre Stage, Music Theatre Wichita, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Pasadena Playhouse. TV includes “Madam Secretary,” “Gotham,” “Jessica Jones,” “The Good Wife,” “Person of Interest,” Over/Under, “Single Ladies” and more. Instagram @thsesma; Twitter @ThomSesmaNYC.

2018 Lucille Lortel Award Nominations Announced including KPOP, “Bella: An American Tall Tale,” “Mary Jane,” “The Lucky Ones,” “Pipeline,” “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play” and “Pacific Overtures” 
Thom Sesma and Sally Ann Triplett Take Over the Pie Shop in SWEENEY TODD at Barrow Street Theatre Tonight 
Photos: BD Wong, Cindy Cheung, Brooke Ishibashi, Thom Sesma, Manna Nichols, Steven Eng, Ariel Estrada, Lori Tan Chinn at Leviathan Lab’s Ghost Stories 
Photos: Backstage Q & A with Thom Sesma and the cast of Signature’s Miss Saigon
A Summer in Bangkok for Thom Sesma, Star of Signature’s Miss Saigon 
Production Photos: Music Theatre of Wichita’s The King and I Starring Thom Sesma, Kim Huber, Alan Ariano, Karl Josef Co, Kay Trinidad, Tami Swartz at Century II Performing Arts Center through July 14, 2013 
Thom Sesma, Francis Jue, Robin de Jesus and John Tartaglia set for MUNY’s Aladdin
Thom Sesma is the keynote speaker for the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) at the Mary Pickford Theater
Photos & Video Disney’s The Lion King Las Vegas-In the Makeup Chair with Thom Sesma 
Spotlight on Shanghai Moon’s Thom Sesma
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (3pm) with Andre Bishop, Mary Beth Hurt, Jennifer Lim, Angela Lin, Philip Kan Gotanda, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders, and more 
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (8pm) with Oskar Eustis, Patti LuPone, Lisa Emery, Ann Harada, Paolo Montalban, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Henry Stram, Richard Thomas, John Weidman and more 
Extended through 8/23- “In Rehearsal” Lia Chang Theater Portfolio at Library of Congress Featuring Robert Lee and Leon Ko’s Heading East Starring BD Wong, Thom Sesma as Scar in The Lion King Las Vegas
Backstage at The Lion King Las Vegas with Thom Sesma
Thom Sesma, Peter Kim and Andrew Cristi star in Durango
Thom Sesma Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi
Thom Sesma in The Epic Theatre Ensemble’s A HARD HEART
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Lori Tan Chinn
Lia Chang. Photo by Lori Tan Chinn

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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KPOP’s James Seol, Ashley Park, Jason Tam, Vanessa Kai Among 9 2018 Lucille Lortel Nods, including Outstanding Musical

The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)

KPOP presented by Ars Nova, in association with Ma-Yi Theater and Woodshed Collective, has scored 9 nominations for 2018 Lucille Lortel Awards.

The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)
The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)

KPOP, an immersive musical set in a Korean pop music factory where stars are made—or broken, recently received the 2018 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, a Studio Production Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

John Yi, Joomin Hwang, Jason Tam, Jiho Kang, Jinwoo Jung. Photo: Ben Arons.
John Yi, Joomin Hwang, Jason Tam, Jiho Kang, Jinwoo Jung. Photo: Ben Arons.

Nominated for Outstanding Musical, KPOP was conceived by Woodshed Collective and Jason Kim (The Model American, HBO’s “Girls”), features a book by Kim, music & lyrics by Helen Park and Max Vernon, immersive design by Woodshed Collective, direction by Teddy Bergman, and choreograph by Jennifer Weber, who was also nominated.

Ashley Park in KPOP. Photo: Ben Arons.
Ashley Park in KPOP. Photo: Ben Arons.

KPOP tells the story of solo legend MwE, epic boy band F8, glamorous girl group SpecialK, and the label behind the pop madness, JTM Entertainment.

James Seol plays JTM’s brand manager for its American transition. Photo: Ben Arons/Ars Nova
James Seol plays JTM’s brand manager for its American transition. Photo: Ben Arons/Ars Nova

KPOP received 4 acting nominations including James Seol (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical), Ashley Park (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical),  Jason Tam (Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical), and Vanessa Kai (Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical).

Chatting with VIETGONE Star James Seol 

Jason Tam as Epic, the leader of the boy band F8, in KPOP. (© Ben Arons)
Jason Tam as Epic, the leader of the boy band F8, in KPOP. (© Ben Arons)
Vanessa Kai in KPOP. Photo: Ben Arons.
Vanessa Kai in KPOP. Photo: Ben Arons.

The nods in the design categories include Gabriel Hainer Evansohn (Outstanding Scenic Design), Tricia Barsamian (Outstanding Costume Design), and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew Outstanding Lighting Design).

Katie Lee Hill, Deborah Kim, Sun Hye Park, Julia Abueva, Cathy Ang, Susannah Kim in KPOP. Photo: Ben Arons.
Katie Lee Hill, Deborah Kim, Sun Hye Park, Julia Abueva, Cathy Ang, Susannah Kim in KPOP. Photo: Ben Arons.
KPOP company. Photo: Ben Arons.
KPOP company. Photo: Ben Arons.

The predominantly Asian and Asian American cast of 18 includes Julia Abueva, Cathy Ang, Katie Lee Hill (Nerds), Joomin Hwang, Jinwoo Jung,Vanessa Kai, Jiho Kang, Deborah Kim, Susannah Kim, Amanda Morton, Ashley Park (Sunday in the Park with GeorgeThe King and I), Sun Hye Park ,James Saito, James Seol (A Naked Girl on the Appian WaySmall Mouth Sounds), David Shih, Jason Tam (If/ThenLysistrata Jones), John Yi and Ebony Williams (Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour). Marina Kondo joined the KPOP cast as Mwe during the extension.

KPOP cast members Jinwoo Jung, Deborah Kim, Ashley Park, Jiho Kang and Joomin Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang
KPOP cast members Jinwoo Jung, Deborah Kim, Ashley Park, Jiho Kang and Joomin Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang
Ma-Yi Theater's Executive Director Jorge Ortoll, Deborah Kim, Jinwoo Jung, Susannah Kim, Jiho Kang and Joomin Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang
Ma-Yi Theater’s Executive Director Jorge Ortoll, Deborah Kim, Jinwoo Jung, Susannah Kim, Jiho Kang and Joomin Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang

Laura Benanti and Jason Jones, who appear together on TBS’s The Detour, will host the 33rd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards on Sunday, May 6, at the NYU Skirball Center.

Click here for all the nominees.

2018 Lucille Lortel Award Nominations Announced including KPOP, “Bella: An American Tall Tale,” “Mary Jane,” “The Lucky Ones,” “Pipeline,” “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play” and “Pacific Overtures” 

KPOP by Jason Kim, Helen Park, Max Vernon, and Woodshed Collective and GUN & POWDER by Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri Receive 2018 Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater

Photos: KPOP Performance Benefits Ma-Yi Theater Company

James Saito is flanked by Ma-Yi's Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña and Executive Director Jorge Ortoll. Photo by Lia Chang
James Saito is flanked by Ma-Yi’s Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña and Executive Director Jorge Ortoll. Photo by Lia Chang

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

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2018 Lucille Lortel Award Nominations Announced including KPOP, “Bella: An American Tall Tale,” “Mary Jane,” “The Lucky Ones,” “Pipeline,” “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play,” “Pacific Overtures,”  and “Jesus Hopped the A Train”

The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)

Laura Benanti and Jason Jones, who appear together on TBS’s The Detour, will host the 33rd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards on Sunday, May 6, at the NYU Skirball Center.

The 2018 Lucille Lortel Awards, will posthumously elect composer Michael Friedman onto the Playwrights’ Sidewalk in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Friedman was a Lucille Lortel Award winner for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Friedman died September 9, 2017, at the age of 41 following complications due to HIV/AIDS. His other works include This Beautiful City, Saved, The Fortress of Solitude, and Pretty Filthy.

The evening will also honor Tony-winning playwright and performer Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and longstanding Off-Broadway company WP Theater for their Outstanding Body of Work.

Ensler recently performed at Manhattan Theatre Club Off-Broadway in an adaptation of her memoir, In the Body of the World. The monologue play, written and performed by Ensler, details her experiences working with women in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo and being diagnosed with uterine cancer.

MaameYaa Boafo and Zainab Jah. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
MaameYaa Boafo and Zainab Jah. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Outstanding Play
Cost of Living
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club in association with Williamstown Theatre Festival
Written by Martyna Majok

Miles for Mary
Produced by Playwrights Horizons
Written by Marc Bovino, Joe Curnutte, Michael Dalto, Lila Neugebauer, and Stephanie Wright Thompson

Karen Pittman (foreground) and Namir Smallwood (background). Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel
Karen Pittman (foreground) and Namir Smallwood (background). Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

Pipeline
Produced by Lincoln Center Theater
Written by Dominique Morisseau

Dominique Morisseau’s PIPELINE at Lincoln Center Theater 

School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play
Produced by MCC Theater
Written by Jocelyn Bioh

MCC’s SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY by Jocelyn Bioh at The Lucille Lortel Theatre

The Treasurer
Produced by Playwrights Horizons
Written by Max Posner

The company of BELLA: AN AMERICAN TALL TALE. Photo by Joan Marcus
The company of BELLA: AN AMERICAN TALL TALE. Photo by Joan Marcus

Outstanding Musical
Bella: An American Tall Tale
Produced by Playwrights Horizons
Book, music, and lyrics by Kirsten Childs

Ashley D. Kelley, Paolo Montalban, Kenita R. Miller, Britton Smith, Yurel Echezarreta and More in BELLA: AN AMERICAN TALL TALE at Playwright’s Horizons 

Desperate Measures
Produced by The York Theatre Company in association with Cecilia Lin and Hu Guo
Book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, music by David Friedman

Hundred Days
Produced by New York Theatre Workshop
By the Bengsons and Sarah Gancher

Jerry Springer – The Opera
Produced by The New Group
Music and lyrics by Richard Thomas, book and additional lyrics by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas

The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)
The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)

KPOP
Produced by Ars Nova in association with Ma-Yi Theater Company and Woodshed Collective
Conceived by Woodshed Collective and Jason Kim, book by Jason Kim, music and lyrics by Helen Park and Max Vernon, immersive design by Woodshed Collective

KPOP by Jason Kim, Helen Park, Max Vernon, and Woodshed Collective and GUN & POWDER by Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri Receive 2018 Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater

Photos: KPOP Performance Benefits Ma-Yi Theater Company

Outstanding Revival
Fucking A
Produced by Signature Theatre
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks

In The Blood
Produced by Signature Theatre
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks

Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train
Produced by Signature Theatre
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

The Government Inspector
Produced by Red Bull Theater
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Revizor by Nikolai Gogol

Torch Song
Produced by Second Stage Theater in association with Richie Jackson
Written by Harvey Fierstein

Sean Carvajal, Ricardo Chavira and Edi Gathegi. Photo: Joan Marcus
Sean Carvajal, Ricardo Chavira and Edi Gathegi. Photo: Joan Marcus

Outstanding Solo Show
Harry Clarke
Produced by Vineyard Theatre in association with Audible
Written by David Cale, performed by Billy Crudup

Who’s Holiday!
Produced by Whoville Theatrical, Scott and Jenny Beck, Jason Shaw, Ken Fakler, Drew Desky/Dane Levens, Darren Bagert
Written by Matthew Lombardo, performed by Lesli Margherita

Outstanding Director
Lileana Blain-Cruz, Pipeline
Michael Greif, The Low Road
Anne Kauffman, Mary Jane
Lila Neugebauer, Miles for Mary
Leigh Silverman, Harry Clarke

Outstanding Choreographer
Camille A. Brown, Bella: An American Tall Tale
Bill Castellino, Desperate Measures
Byron Easley, X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation
Sonya Tayeh, The Lucky Ones
Jennifer Weber, KPOP

Chukwudi Iwuji and Crystal A. Dickinson. © Joan Marcus
Chukwudi Iwuji and Crystal A. Dickinson. © Joan Marcus

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play
Sean Carvajal, Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train
Peter Friedman, The Treasurer
Chukwudi Iwuji, The Low Road
Namir Smallwood, Pipeline
Michael Urie, Torch Song

Sean Carvajal, Edi Gathegi, Ricardo Chavira, Stephanie DiMaggio, Erick Betancourt End Extended Run in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN 

Quincy Tyler Bernstine. Photo by Lia Chang
Quincy Tyler Bernstine. Photo by Lia Chang

 

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play
Quincy Tyler Bernstine, The Amateurs
MaameYaa Boafo, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play
Carrie Coon, Mary Jane
Cristin Milioti, After the Blast
Karen Pittman, Pipeline

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Marc Bovino, Miles for Mary
Edi Gathegi, Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train
Gregg Mozgala, Cost of Living
Paul Sparks, Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo: Homelife and The Zoo Story
John Tufts, Pride and Prejudice

Carrie Coon, Liza Colón-Zayas, Danaya Esperanza, Susan Pourfar, Brenda Wehle Set for Amy Herzog’s MARY JANE at New York Theatre Workshop

From left: Abena Mensah-Bonsu, Mirirai Sithole and Paige Gilbert in 'School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play' Photo: Joan Marcus
From left: Abena Mensah-Bonsu, Mirirai Sithole and Paige Gilbert in ‘School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play’ Photo: Joan Marcus

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Vanessa Aspillaga, Amy and the Orphans
Quincy Tyler Bernstine, As You Like It
Liza Colón-Zayas, Mary Jane
Mirirai Sithole, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play
Katy Sullivan, Cost of Living

Chatting with VIETGONE Star James Seol 

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical
Abigail Bengson, Hundred Days
Ashley D. Kelley, Bella: An American Tall Tale
Julia Knitel, A Letter to Harvey Milk
Lauren Molina, Desperate Measures
Ashley Park, KPOP

Kelvin Moon Loh, Austin Ku, George Takei, Marc Oka, and Thom Sesma in “Pacific Overtures” at Classic Stage Company. Photo by Joan Marcus
Kelvin Moon Loh, Austin Ku, George Takei, Marc Oka, and Thom Sesma in “Pacific Overtures” at Classic Stage Company. Photo by Joan Marcus

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Sean Patrick Doyle, Jerry Springer – The Opera
Brandon Gill, Bella: An American Tall Tale
Paolo Montalban, Bella: An American Tall Tale
Thom Sesma, Pacific Overtures
Jason Tam, KPOP

Jason Tam as Epic, the leader of the boy band F8, in KPOP. (© Ben Arons)
Jason Tam as Epic, the leader of the boy band F8, in KPOP. (© Ben Arons)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Vanessa Kai, KPOP
Tiffany Mann, Jerry Springer – The OperaQuincy Tyler Bernstine
Maryann Plunkett, The Lucky Ones
Myra Lucretia Taylor, The Lucky Ones
Adina Verson, The Lucky Ones

Outstanding Scenic Design
Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, KPOP
Anna Fleischle, Hangmen
Laura Jellinek, Mary Jane
Amy Rubin, Miles for Mary
Louisa Thompson, In The Blood

Outstanding Costume Design
Dede M. Ayite, Bella: An American Tall Tale
Dede M. Ayite, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play
Tricia Barsamian, KPOP
Tilly Grimes, The Government Inspector
Emily Rebholz, The Low Road

Outstanding Lighting Design
Alan C. Edwards, Harry Clarke
Bradley King, The Treasurer
Ben Stanton, The Low Road
Japhy Weideman, Mary Jane
Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, KPOP

Outstanding Sound Design
Mikhail Fiksel, The Treasurer
Leah Gelpe, Mary Jane
Bray Poor, The Last Match
Bray Poor, Office Hour
Brandon Wolcott, After the Blast

Outstanding Projection Design
Lucy Mackinnon, After the Blast
Alexander V. Nichols, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Brad Peterson, The Stone Witch
Hannah Wasileski, Pipeline
Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Relevance

Productions with multiple nominations
KPOP (9)
Bella: An American Tall Tale (6)
Mary Jane (6)
The Lucky Ones (5)
Pipeline (5)
Jerry Springer – The Opera (4)
The Low Road (4)
Miles for Mary (4)
School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (4)
The Treasurer (4)
After the Blast (3)
Cost of Living (3)
Desperate Measures (3)
Harry Clarke (3)
Jesus Hopped The “A” Train (3)
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me (2)
The Government Inspector (2)
Hundred Days (2)
In the Blood (2)
Pacific Overtures (2)
Torch Song (2)

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KPOP by Jason Kim, Helen Park, Max Vernon, and Woodshed Collective and GUN & POWDER by Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri Receive 2018 Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater

The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)

KPOP by Jason Kim, Helen Park, Max Vernon, and Woodshed Collective and Gun & Powder by Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri are the winners of the 2018 Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater. Each musical received a Studio Production Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)
The cast of KPOP (© Ben Arons)

KPOP is an immersive musical set in a Korean pop music factory where stars are made—or broken. It tells the story of solo legend MwE, epic boy band F8, glamorous girl group SpecialK, and the label behind the pop madness, JTM Entertainment.

Photos: KPOP Performance Benefits Ma-Yi Theater Company

Gun & Powder is inspired by the true story of creator Angelica Chéri’s great-great-aunts, Mary and Martha Clarke, African-American twins who passed for white and were notorious outlaws. Set in Post-Emancipation Texas, the musical follows Mary and Martha’s journey of defying racial boundaries and seizing what rightfully belongs to them, until a little romance shakes everything up.

Richard Rodgers, who was elected to the Academy in 1955, endowed these awards in 1978 to nurture talented composers and playwrights by enabling their musicals to be produced in New York City. Former award recipients include Maury Yeston, for Nine; Jonathan Larson, for Rent; Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal for Juan Darien; Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for Lucky Stiff; Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley for Violet; Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, and Doug Wright for Grey Gardens; and Dave Malloy for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. The Richard Rodgers Awards are the Academy’s only awards for which applications are accepted. Application forms may be downloaded from the academy’s website here.

The members of this year’s jury were David Lang (chairman), Mindi Dickstein, Sheldon Harnick, Richard Maltby, Jr., and John Weidman.

Jason Kim
Jason Kim

KPOP
JASON KIM
Jason Kim (book) is a Korean-born dramatist based in New York City. His immersive musical KPOP recently had a critically acclaimed sold-out run at Ars Nova Theater. His play The Model American opened the Nikos Stage at the 2017 Williamstown Theatre Festival. He is an IFP—Marcie Bloom Fellow in Film, a Screenwriters Colony Fellow, a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow for New Americans, an Opera Genesis Fellow, and a Librettist Fellow in American Opera Project’s Composers & The Voice. He is a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab and Ars Nova’s Uncharted. He is currently Lincoln Center Theater 3’s Resident Writer. In television, he has written for HBO’s “Girls” and Fox’s “Gracepoint” and has adapted “The Middlesteins” for Showtime. Most recently, he was a Consulting Producer for “Love” on Netflix. B.A. Columbia University, M.F.A. New School for Drama. Acclaimed Beyoncé historian. www.waytooserious.com

Helen Park
Helen Park

HELEN PARK
Helen Park (music & lyrics) is a composer and arranger. Her recent works include KPOP (music and lyrics), The Large Life of Alice Liddell (music), and Last Resort (music). Her original musical Baked Goods (lyrics by Christyn Budzyna and book by Charlie Cohen) was selected winner for the 2017 City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting Contest. She is currently writing original songs for Over The Moon, an animated musical film feature for Netflix and Pearl Studio. Helen is an alumnus of NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and is a member of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop (Advanced). helenparkmusic.com

Max Vernon
Max Vernon

MAX VERNON
Max Vernon (music & lyrics) is a composer/lyricist, playwright, performer, and brooch enthusiast. Described by the New Yorker as “equal parts bohemia and Broadway,” Max is a 2017 Out100 Honoree, and recipient of the Jonathan Larson Grant, New York Stage and Film’s Founders Award, New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship, and the JFund Award from the Jerome Foundation. He has been a Dramatist Guild Theatre Fellow, MacDowell Fellow, and an artist in residence at Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat and the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony. His musical, The View UpStairs, ran 105 performances Off-Broadway and was nominated for 2 Lortel Awards, 3 Drama Desk Awards, 4 Audelco Awards, and an Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best New Musical. It will have 7 new productions around the world in 2017-2019; original cast recording on Broadway Records. His next musical, KPOP, recently concluded a sold-out, extended run at Ars Nova this past October. www.maxvernon.com.

WOODSHED COLLECTIVE
Woodshed Collective (co-conceiver and immersive design) is one of the country’s premier immersive theater companies. Work includes Twelve Ophelias, The Confidence Man, The Tenant, and recently the critically acclaimed Empire Travel Agency and the hit immersive musical KPOP. Driven by the belief in the combined power of stories and architecture to break down the barriers of everyday life, Woodshed’s shows aim to create genuine awe. Woodshed is led by Teddy Bergman (Artistic Director), Gabriel Hainer Evansohn (Director of Production), Meg Kelly (Managing Director), and Amy Ashton (Producer), and is comprised of artists Teddy Bergman, Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, Carl Faber, Katie Fleming, Mikhael Tara Garver, Will Irons, Jocelyn Kuritsky, Will Pickens, Jason Platt, and Stephen Squibb. www.woodshedcollective.com

Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri. Photo credit: Liz Barnett
Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri. Photo credit: Liz Barnett

Gun & Powder
ROSS BAUM
Ross Baum, Angelica Chéri
Ross Baum (music) is a composer, performer, and music arranger. Gun & Powder was developed at the Signature Theatre’s 2017 Sigworks Musical Theatre Lab with public presentations in Lincoln Center’s Broadway’s Future Songbook Series and the Drama League’s 2018 DirectorFest. Other musical works include Crowndation: I Will Not Lie To David (National Black Theatre), Anne Frank: My Secret Life, and A Letter To Auntie Rosa (Diverging Elements Theatre Company). He has had residencies at Goodspeed Opera House and Two River Theater, and was selected as winner of NY City Center’s 2014 Sondheim Remix contest and Disney/NMI’s 2018 New Voices Project. As the founder and music director of RANGE a cappella, he has provided vocal arrangements for Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, Billboard, Playbill, and the E! Network. Ross is a proud graduate of NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, Syracuse University’s Musical Theatre Program, and is a current member of the BMI Workshop. www.rossbaum.net

ANGELICA CHÉRI
Angelica Chéri (book & lyrics) is a playwright, bookwriter/lyricist, screenwriter, and poet. The plays of her Prophet’s Cycle Trilogy include The Seeds of Abraham (Signature Theatre, Billie Holiday Theatre), The Sting of White Roses (North Carolina Black Repertory Company) and Crowndation: I Will Not Lie to David (National Black Theatre-I AM SOUL Residency). Her play Berta, Berta will have its World Premiere this year at CATF. Angelica has written for the 48 Hours in Harlem Festival and won an Obie Award for co-producing the Fire This Time Festival. She and Ross Baum have developed Gun & Powder at Goodspeed Opera, Two River Theater, the Tisch Center for New Musicals, and the SigWorks Lab, with public presentations in the Broadway’s Future Songbook concert series at Lincoln Center and in the Drama League’s DirectorFest. Angelica received her BA in Theatre from UCLA, MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University, and MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU. www.angelicacheri.com

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.

In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country.

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Multimedia: André De Shields Receives 2018 Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award at the 33rd Annual Bistro Awards; Full List of Winners

Peter Anderson, Sherry Eaker, André De Shields, Amanda Rosenburg and Will Anderson. Photo by Lia Chang

On Monday night, Sherry Eaker, the former longtime Editor-in Chief of Back Stage, presented the 33rd Annual Bistro Awards Gala at Gotham Comedy Club in New York.

Producer Sherry Eaker. Photo by Lia Chang
Producer Sherry Eaker. Photo by Lia Chang

Tony Award winning choreographer and director George Faison (The Wiz) presented André De Shields, a two-time Tony nominee, Drama Desk nominee, Emmy winner and multi-Audelco Award and Outer Critics Circle Award winner, with the 2018 Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award, the Bistro Awards’ highest honor, for his five decades of stage and nightclub accomplishments.

The actor-singer-dancer-choreographer made his mark on Broadway in the title role of The Wiz, which was followed by the long-running Ain’t Misbehavin’Stardust: The Mitchell Parish MusicalPlay On!, and The Full Monty. Mr. De Shields embraced cabaret early on. Beginning in the ’70s, he created a string of original shows that performed at such landmark New York clubs as Gypsy’s, the Grand Finale, Reno Sweeney, Les Mouches, the Club at La MaMa, the Horn of Plenty, Greene Street, as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London. In 1984, he co-wrote, choreographed, co-directed, and starred in the Broadway musical revue Andre De Shields’ Haarlem Nocturne. More recent appearances have included Joe’s Pub and the Laurie Beechman Theatre.

Director Shellen Lubin, Honorees Shemekia Copeland and André De Shields, and producer Sherry Eaker. Photo by Lia Chang
Director Shellen Lubin, Honorees Shemekia Copeland and André De Shields, and producer Sherry Eaker. Photo by Lia Chang

Shellen Lubin was at the helm of the Bistro Awards’ festivities for the sixth year in a row, which featured performances by all of the 2018 Bistro Award winners. The Bistros Band included Daryl Kojak (musical director and piano), Rex Benicasa (drums and percussion) and Ritt Henn (bass).

Rex Benincasa, Marlene Daniels, Ritt Henn, André De Shields, Daryl Kojak, Freida Williams and Larry Spivack. Photo by Lia Chang
Rex Benincasa, Marlene Daniels, Ritt Henn, André De Shields, Daryl Kojak, Freida Williams and Larry Spivack. Photo by Lia Chang

The grand finale of the evening featured, Mr. De Shields, his back up singers –  Marlene Daniels and Freida Williams, Larry Spivak, Daryl Kojak (piano), Rex Benincasa (drums and percussion) and  Ritt Henn (bass).

Larry Spivack, Daryl Kojak, André De Shields, Frieda Williams, Marlene Daniels, Ritt Henn. Photo by Lia Chang
Larry Spivack, Daryl Kojak, André De Shields, Frieda Williams, Marlene Daniels, Ritt Henn. Photo by Lia Chang

Check out the video below which features Mr. Faison presenting the award to Mr. De Shields and excerpts of his performance. (video produced by Bev’s Girl Films’ Garth Kravits and Lia Chang.

Ms. Eaker, the producer of the event since its inception, heads up the Awards Committee that includes BistroAwards.com critics Gerry Geddes, Roy Sander, Robert Windeler, and Mark Dundas Wood. Sander is also the award show’s associate producer; Wendy Lane Bailey is the assistant producer.

Congrats to all of the winners. Check out the full list below and the run of show. 

Outstanding Contributions to the Art of Jazz
Sheila Jordan
“Better Than Anything”/”Dat Dere”

Outstanding Vocalist
Lisa Yaeger
“America”

Outstanding Director
Jeff Harnar
“Let’s Get Away From It All”/”How About You” (Dawn Derow)

Outstanding Creative Artistry
Salty Brine
“Gotta Get Up”

Outstanding Theme Show – Carried Away
Amy Beth Williams
“Story of Isaac”

ASCAP Award for Outstanding Revue – It Helps to Sing About It: The Songs of Ben Schaechter & Dan Kael
Ben Schaechter, Dan Kael, Sara Louise Lazarus

Outstanding Singer/Instrumentalist
Rachelle Garniez
“Grasshopper”

Bistro associate producer Wendy Lane Bailey, Bistro recipient harpist Maria Banks who is part of the "Thank You for Your Love" team and producer Sherry Eaker. Photo by Lia Chang
Bistro associate producer Wendy Lane Bailey, Bistro recipient harpist Maria Banks who is part of the “Thank You for Your Love” team and producer Sherry Eaker. Photo by Lia Chang

Outstanding Tribute Show – Thank You for Your Love: Our Celebration of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt  
Starring Carole Demas and Sarah Rice (both of whom played Luisa in the original production of The Fantasticks), directed by Charles Repole, and with accompaniment by musical director Joe Goodrich on piano and Maria Banks on harp and illuminating projections by producer Stuart J. Allyn, it is rich with marvelous singing, trenchant song interpretations, and a great deal of heart.
“A Man and a Woman”

Outstanding Solo Play – A Life Behind Bars
Dan Ruth

Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award
Mary Sue Daniels
“When I Was a Boy”

Outstanding New York Debut
Katie McGrath
“Up On the Roof”

Outstanding Instrumentalists Award
Peter and Will Anderson
“Cheek to Cheek”

Peter Anderson and Will Anderson. Photo by Lia Chang
Peter Anderson and Will Anderson. Photo by Lia Chang

Outstanding Producer’s Award
Shemekia Copeland
“Beat Up Old Guitar”

Shemekia Copeland. Photo by Lia Chang
Shemekia Copeland. Photo by Lia Chang

Consummate Cabaret Artistry
Marta Sanders
“I’m Still Here”

Marta Sanders. Photo by Lia Chang
Marta Sanders. Photo by Lia Chang

Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award
André De Shields
“Let the Good Times Roll”
Accompanied by Marlene Daniels, Freida Williams, Larry Spivack, Daryl Kojak (musical director and piano), Rex Benicasa (drums and percussion) and Ritt Henn (bass).

André De Shields and Marlene Daniels. Photo by Lia Chang
André De Shields and Marlene Daniels. Photo by Lia Chang

www.BistroAwards.com.

Producer Sherry Eaker and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang
Producer Sherry Eaker and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

The BISTRO AWARDS has been recognizing, encouraging, nurturing, and educating cabaret, jazz and comedy artists for 33 years through its insightful reviews and annual awards. It is the oldest award of its kind in the industry. It was established by Bob Harrington in 1985 in his “Bistro Bits” column in the trade weekly Back Stage, then under the editorship of Sherry Eaker. For the first few years, the awards were merely listed in Harrington’s column as notable performances he had seen during the calendar year. The first formal presentation of the awards was held in 1990 at Eighty Eight’s, a popular cabaret venue in the West Village. From there, the show moved on to The Ballroom in Chelsea, and then relocated to the Supper Club in the Broadway District, where it remained for many years. This year marks the 12th year at Gotham Comedy Club.

The guidelines that Harrington set up for himself to determine the first winners have become the basic philosophy behind the Bistro Awards, which recognize achievement in a wide variety of categories — from outstanding performances to outstanding contributions by members of the cabaret community. The object is not to choose the “best” of anything of the year, but to recognize and congratulate the accomplishments of those who have done something special. Accordingly, categories can easily be created from year to year as they best fit the year’s distinguished work.

Yvonne Curry, Vinie Burrows, André De Shields and Joan Jeffri. Photo by Lia Chang
Yvonne Curry, Vinie Burrows, André De Shields and Joan Jeffri. Photo by Lia Chang
Joan Jeffri, André De Shields, Vincent Phram, Yvonne Curry and Michael Dinwiddie. Photo by Lia Chang
Joan Jeffri, André De Shields, Vincent Phram, Yvonne Curry and Michael Dinwiddie. Photo by Lia Chang
Howard Schein, Burton Schein, Petra Schein, André De Shields, Ritt Henn and Beth Falcone. Photo by Lia Chang
Howard Schein, Burton Schein, Petra Schein, André De Shields, Ritt Henn and Beth Falcone. Photo by Lia Chang

Some of the Bistro’s special honorees have included Darlene Love (2017), Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross (2016), Ben Vereen (2014); Lainie Kazan and Maurice Hines (2013); Kaye Ballard, Melissa Manchester, and Dee Dee Bridgewater (2012); Dionne Warwick and Carol Channing (2011); Mitzi Gaynor and Elaine Stritch (2010); Charles Aznavour and Liza Minnelli (2009); Marilyn Maye (2008); Betty Buckley (2007); Steve Ross (2006); as well as Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, Bobby Short, Eartha Kitt, Barbara Cook, and many others.

Rex Benincasa, Marlene Daniels, Ritt Henn, Sherry Eaker, André De Shields, Daryl Kojak, Freida Williams and Larry Spivack. Photo by Lia Chang
Rex Benincasa, Marlene Daniels, Ritt Henn, Sherry Eaker, André De Shields, Daryl Kojak, Freida Williams and Larry Spivack. Photo by Lia Chang

BroadwayWorld Photo Flash: André Robin De Shields, Marta Sanders, Peter and Will Anderson, Shemekia Copeland And More Among 2018 #BistroAward Recipients

André De Shields, Charles Busch, Len Cariou and More Celebrate Vinie Burrows at Theater for the New City’s Annual LOVE N’ COURAGE Gala 

André De Shields and Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits.
André De Shields and Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits.

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com

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Two-time Tony Nominee and Emmy Winner André De Shields and Renowned Jazz Artist Sheila Jordan Among the Honorees at the 33rd ANNUAL BISTRO AWARDS GALA on March 12

Tad Schnugg, André and George Faison backstage at Yale's Rep's production of SEVEN GUITARS on December 1, 2016. Photo by Lia Chang

André De Shields, a two-time Tony nominee, Drama Desk nominee, Emmy winner and multi-Audelco Award and Outer Critics Circle Award winner and internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan are among the artists who will be honored at the 33rd Annual Bistro Awards Gala on Monday, March 12 at 6:30 pm at Gotham Comedy Club, 208 W. 23rd St.  As is the Bistro Award tradition, the evening will feature performances by all of the winners.

Mr. De Shields is receiving the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award, the Bistro Awards’ highest honor, for his five decades of stage and nightclub accomplishments. The actor-singer-dancer-choreographer made his mark on Broadway in the title role of The Wiz, which was followed by the long-running Ain’t Misbehavin’Stardust: The Mitchell Parish MusicalPlay On!, and The Full Monty.

He embraced cabaret early on. Beginning in the ’70s, he created a string of original shows that performed at such landmark New York clubs as Gypsy’s, the Grand Finale, Reno Sweeney, Les Mouches, the Club at La MaMa, the Horn of Plenty, Greene Street, as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London. In 1984, he co-wrote, choreographed, co-directed, and starred in the Broadway musical revue Andre De Shields’ Haarlem Nocturne. More recent appearances have included Joe’s Pub and the Laurie Beechman Theatre.

Tony award-winning choreographer George Faison (The Wiz) will be on hand to present the award to Mr. De Shields.

Tad Schnugg, André De Shields and George Faison backstage at Yale's Rep's production of SEVEN GUITARS on December 1, 2016. Photo by Lia Chang
Tad Schnugg, André De Shields and George Faison backstage at Yale’s Rep’s production of SEVEN GUITARS on December 1, 2016. Photo by Lia Chang

Because of her lifelong dedication to music as a unique and influential jazz vocalist, interpreter, songwriter, teacher, and mentor, Ms. Jordan is being honored for Outstanding Contributions to the Art of Jazz. Legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker, a great influence on her, would introduce her as “the singer with the million dollar ears.” Her trademarks are her uncompromising style, her ability to improvise lyrics, and unexpected sweeping changes of pitch. Her preference for bass and voice led to her collaboration with bassist Cameron Brown, with whom she has been touring internationally for over 20 years. She is a recipient of a 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, and is the subject of Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan by Ellen Johnson, which was described by the Huffington Post as a “truly American success story.”

A New York cabaret artist since the ’70s, Marta Sanders is being recognized for her Consummate Cabaret Artistry. Acclaimed early in her career, her artistry has grown thrillingly since then, and now her performances can be viewed as master classes in the art of song interpretation.

Blues singer Shemekia Copeland is the recipient of the Bistro’s first Producer’s Award. Daughter of blues guitarist-singer Johnny Copeland, she displays a powerful, gutsy voice that can also be soft and sultry, and has an uncanny ability to connect to her audience with both songs and stories.

This year’s Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award—given to an outstanding performer on the rise and named after Back Stage’s co-founder, co-publisher, and first nightclub critic—goes to Mary Sue Daniels, who made her New York cabaret debut with a show that charmingly captures her growing-up years in Montana through her straightforward, persuasive delivery of personal anecdotes and an impeccable selection of songs.

The multi-Bistro Award-winning singer Jeff Harnar this year gets the nod as Outstanding Director for his ability to shape shows that score solidly as entertainments while at the same time doing justice to the performers’ expression of emotion and exploration of character.

Lisa Yaeger is being acknowledged as Outstanding Vocalist not only for her impressive vocal ability, but also for the subtlety of her interpretations and for being able to handle a diversity of musical genres with natural ease.

Recipient of our Outstanding Singer-Instrumentalist Award, Rachelle Garniez plays accordion, guitar, bells, and piano, sometimes making them sound like extensions of her own similarly versatile voice, and her original songs are as fresh and delightful as are her performances.

The Bistro’s Outstanding Instrumentalists Award is being presented to twin brothers who will surely knock your socks off when you hear them playing either jazz saxophone or clarinet. Peter and Will Anderson bring a fresh perspective to classic jazz and have performed extensively with some of the top jazz musicians at some of the top jazz venues in the country.

Salty Brine is one of the most unique artists the Committee has ever seen. The show he wrote and performed in 2017 was in part a discussion of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, in part a performance of the songs on a Harry Nilsson album, and in part a recollection of Salty’s youthful experiences at a boys’ camp–all woven together to create an unforgettable cabaret/theatrical experience. The Bistros are recognizing his talent with an Award for Creative Artistry.

The theme of Amy Beth Williams’s show Carried Away is war, and while the enterprise contains a number of songs related to armed combat, she takes a far broader view of the conflicts between people; the result is a vibrant tapestry of human experience, which is being honored as Outstanding Theme show.

Songwriters were the focus of two shows that caught the Bistro Committee’s attention. Thank You for Your Love: Our Celebration of Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt is being honored as Outstanding Tribute Show. Starring Carole Demas and Sarah Rice (both of whom played Luisa in the original production of The Fantasticks), directed by Charles Repole, and with accompaniment by musical director Joe Goodrich on piano and Maria Banks on harp and illuminating projections by producer Stuart J. Allyn, it is rich with marvelous singing, trenchant song interpretations, and a great deal of heart. And the songwriting team of Ben Schaechter and Dan Kael wrote It Helps to Sing About It, the Bistro Awards’ pick for Outstanding Revue. Under the savvy guidance of director Sara Louise Lazarus, this smart, joyous entertainment puts one in mind of the golden time when sparkling revues of original material were a staple of the theatre and club scene.

In his A Life Behind Bars, being honored as Outstanding Solo Play, writer-actor Dan Ruthdelivers a compelling story in a funny, heartfelt, and at times touching account of his struggles to make it as an actor in New York by tending bar. To top it off, he brilliantly plays all the crazy and mad characters he meets along the way.

Finally, making an Outstanding New York Debut with her show Significant Others, Katie McGrath relates her personal story through words and songs that flow seamlessly and winningly together.

For the sixth year in a row, Shellen Lubin is directing the Bistro Awards evening. A theatre director, playwright, songwriter, and vocal and acting coach, Shellen is also in the forefront of attaining parity for women in the arts.

The gala event will be held on Monday, March 12 at 6:30 pm at Gotham Comedy Club. 208 W. 23rd Street. Sherry Eaker, the former longtime Editor-in Chief of Back Stage and the producer of the event since its inception, heads up the Awards Committee that includes BistroAwards.com critics Gerry GeddesRoy SanderRobert Windeler, and Mark Dundas Wood. Sander is also the award show’s associate producer; Wendy Lane Bailey is the assistant producer.

Premium Tickets are $150.00; General Admission tickets are $80.00. Ticket-buyers in both categories are invited to the “After-Bistros” party as guests of the Bistros. For details about the various ticket categories and early purchase prices, visit www.BistroAwards.com.

For additional information, call Sherry Eaker at 917-239-5467.

Following is a complete list of the winners who are being recognized for their outstanding work:

André De Shields / Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award
Sheila Jordan / Outstanding Contributions to the Art of Jazz
Marta Sanders / Consummate Cabaret Artistry
Shemekia Copeland / Producer’s Award
Mary Sue Daniels/ Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award
Jeff Harnar / Director
Lisa Yaeger / Vocalist
Rachelle Garniez / Singer – Instrumentalist
Peter and Will Anderson / Instrumentalists
Salty Brine / Creative Artistry
Amy Beth Williams / Theme Show – Carried Away
Thank You for Your Love: Our Celebration of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt / Tribute Show – Carole Demas, Sarah Rice, Charles Repole, Joe Goodrich, Maria Banks, Stuart J. Allyn
It Helps to Sing About It: The Songs of Ben Schaechter & Dan Kael / Revue – Ben Schaechter, Dan Kael, Sara Louise Lazarus
Dan Ruth / Solo Play – A Life Behind Bars
Katie McGrath / New York Debut

The BISTRO AWARDS has been recognizing, encouraging, nurturing, and educating cabaret, jazz and comedy artists for 33 years through its insightful reviews and annual awards. It is the oldest award of its kind in the industry. It was established by Bob Harrington in 1985 in his “Bistro Bits” column in the trade weekly Back Stage, then under the editorship of Sherry Eaker. For the first few years, the awards were merely listed in Harrington’s column as notable performances he had seen during the calendar year. The first formal presentation of the awards was held in 1990 at Eighty Eight’s, a popular cabaret venue in the West Village. From there, the show moved on to The Ballroom in Chelsea, and then relocated to the Supper Club in the Broadway District, where it remained for many years. This year marks the 12th year at Gotham Comedy Club.

The guidelines that Harrington set up for himself to determine the first winners have become the basic philosophy behind the Bistro Awards, which recognize achievement in a wide variety of categories — from outstanding performances to outstanding contributions by members of the cabaret community. The object is not to choose the “best” of anything of the year, but to recognize and congratulate the accomplishments of those who have done something special. Accordingly, categories can easily be created from year to year as they best fit the year’s distinguished work.

Some of the Bistro’s special honorees have included Darlene Love (2017), Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross (2016), Ben Vereen (2014); Lainie Kazan and Maurice Hines (2013); Kaye Ballard, Melissa Manchester, and Dee Dee Bridgewater (2012); Dionne Warwick and Carol Channing (2011); Mitzi Gaynor and Elaine Stritch (2010); Charles Aznavour and Liza Minnelli (2009); Marilyn Maye (2008); Betty Buckley (2007); Steve Ross (2006); as well as Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, Bobby Short, Eartha Kitt, Barbara Cook, and many others.

André De Shields, Charles Busch, Len Cariou and More Celebrate Vinie Burrows at Theater for the New City’s Annual LOVE N’ COURAGE Gala 

Lia Chang. Photo by Lori Tan Chinn
Lia Chang. Photo by Lori Tan Chinn

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com

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André De Shields, Charles Busch, Len Cariou and More Celebrate Vinie Burrows at Theater for the New City’s Annual LOVE N’ COURAGE Gala

Len Cariou, Honoree Vinie Burrows and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

Last night, actress and activist Vinie Burrows was honored at Theater for the New City’s annual LOVE N’ COURAGE Gala, held at The Players Club in New York City.

Len Cariou, Vinie Burrows and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang
Len Cariou, Vinie Burrows and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

Ms. Burrows, now 89-years-strong,  was saluted and celebrated for her contributions to the life and culture of New York City, with a special emphasis on the Lower East Side, where Theater for the New City has withstood the test of time and gentrification, having recently paid off its mortgage on its theater complex at 155 First Ave. (10th St.)

André De Shields and Charles Busch. Photo by Lia Chang
André De Shields and Charles Busch. Photo by Lia Chang

Hosted by Phoebe Legere (who also performed), the program featured performances by André De Shields, Charles Busch, Glitter Kitty Dance, Luba Mason, KT Sullivan, Malik Work, TNC After School, Yip Harburg Foundation Rainbow Troupe, Human Kinetics Movement Arts, Chinese Theatre Works and selected readings from new plays by TNC emerging writers: NORTHBOUND by Marvalee Peart and FAT ASSES, THE MUSICAL by Peter Zachari.

Larry Spivack and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang
Larry Spivack and André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang
Vinie Burrows. Photo by Lia Chang
Vinie Burrows. Photo by Lia Chang

Ms. Burrows appeared on Broadway in the 1950’s and 60’s in MANDINGO, THE PONDER HEART, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, MRS. PATTERSON, THE GREEN PASTURES and THE WISTERIA TREES. Her other numerous stage productions during her long career, include SISTER! SISTER!, BEL CANTO and BLACK ON THE GREAT WHITE WAY: THE STORY OF ROSE McCLENDON. She has been active at the United Nations Economic and Social Council on the issues of the status of women and Southern Africa, and as an associate of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press. She received the Paul Robson Award in 1986.

About the decision to honor Ms. Burrows, TNC’s leader Crystal Field remarks, “Vinie Burrows ‘is a magnificent performer.’ So said the New York Times. She is ‘one of the reigning divas of the Black Theater.’ So said Clive Barnes. But Vinie Burrows is more than a performer. She is a true activist, capable of changing the world. At the United Nations she serves as permanent representative for the Women’s National Democratic Federation. And to add to this glorious life, she finds time to be a deep and dear friend to Theater for the New City. TNC is proud to be a like mind to a Mover and Shaker who writes, ‘The future of the planet rests on people coming together to save the earth and all living things. It is 5 minutes to midnight. Come together, brothers and sisters.’”

Ngo Gia Thuan, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations, Theater for the New City's Executive Director Crystal Fields, honoree Vinie Burrows and Ambassador Pham Thi Kim Anh, Deputy Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations. Photo by Lia Chang
Ngo Gia Thuan, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations, Theater for the New City’s Executive Director Crystal Fields, honoree Vinie Burrows and Ambassador Pham Thi Kim Anh, Deputy Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations. Photo by Lia Chang

Proceeds from the evening benefit the company’s ever-important program that supports emerging playwrights.

THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY – Now in its 45th year, is a unique Cultural Institution that has earned a nationwide reputation for its dedication to nurturing established and emerging playwrights who experiment with new forms and to presenting other experimental and developmental theaters with a very active program of Community Art Services and Festivals which continue to expand theater accessibility. www.theaterforthenewcity.net

Honoree Vinie Burrows, André De Shields, Grace Jones and Rome Neal. Photo by Lia Chang
Honoree Vinie Burrows, André De Shields, Grace Jones and Rome Neal. Photo by Lia Chang
Rhonda Ross, Rome Neal, Honoree Vinie Burrows, André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang
Rhonda Ross, Rome Neal, Honoree Vinie Burrows, André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

André De Shields and Lia Chang. Photo by Barry Gordon
André De Shields and Lia Chang. Photo by Barry Gordon

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com

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André De Shields, Charles Busch, KT Sullivan, Luba Mason & More Set for Theater for the New City’s Gala Tribute to Actress and Activist VINIE BURROWS on February 26

Vinie Burrows
Vinie Burrows
Vinie Burrows

Theater for the New City’s annual LOVE N’ COURAGE Gala – which benefits the company’s ever-important program that supports emerging playwrights – will be held this year on Monday, February 26 at 6 pm at the Players (16 Gramercy Park South) in New York City.

As it does each year, this 15th annual bash will honor a distinguished individual for his/her contributions to the life and culture of New York City, with a special emphasis on the Lower East Side, where Theater for the New City has withstood the test of time and gentrification, having recently paid off its mortgage on its theater complex at 155 First Ave. (10th St.)

This year, LOVE N’ COURAGE will salute the actress and activist Vinie Burrows, now 89-years-strong: Ms. Burrows has appeared on Broadway in the 1950’s and 60’s in MANDINGO, THE PONDER HEART, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, MRS. PATTERSON, THE GREEN PASTURES and THE WISTERIA TREES. Her other numerous stage productions during her long career, include SISTER! SISTER!, BEL CANTO and BLACK ON THE GREAT WHITE WAY: THE STORY OF ROSE McCLENDON. She has been active at the United Nations Economic and Social Council on the issues of the status of women and Southern Africa, and as an associate of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press. She received the Paul Robson Award in 1986.

About the decision to honor Ms. Burrows, TNC’s leader Crystal Field remarks, “Vinie Burrows ‘is a magnificent performer.’ So said the New York Times. She is ‘one of the reigning divas of the Black Theater.’ So said Clive Barnes. But Vinie Burrows is more than a performer. She is a true activist, capable of changing the world. At the United Nations she serves as permanent representative for the Women’s National Democratic Federation. And to add to this glorious life, she finds time to be a deep and dear friend to Theater for the New City. TNC is proud to be a like mind to a Mover and Shaker who writes, ‘The future of the planet rests on people coming together to save the earth and all living things. It is 5 minutes to midnight. Come together, brothers and sisters.’”

LOVE N’ COURAGE each year includes an entertainment program, which this February will feature Charles Busch, André De Shields, Phoebe Legere, Glitter Kitty Dance, Luba Mason, KT Sullivan, Malik Work, TNC After School, Yip Harburg Foundation Rainbow Troupe, Human Kinetics Movement Arts, Chinese Theatre Works and reading selections from new plays by TNC emerging writers: NORTHBOUND by Marvalee Peart and FAT ASSES, THE MUSICAL by Peter Zachari.

LOVE N’ COURAGE will be hosted by Phoebe Legere and Matt Morillo. Mary Tierney is Chairperson for the event.

The late Betsy Von Furstenberg, a longtime supporter of Theater for the New City once remarked, “LOVE N’ COURAGE is a Valentine Gala, especially for the young writers who make Theater for the New City one of the most important theaters in this country.”

THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY – Now in its 45th year, is a unique Cultural Institution that has earned a nationwide reputation for its dedication to nurturing established and emerging playwrights who experiment with new forms and to presenting other experimental and developmental theaters with a very active program of Community Art Services and Festivals which continue to expand theater accessibility.

To purchase tickets to LOVE N’ COURAGE, visit the TNC website: www.theaterforthenewcity.net or call 212 254 1109.

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East West Players Honors Tzi Ma, Lily Mariye and Dwight Stuart Youth Fund At 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards on April 30

Lily Mariye and Tzi Ma

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest producing organization of Asian Pacific American artistic work, celebrates THE COMPANY WE KEEP, its 52nd Anniversary season with the Annual Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. Recognizing the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft, the gala fundraiser takes place on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City. Proceeds benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

The three honorees are:

Tzi Ma
Tzi Ma

Tzi Ma, actor and director. Having started his acting career in theatre in New York City in 1973, Ma has an impressive number of theatre credits and has worked with some of America’s most gifted playwrights. He has had numerous works written specifically for him, such as The Dance and the Railroad by David Henry Hwang, for which Ma won a CINE Golden Eagle Award, a Dramalogue Award for Best Director, and a Dramalogue Award for Best Choreographer (at EWP); and In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe by Eric Overmyer. Ma also collaborated with Mr. Hwang on FOB, Flower Drum Song (Garland Award nomination for Best Actor and Los Angeles City Council Citation), Yellow Face, and the film Golden Gate. His most recent films include Arrival, Sky Scraper, Mediation Park (Best Actor nomination from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television), and Pali Road (Jury Award on outstanding contribution to diversity in film).