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Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) is pleased to announce the details of its 2012 season finale, Blackbird, The Story of Josephine Baker. The play is an original musical born from a longtime collaboration between Tony-nominated Playwright Sherman Yellen and award-winning composer and conductor, the late Wally Harper. The play follows six years of Josephine Baker’s life, 1919 to 1925, during which time she emerged from an unschooled, ghetto teenager street dancing in East St. Louis, to the beginning of her legendary career in Paris where she was instrumental in introducing the Jazz Age.
“This musical play was brought to my attention by Eva Slane, a board member who had seen a workshop production in 2002,” remarked WBTT’s Founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs. “It has all the elements that WBTT tries to incorporate when choosing a production. The focus is on the life of a well-recognized African American performer but it is so much more than that. The story illustrates the turmoil of African American life during the 1920s and the compromises they still had to make in this country, the very things that drove Josephine Baker to live and work in a more integrated Paris. Most people know something about Josephine Baker but this play shows some of the reasons why she became who she was. It’s a great African American story with terrific music; our kind of show!”
Dhakeria Cunningham plays the role of Josephine Baker. Earlier this season, Cunningham made her WBTT debut as Beneatha Younger, another strong-willed young woman in A Raisin in the Sun. The remainder of the cast includes four other Troupe members, each of whom play multiple roles. These strong and talented performers are Ariel Blue, Michael Mendez, Nate Jacobs and Tsadok Porter. Director and choreographer is Harry Bryce, who has directed many WBTT productions, including last season’s Five Guys Named Moe.
Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony award for his book for the musical “The Rothschilds,” and has collaborated in musical theater with such notables as Richard Rodgers, Lionel Bart, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Will Holt, and the late Wally Harper. Yellen’s libretto and lyrics for Blackbird was Mr. Harper’s final collaboration. Produced by Theatre Building Chicago in March 2006, this Jeff Award musical was described by the Chicago Sun Times as a “shining new musical…hugely enjoyable…a hit.”
The late Wally Harper worked as musical director, composer, conductor, dance arranger, and musical supervisor for many Broadway productions including Company, Irene, Peter Pan, The Grand Tour, Brigadoon, Nine, A Day In Hollywood/A Night In The Ukraine, Grand Hotel, My One And Only, and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. As a symphony conductor, Mr. Harper conducted such prestigious orchestras as the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Metropolitan Opera. He performed at The White House for four administrations. Donating his time and experience, Wally Harper served as guest lecturer for the Juilliard School and The Broadway Musical Theatre Project With Tel Aviv University.
“We are so honored to be able to present this fantastic musical to Sarasota audiences,” Jacobs continued. “Sherman Yellen and the late Wally Harper are renowned in the theater world. We are thrilled to have the ability to produce this important and exciting play and can’t wait for Sarasota to see it.”