Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Andre Benjamin Channels Jimi Hendrix In Biopic

By Darlene Donloe

To many Jimi Hendrix was and still is a rock ‘n roll god. How he came to claim his throne amongst other legends atop the music industry is told in the film, Jimi: All Is By My Side.

OutKast’s André Benjamin stars as the legendary musical icon in the biopic written and directed by Academy Award-winning writer/director John Ridley (12 Years A Slave).

Ridley has crafted a film that effectively captures the mood and feel of the 60s.

The film covers a year in Hendrix's life from 1966-67 when he was an unknown backup guitarist playing New York's Cheetah Club, hoping to make his mark in London's music scene through his Monterey Pop appearance when his career took off.

Hendrix, who liked to push his music to the limit, was a riddle during his short stint in the limelight. He was bright, but vague, talented, but conflicted. He wasn’t conflicted about his music. In that he was confident. It was how he was going to present himself to the world that seemed to pull at him. Well, that and his obviously tumultuous relationship with his father. Hendrix seemed, at times, to be a reluctant participant in his own success. As talented as he was, he initially refused to sing because he didn’t like his own voice. Once he did sing, he would often turn his back on the audience. His road to becoming a rock legend was short, but rocky.   

Andre Benjamin

Benjamin gives a stellar performance as Hendrix.  He gives Hendrix, an introvert who floated amongst the clouds, a human persona.

What was surprisingly missing from the film was lots of music. Music drove Hendrix, it could have done the same with the film.  It seems Ridley wanted a character study instead.

Benjamin delivers in the role. He is clicking on all cylinders as Hendrix. He has the voice, the cadence, the gait, the hair, the stride and the slow and deliberate repartee.

Hendrix was discovered by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) while playing in New York’s Cheetah Club. Keith, who was Keith Richard’s girlfriend at the time, saw something in him that he didn’t see in himself. She saw a rock star!! Poots is exceptional in the role.

The film also delves into the relationship between Hendrix and Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), a woman he meets in a pub, who quickly becomes his steady companion. Atwell is fierce as Etchingham.

Jimi Hendrix
This movie, presented in a slow and steady pace, is worth seeing. Fans on Hendrix will not be disappointed. Well, maybe they will because there isn’t a lot of music in the film. But, if they wanted to know the genius that was Hendrix, they will applaud as the credits roll.
The film also stars Ruth Negga, Andrew Buckley and Ashley Charles.

Jimi: All Is By My Side, currently in limited release, is RATED R for language, sexual references and drug content; Running time: 1 hr, 56 min.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Jimi: All Is By My Side gets an E (excellent).

'The Trip To Bountiful' Is A Pleasant Ride

By Darlene Donloe

Horton Foote’s The Trip To Bountiful is proof that a good story is colorblind.

The Trip To Bountiful, set in 1953 in Houston, Harrison and a country place in Texas, has had several incarnations. It was originally written, in 1953, as a teleplay by Horton Foote. It aired on NBC and starred Lillian Gish, Eileen Heckart and Eva Marie Saint. Gish and Saint reprised their roles when the show went to Broadway later that year. In the 1985 film version Geraldine Page took over the role of Carrie and won the Academy Award for Best Actress.  The characters, of course, were white.

This latest manifestation of the Tony-nominated Broadway revival, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through Nov. 2, stars Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood, Vanessa Williams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and, save for two white characters, a predominantly black ensemble.

Director Michael Wilson has a valid cast.

This production is full of drama with comedy thrown in for good measure.

(l-r) Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams

Tyson, the star of the show, is brilliant in her role as Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who wants to go back home to Bountiful, Texas just one more time. Every so often she makes her escape from her son and daughter’s home and attempts to make her way to Bountiful. Whether dramatic or comedic, Tyson delivers all of her line with strength and panache. She has one-on-one scenes with every main character in the show – and she nails them all. She’s intoxicating to watch. What is most impressive is the stamina Tyson appears to have in a physically demanding show. She is on stage throughout most of the play.

Underwood plays her son, Ludie, a man who at one time was broken, but is working his way back to his true self. Underwood shows Ludie’s vulnerable side. He clearly has some issues. He’s torn between making his headstrong wife, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams), happy as well as his determined mother, Carrie.

Williams brings a controlling and self-centered vibe to the self-absorbed Jessie Mae. The character is so sickening it’s no wonder Carrie occasionally makes her escape. The audience finds itself rooting for her to take flight.

(l-r) Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams

Arthur French lends an elegance and wit to his role as the sympathetic small town bus station attendant.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who plays Thelma, a woman Carrie meets in the bus station, adds her spark to the production.

The costumes (Van Broughton Ramsey), lighting (Rui Rita) and set (Jeff Cowie) bring the story to life. However, when Carrie goes home to Bountiful, it would have added more depth to the scene to add either some sawdust or dust to the stage’s clean and shiny wood floors.

That being said, The Trip To Bountiful is worth the fare.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yes) and E (excellent), The Trip To Bountiful gets an E (excellent).

The Trip To Bountiful, by Horton Foote, is directed by Michael Wilson and stars Blair Underwood, Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Devon Abner, Wade Dooley, Arthur French, Pat Bowie, Russell Edge, Keiana Richard, Duane Shepard, Sr., Dalila Ali Rajah and Desean Kevin Terry.

The Trip To Bountiful, Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun., no Monday performances; Exceptions: Added 6:30 p.m. performance on Sundays, Oct. 5 and 19; Added 2 p.m. performance on Thurs., Oct. 30; No 1 p.m. performance on Sundays, October 5 and 19. No 8 p.m. performance on Tues., Oct. 28; Through Nov. 2; $25-$115; www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or 213 972-4400.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

4-Time Emmy Award Winner Dr. Eric J. Chambers Pens New Book

Dr. Eric J. Chambers
(Hollywood, CA) When 4-time Emmy Award winner Dr. Eric J. Chambers penned his book Dining With The Ancestors: When Heroes Come To Dinner, he asked one question.  “If you could have dinner with anyone from our illustrious Black History past, who would it be and what would you want to talk to them about?”
That is the question more than 200 African-American entertainers, professional athletes and notables have answered including Gladys Knight, Ne-Yo, Tyrese, Bishop TD Jakes, Yolanda Adams, Sheryl Underwood, Taraji P. Henson, Israel Houghton, Colin Kaepernick, Lolo Jones, John Wall, Donnie McClurkin, Charlie Wilson, India Arie, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Cedric The Entertainer.
Chambers, a Hollywood red carpet reporter, is turning the question and answers into a new coffee table Black History literacy picture book called Dining With The Ancestors: When Heroes Come To Dinner.
A fundraising campaign is underway at www.DiningWithTheAncestors.com and heʼs calling on as many people as possible to contribute, including sponsors. Visit the site to see a video trailer with sample answers, and be inspired.
Chambers first asked the question in 2004 while interviewing his late friend, Yolanda King, the eldest child of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, his wife. Yolanda sang the praises of her own mother during the interview that aired on Chambersʼ Jazzspel TV show that aired nationally on The Word Network. Now his show is airing on the CUT Network (Chambers Urban TV Network). It was then the idea of a book was born.
While looking at pictures of him at dinner with Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, his own hero and “surrogate grandmother,” and the mother of Emmett Louis Till, the civil rights icon, the idea of dinner with heroes was reborn. He began asking the question again, this time on the red carpets of Hollywood. “What a great question! What a great concept for a book!” exclaimed pop star Brandy. Said rap star Kendrick Lamar, “Thatʼs a good one.” He learned one of the superstars is a cousin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while another would have OJ Simpson as a dinner guest. Find out the answers in the book.
“This is such a unique way to teach Black History,” said Professor Alazar Tesfamariam, the Black Studies Department Chair at Chambersʼ alma mater, San Diego City College in San Diego, CA. “Iʼve never seen anything like it. This is going to be a one-of-a-kind, fun way to learn about Black History heroes, past and present,” said Tesfamariam, who Chambers credits as his Black History mentor.
The book, an imprint of his Who Dat?  Publishing venture, is slated for release on December 10, 2014 at a celebrity gala in Hollywood. He is also offering fans a unique opportunity to win dinner with him and a celebrity or two. He plans a book tour, visiting elementary and high schools, community colleges, HBCUs, state universities and Ivy League schools. And he plans to bring along celebrity heroes to some events.
A portion of the proceeds will go to The Harvest Of My Dreams Foundationʼs History Literacy Program that will teach and inspire African-American youth and young adults, as well as offer scholarships for higher learning.

Andrea McClurkin Mellini Opens on Praise Tour

Los Angeles, CA (September 25, 2014) -  Camdon Music Recording artist Andrea McClurkin- Mellini  recently hit the road as opening act for the 30 city Festival of Praise Tour .  The singer is doing double-duty as opening act and helping her brother, Donnie McClurkin, out as a background vocalist .  The audiences have been showing their love and support for Andrea.

The singer extends a personal invite to her Face Book friends about the tour, “We are looking for a true and tangible encounter with God each night! Come on out and worship The Lord with us!

McClurkin-Mellini’s first single, “God Can” from her new CD Higher is racking up spins on the Gospel R&R National Summary.  The Cincinnati, Ohio based I Hear Music Promotion team is  launching a “God Can” Essay contest in selected markets that require listeners to write an essay, 250 words or less, sharing what God did in their life and how “God Can.”   The top 10 essays will receive a copy of the CD Higher and a $50 Gift Card.   The winners will be announced in two weeks.

On Sunday, October 5 McClurkin –Mellini will perform at the Annual Circle of Sisters stage at the Jacob Javitz Center at 11th Avenue between 34th and 39th streets in New York.  Circle of Sisters (COS) is the largest expo for women of color in New York City. Founded in 1998 and sponsored by WBLS-FM, HOT 97, WLIB – AM and Emmis Communications, COS hosts a variety of panel discussions, seminars, inspirational services, R&B and gospel concerts and a fashion show in addition to over 200 vendors and small businesses selling unique items and services over a two day period. 

This year marks the 16th Anniversary for the WBLS/WLIB’s Circle of Sisters Expo and Andrea along label mate Nancey Jackson Johnson will be part of the line-up.  Three-time Grammy winner and head of Camdon Music, Donnie McClurkin, will be on hand for special performance as well.   Stay connected with Andrea on Face Book: Andrea Mellini and via website: Face Book, Andrea Mellini, Perfecting community Ministries and  www.camdonmusic.com 

Joey Sommerville Is An 'Overnight Sensation'

The soul-jazz trumpeter’s fifth album, due October 28, 
features Earl Klugh, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Bradshaw, 
Elan Trotman and Eric Essix.

Atlanta, Georgia (25 September 2014): Behind every musical overnight sensation are years of toiling away in rehearsal halls, recording studios and sweaty nightclubs meticulously honing one’s craft. In trumpeter Joey Sommerville’s case, it’s more than two decades of writing, recording and touring to cultivate his following and establish his presence on the national scene. On October 28, the award-winning soul-jazz musician, songwriter and producer will release a new collection of songs that he’s been working on as far back as 1993 that will comprise his fifth album, “Overnight Sensation,” slated for release on his Jayvox imprint. The title track will crank up the party when it is serviced to radio stations for airplay at the end of this month.  

Sommerville’s forte is serving as an impresario of fun and funky frolics and pretty harmonies that touch the heart. He wrote or co-wrote nine of the disc’s ten tracks and produced the entire session sharing production duties on two cuts with fusion icon Jeff Lorber. Like a ringmaster who skillfully unifies the eclectic acts of a three-ring circus, the trumpeter who also plays flugelhorn, piano, keyboards, synth bass and drum programming on the record has scripted a colorful collection of short stories with his horn serving as the common thread binding gripping chapters in contemporary and straight-ahead jazz, R&B, hip hop and rock.

“In this era of singles downloads, I still believe in the concept of albums and a cohesive body of music,” said the Atlanta, Georgia-based Sommerville, who will perform at an album launch gig there on October 30 at the Suite Food Lounge. “I’ve always wanted to record these songs and I really like them, but they didn’t fit on previous projects. They were all inspired by real life experiences thus they have meaning. The long journey that is a music career is a marathon, not a sprint, and the timing finally came around for these songs to be recorded for the first time. Surprisingly, they fit together despite being written over a long period of time and the variety in their sound and style.”

Sommerville’s trumpet seduces on the sensuous “Desire” highlighted by gossamer guitar from legend Earl Klugh. Venturing in a divergent tangent, Sommerville tosses a bone to Jeff Bradshaw on a raucous and imaginative take on “Caravan,” a scintillating thrill ride that Duke Ellington never would have seen coming. “Red Cups Up” is a playful party anthem while Sommerville surprises when he steps to the mic on the stunner “I Just Wanna Be With You” on which his husky voice quivers and cracks with raw emotion while crooning an autobiographic story of romance to his wife. A spiraling Lorber groove, “The Next Big Thing” is a tightly-wound R&B-jazz-funk mélange illumined by Sommerville’s trumpet and quirky synth along with a touch of sax from Elan Trotman. The elegiac “Rebecca of Birmingham” was penned years ago after Sommerville’s grandmother passed and is graced by a stirring blues-jazz guitar eulogy from Eric Essix. “Karma” induces reflection during the straight-ahead jazz exercise after which Sommerville closes the album with the throwback R&B instrumental “Forever” followed by the boisterous “The Passport Life.”                    

A spotlight soloist on the Grammy-nominated and Juno Award-winning album “Alegria” by Cirque du Soleil, Sommerville’s 2007 release “Like You Mean It” won the American Society of Young Musician’s All That Jazz Award in 2009. His trumpet artistry was featured on Hidden Beach Recordings’ “Unwrapped Volume 4” and he’s written and produced a Top 20 single for Bob Baldwin and an album by Rhonda Smith that features performances by Prince, Sheila E. and gospel icon Fred Hammond. Sommerville is a high-octane performer who is a regular at festivals and on music cruises. Outside of music, he can be heard voicing spots for BMW, Coke, Ford, the U.S. Army and more. Additional information can be found at www.JoeySommerville.com.    

The songs contained on the “Overnight Sensation” album are:

“Overnight Sensation”
“Red Cups Up”
“I Just Wanna Be With You”
“The Next Big Thing”
“Rebecca of Birmingham”
“The Passport Life”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blair Underwood Takes 'The Trip To Bountiful'

By Darlene Donloe

Every time he thinks about it, Blair Underwood can’t believe his good fortune.

Not only did he appear with Cicely Tyson in the television movie, The Trip To Bountiful, but this Friday he will appear, for the first time, on stage with the veteran actress he says he’s revered for years.

“It’s amazing when I think about,” says Underwood during a recent interview. “It never entered my mind that one day I would share a stage with Miss Tyson. I’ve always admired her work and now I’m going to appear on stage with her. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The Trip To Bountiful, starring Underwood, Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Jurnee Smollett-Bell, opens at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles on Fri., Sept 26.  It’s the story of an elderly woman named Carrie Watts who wants to return home to Bountiful, TX, just one more time.

The Trip To Bountiful has had several incarnations. It was originally written as a teleplay by Horton Foote in 1953. It aired on NBC and starred Lillian Gish, Eileen Heckart and Eva Marie Saint. Gish and Saint reprised their roles when the show went to Broadway later that year. In the 1985 film version Geraldine Page took over the role of Carrie and won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The play is set in 1953 in Houston, Harrison and a country place in Texas.

Blair Underwood and Cicely Tyson

Underwood plays Ludie Watts, the son of Carrie Watts. He’s  married to Jessie Mae, who is played by Vanessa Williams. While this will be his first time sharing a stage with ‘Miss Tyson’, Underwood, who, out of respect never calls the iconic actress ‘Cicely’, is no stranger to the stage.

He recently starred as Othello at the Old Globe in San Diego. He appeared in Purlie at Encores! opposite Anika Noni Rose, played Claudio in Measure for Measure at Shakespeare in the Park and made his Broadway debut as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire for which he received a 2012 Drama League Distinguished Performance Award nomination.

A veteran of several television series (L.A. Law, The Event, Sex and the City, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Dirty Sexy Money, Fatherhood, In Treatment, Ironside, City of Angels, LAX), Underwood, who shot to fame as Jonathan Rollins on the hit television drama, L.A. Law, is also a Grammy winner for the audiobook of An Inconvenient Truth. He’s one of those actors who likes to keep it moving. He’s as comfortable on stage as he is on television, as he is on film, as he is writing books.

I recently caught up with the handsome and charming Underwood to talk about the play and his career.

DD:  You are about to open in A Trip To Bountiful on an impressive and respected stage with none other than Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams. Describe that for me.

BU: The reason I wanted to do the play was because I have never worked with Miss Tyson on stage.  In Heatwave I played her grandson. I was also in Mama Flora’s Family, Madea’s Family Reunion with Miss Tyson, but never on stage. When we’re rehearsing sometimes I just sit in the wings and watch her.

DD:  How did you come to play Ludie in the Lifetime version?

BU: I got an invitation.  I got it the day Ironside was cancelled. I had seen the play on Broadway in previews. I was taken by it. Vanessa [Williams] I had known a little bit. The ‘Streetcar’ producers were doing it. I never thought I’d have the great fortune of working on this.

DD: Do you identify at all with Ludie?  From your perspective is he broken? Is he a coward? Is he weak to you?

BU:  Those were my first two questions – is he weak and is he a coward. I wanted to know if he and his wife were in love. Jessie Mae is very domineering.

(l-r) Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams

DD: So what did you decide about Ludie?

BU: My mother, my real mother went through depression. I’m a big advocate. We don’t talk about it in the black community. When he (Ludie) talks about how he was sick and in bed for two years and couldn’t get up. When he is rattled by loud noises and is under stress – I recognize it. My mother had a breakdown. She would rock back and forth. A depressed state is scary. If you understand it then you know the strongest of us can go through depression.

DD: Is Ludie depressed?

BU: It’s not identified as depression in the play. He’s not a weak man. Jessie wouldn’t be attracted to a weak man. When we meet this man it’s the day he’s going to ask for a raise. He’s uncertain of himself. He’s been working for six months when we see him. He’s a broken man and he’s putting the pieces back together. It’s a midlife crisis. He feels like a failure. Bountiful represents all the hope and promises that he never did.  It’s a healing place in a lot of ways. It’s a powerful and complex piece.

DD: Do you like Ludie?

BU: I like him. I see him as someone who is striving against all odds. He wants to bring peace to his life and his family.

DD: What adjustments do you make from doing it on television and now the stage?

BU: In a movie you can work at an actual location. There is the lack of continuity when you’re working on camera. Beyond that it’s about acting. On stage you can take the journey.

DD: In 2012 you appeared on Broadway in Streetcar Named Desire. That’s a dream for most actors. Describe Broadway.

BU: It’s interesting. The Broadway infrastructure is magical. The stakes are higher. It’s about that real estate. It’s interesting to know that at eight o’clock curtains are going up all over Broadway. It’s the Broadway family. It’s the culture of the theater. It’s a subculture. The world around the theater is what makes it magical.  It’s exciting. It’s a dream come true. 

Blair Underwood

DD: Television, film or theater. Do you have a preference?  

BU: Film and TV are not that different. How film is presented and distributed to the world is increased intrigue. The work is no different though. The best work is on television now.  Look at HBO, it’s a new frontier.  The game has completely changed. The draw is great scripts and characters. There is nothing like live theater. When we’re rehearsing we’re missing our dance partners – the audience. We see the audience and they see us right back.

DD: What have you learned working with Cicely Tyson?

BU: I call her mama. I’ve learned about stamina, humility and forward thinking, always thinking about the future. She’s an inspiration. She’s a vegetarian. She does 50 push ups a day – for real and not the girl type push ups.  With her it’s about electricity and passion. I’ve also had a great time working with Vanessa.

Cicely Tyson and Blair Underwood

DD: What do you know for sure as an actor?

BU: I know for sure that as an actor there is always room for growth and improvement. Complacency is your worse enemy.

DD: You’ve done a number of series. You’ve been consistent in your work.  What’s your secret?

BU: Diversifying. I don’t want to be put in a box. I don’t’ want to be stagnant. I want to grow. We’re all multi-faceted. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I created my own production company. I create my own opportunities. I team with writers, go out and option material.  I have a clothing line called The BU Collection. I’ve had it for three years. I’m now launching a personal care line that includes lotion, body spray, shampoo, body wash that’s all organic. Let’s be affordable, but let's have quality. All of my projects have a philanthropic component to it. Ultimately it’s about people. It’s about giving back.  It’s all about people.

DD: You had a big birthday recently.

BU: I turned 50 the first day of rehearsal. At this point you evaluate your life. I’m acting more. I’m working in this industry. I’m doing the things I hoped for as a kid.

DD: What is your philosophy about your career?

BU: If it makes sense, go do it.

The Trip To Bountiful, by Horton Foote, is directed by Michael Wilson and stars Blair Underwood, Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Devon Abner, Wade Dooley, Arthur French, Pat Bowie, Russell Edge, Keiana Richard, Duane Shepard, Sr., Dalila Ali Rajah and Desean Kevin Terry.

The Trip To Bountiful, Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun., no Monday performances; Exceptions: Added 6:30 p.m. performance on Sundays, Oct. 5 and 19;  Added 2 p.m. performance on Thurs., Oct. 30; No 1 p.m. performance on Sundays, October 5 and 19. No 8 p.m. performance on Tues., Oct. 28; Through Nov. 2; $25-$115; www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or 213 972-4400.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Angela Meryl Pens 'How To' Handbook On Stunts

By Darlene Donloe

Angela Meryl has literally kicked, fought and scratched her way to a successful career in Hollywood.

She’s appeared in numerous films and television shows, but the audience doesn’t have a clue about her identity. She’s worked with the likes of Beyonce (Obsessed), Halle Berry (Extant), Rihanna (Battleship), Sanaa Lathan (The Perfect Guy), Kimberly Elise (Dope) and Vivica Fox (Kill Bill) – but film and television fans have never seen her face – and for good reason.

That’s because for the last 14 years, Meryl has been a Hollywood stuntwoman.

She has bungee jumped, jumped off rooftops, fallen great heights from tall buildings, had numerous fist fights and ended up with her share of scrapes, bumps and bruises. And, this self-proclaimed tomboy loves every minute of it.

In what she calls a way of ‘giving back,’ the 5’7” veteran stuntwoman penned, Stunts: The How To Handbook, Secrets From An Award Winning Hollywood Stunt Woman, a tome on not only her career, but also a ‘how to’ for ‘would-be’ stunt enthusiasts interested in getting into the business.

I recently spoke to the New Jersey native and mother of one about her career, the book and what’s next.

DD: Lets start from the beginning. How did you get started doing stunts and when?

AM: I was a child playing around with my brother and his friend. I was doing things your parents don’t want you to do. You know, going for a ride on the hood of cars. I was on my brother’s hood, he stopped, I fell off. I hit my head. I was unconscious.  I was a tomboy.

DD: Is this in your blood? Do your sibling also like doing stunts.

AM: I have a brother and two sisters. None of them do stunts. My brother was a sniper. He’s a martial artist. He trains police. He’s in Maryland. He taught me a lot. It’s cool to have a brother who can do this stuff. We swap stories.

DD: What was your first stunt for pay?

AM: I did a film called, First Kid. The stunt was somebody bumping into me. It was about me giving a reaction.  Then, I was going down an escalator.  I had to get over my fear of escalators. I had a real fear of escalators. When I was a kid my shoelace got caught. I had to jump over the escalator while it was moving.

DD: How many takes to do the stunt?

AM: I think only three.

DD: How’d you get that gig?

AM: A friend was doubling Sinbad. It helps to know somebody in the business. It’s challenging if you don’t know anyone. I mean how do you start?  They don’t know anything. I wrote the book to help others get into business.

DD: How hard was it to really get into the business?

AM: I knew someone who was doing stunts. I still wanted to act. I wanted to do commercials. I did Dead Presidents with Larenz Tate. I had to drive down the street, make a left and stop.  That was my second job. Then I was recommended to do New York Undercover. From there I got another call to do something else. I didn’t know how lucrative it was. Didn’t know I could travel. My mind was expanding.

Angela Meryl and Beyonce in 'Obsessed'

DD: But you really wanted to act, right?

AM: Yes, I really wanted to act, but I knew I wanted to be physical. I wanted to model. I was doing catalog work and runway shows at the mall. I did makeup at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

DD: How does one prepare to become a stuntwoman?

AM: In the book I list places to train.  Gymnastics makes you aware of your body. Your core is stronger. One day you’re hanging from wires or racheted back. Some people, like Debbie Evans come from Motocross. They needed a woman who could ride a dirt bike. Some stuntwomen come from gymnastics, some come from Nascar. Some come from martial arts.

DD: Who were your mentors when you entered the industry?

AM: I had a mentor named Jay Lynch.  I was doing indie driving. You’re the background, the traffic. They needed cars to fill in for the main car.  He had been in the business. He had done New Jack City.  He was the bicyclist on New Jack City. He was a Motocross person.  There was also Kym Washington and her dad, Richard Washington.  Kym doubled Whoopi (Goldberg) We sat down and she started telling me things. She led me along. I became her little sister.

(l-r) Angela Meryl and Rihanna in 'Battleship'

DD: What do you consider your big break?

AM: Shaft. That was my first big movie and I doubled Vanessa Williams. I got to meet more people from LA. It made a bridge for me to come out to LA.  Then I doubled all the girls on New York Undercover and Law and Order.   I finally moved to LA. I was here for eight months. I got V.I.P. with Pamela Anderson. I had to do a caddy girl fight. I’m used to fighting closed fist. She was a girly girl. Then Time Machine was a big break. There were so many stunts I had to do doubling Samantha Mumba.  Eventually I started talking to people and they started telling me about work.

DD: What should everyone know who is interested in doing stunts?

AM: They should buy my book.

DD: Give us an idea of what’s in the book.

AM: There is a dictionary of terms in the back of the book. I also talk about set etiquette, hustling and social media.

DD:  You’re a black woman in Hollywood doing stunts – is there racism in that part of the industry?

AM: Of course there is. I just don’t decide to feed it. It’s your choice. Are you going to sit at home and complain about it?

DD:  So, in your business, it’s who you know?

AM: A lot of this is word of mouth. When you get the first job, you need to be thinking about the next one.  It’s who you know for sure.  It’s been 14 years in LA. I get calls now from people I don’t know.

DD: So, give us a hint about what people should do.

AM: Go to 'Stunt Phone'. That's a website people search looking for stunt performers. They need to hustle and look for productions. You’ve got to get out and physically meet these people.

DD: Did you write the book to tell your story or to help others get into the business?

AM:  It’s both. I’m telling my story and giving info to people coming into the business. I talk about what I’ve done and what works for me. I talk about the good and bad about the business. You’re employed and then you’re unemployed. I had great mentors. Coordinators would tell me stuff along the way. It’s only fair to give back.

DD: How many Black female stuntwomen are there?

AM: The number is growing. There are about 12-15. More than that want to get in and don’t know how. There are about 10 of us actually working.

DD: So on average how much do you work?

AM: About 10 days a month. I did Fast & Furious 7, Extant – one day here and there.   Longest time I went without work was two months.  I also worked on Ride Along 2, The Perfect Guy, Dope and Aquarius. I’ve been working consistently since the beginning of the year.

DD: What has been the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done? 

AM: I jumped out a building backwards. I was on the 33rd floor. It was fun.

DD: What won’t you do?

AM: I won’t do bungee jumping. Well, I should say, I won’t do it again. It was not fun. I was freefalling for 110 ft., that’s 11 stories.   I did it 4 times.

DD: How does a person prepare for danger?

AM:  It is dangerous. There are accidents and mistakes. I visualize first. Sometimes you don’t know until you get to work – what you’re doing. I visualize a lot. I visualize it step by step. I visualize the whole day. I always see myself going home to my daughter.

(l-r) Vivica Fox and Angela Meryl in 'Kill Bill'

DD: Stunt you’re most proud of?

AM:  Kill Bill is at the top of my list. I’m also proud of  Obsessed, The Perfect Guy and Fast 7. It’s my whole career. I’ve done a lot where I said, OMG, I want to do that again!

DD: I would think it’s just so long you can keep this up.

AM: I’m starting to get into cars. I’m doing 180 around corners and focusing on cars because I am getting older. Hitting the ground is not fun anymore.  I’m starting to get more car work.

DD: With everything you’ve done, what’s the worst injury?

AM:  It was on the movie, Kill Bill. I had to get stitches after going through a table.  I’ve been badly bruised – looking like I’ve gotten beat up. You need to have pads, like ice-skating pads.

DD: How long is the working life of a stuntwoman?

AM: it all depends on the person. How you’ve been taking care of yourself. After you’ve been slammed through glass, fall down the stairs – it can get tough. But you have to think about it. Do you take care of your body? Do you stretch? Do you exercise? For driving, you can drive into your 60s and 70s.

DD: What are the plus and minuses of being a stuntwoman?

AM: You get to travel. I’ve been to Hawaii, Turkey, Miami, Atlanta, Texas, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Connecticut. You could see the world. The minus is months without work. I have some friends that have worked one or two days a year.

DD: Do you care about awards?

AM:  I care.  It comes from your peers, your coworkers. It’s about people thinking you’re good at what you do. We want to compliment you. I feel honored.

DD: What’s next for you?

AM:  I’m doing Blue Bloods (CBS). I’m driving.

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Wayne Brady Stars In The Musical 'Kiss Me, Kate'

By Darlene Donloe

Watching Wayne Brady do his thing on stage is pure entertainment.

The moment he steps foot on the stage, the magic begins.

Brady, a five-time Emmy Award winner, is one of those triple-threat performers. You know the type. He’s one of the chosen few who got an extra helping of talent.  He can dance, he can sing and he can act.

He puts his talents to good use in Cole Porter’s Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate, now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse through October 12.

His charismatic personality, quick wit, impeccable timing and ability to engulf a stage is like a bolt of lightning. It’s electric.

In the play, Brady plays Fred/Petruchio to Merle Dandridge’s (Broadway’s Spamalot and Tarzan) Lilli/Kate.  The two of them together are like a breath of fresh air every time they are on stage.

Wayne Brady and Merle Dandridge

Dandridge nearly brings down the house with laughter with her rendition of I Hate Men.  Brady demonstrates his vocal ability with I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua, Were Thine That Special Face, Where Is The Life That Late I Led and, of course, Kiss Me, Kate.  

Throw in some other Cole Porter classics like, So In Love, Another Op’nin’ Another Show, Too Darn Hot and Brush Up Your Shakespeare and you’ve got a show.

Kiss Me, Kate is a Broadway musical and was also made into a 1953 MGM film adaptation. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, the show tells the tale of musical theater actors, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, who were once married and are now performing opposite each other in the roles of Petruchio and Katherine in a Broadway-bound musical version of William Shakespeare's play.

It sounds a bit confusing, but the show within a show is an infectious romp.

The nearly all-black cast generates enough energy to light up the city of Pasadena, especially in the second act’s opening number, Too Darn Hot.

Rogelio Douglas and Jenelle Lynn Randall

Sheldon Epps has fashioned a sexy, smoldering, smart and well-paced show with a stellar cast. There are numerous standouts in the production, including Joanna A. Jones who plays Lois/Bianca. Jones nearly steals the show with her rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion and Tom, Dick or Harry.  Jenelle Lynn Randall heats up the stage with her sizzling vocals including the opening song, Another Op’nin’, Another Show and Too Darn Hot – also featuring the fierce vocals of Rogelio Douglas.
Joanna A. Jones and Terrance Spencer

Brad Blaisdell and David Kirk Grant add the laughs as Thug #2 and Thug #1 respectively.

Epps’ direction is crisp, the music speaks for itself, the costumes (David K. Mickelsen), set (John Iacovelli) and lighting (Jared A. Sayeg) enhance the show.  The choreography (Jeffrey Polk) is fun and the band (Rahn Coleman, David Witham, Sal Lozano, Mark Converse, Ryan Cross, Dave Ryan, Nolan Shaheed, Brent Crayon and Jane Zwerneman) is tight.

Pucker up and spend a fantastic evening at the theater with Kiss Me, Kate!

Several celebrities were in the opening night audience, including Dawnn Lewis (A Different World), James Pickens, Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy), Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue), Jason George (Grey’s Anatomy) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle).

The opening night performance was held in conjunction with the Wells Fargo Theatrical Diversity Project fundraising event honoring Golden Globe and Emmy-winner Diahann Carroll, who was in attendance.

Also in attendance was 99 ½-year-old actress Patricia Morison, who originated the role of Kate and actress Ann Jeffreys, who headlined the first national tour in the role of Kate.

  (l-r) Armando Yearwood, Pat Towne, Kimberly Moore, Theresa Murray, Joanna A. Jones, Wayne Brady, Carlton Wilborn, Eric B. Anthony, Saudia Rashed, Jay Donnell, Shamicka Benn-Moser.

Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Sheldon Epps, stars Wayne Brady, Merle Dandridge, Joanna A. Jones, Terrance Spencer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Rogelio Douglas, Jr., David Kirk Grant, Brad Blaisdell and Pat Towne.

The ensemble features Eric B. Anthony, Jay Donnell, Kimberly Moore, Shamicka Benn-Moser, Theresa Murray, Saudia Rashed, Carlton Wilborn and Armando Yearwood, Jr.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah), E (excellent), Kiss Me, Kate get an E (excellent).

Kiss Me, Kate, Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 4 and 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 and 7 p.m. Sun. through Oct. 12; $57-$145; 626 356-7529 or PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

**all photos by Earl Gibson III

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Freda Payne Wows Crowd At CD Release Party

By Darlene Donloe

Freda Payne took the stage and wowed a packed and celebrity-peppered crowd that gathered for her joint CD release party and birthday celebration Friday night at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood.

The room was filled with well wishers, family and friends that included her sister, Scherrie Payne, James Pickens (Grey’s Anatomy), actresses Beverly Todd, Marla Gibbs and Angela Gibbs, Motown execs Iris Gordy and Karla Gordy-Bristol and her self-professed first boyfriend Quincy Jones, who went on stage to wax nostalgic of Payne’s notable talents.

“She’s always been a good singer and she’s always been beautiful,” said Jones.

Freda Payne and Quincy Jones

Still a stunner with flawless skin and envious curves, Payne’s nearly two-hour set was not only impressive, it proved she’s a skilled jazz and torch singer.

The balance of her set was filled with songs from her latest CD, Come Back To Me Love (her first for Mack Avenue’s Artistry Music imprint).  The CD, featuring 14 songs, marks a return to the big band and strings-laden classics from her mid-`60s beginnings with Impulse! and a return to her hometown of Detroit, which Payne affectionately called, “the big D”.

Freda Payne

The appreciative crowd, which broke out into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, came to not only support the songstress, but to hear what new musical offerings she had up her sleeve. A true veteran who lights up the stage, Payne, dressed in a long, brown sparkly gown, didn’t disappoint. Accompanied by a six-piece band that included Grammy winning jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe, Payne opened with the ditty, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.  She also sang Haven’t We Met, Whatever Happened To Me, Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry, The Island, I Should Have Told Him, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water, Lately, You Don’t Know, Midnight Sun, Save Your Love For Me and Come Back To Me Love – all from her current CD. The album features six selections penned by Gretchen Valade and Tom Robinson of Mack Avenue Records, as well as eight selections of golden favorites. In addition, during the concert, she also let loose a short version of Sweet Georgia Brown.

But the crowd was waiting with bated breath for her to sing her signature song, her most successful record, the Top 5 1970 hit, Band of Gold which, ironically, garnered her a gold record.  The crowd clapped, swayed and sang along as if the song was an old friend.