Tony-winning choreographer George Faison (The Wiz) will mount his 25th Anniversary version of colored girls/when the rainbow is enuf at the American Place Theatre in New York with previews beginning June 6. The show opens June 11.
As reported earlier, Faison recently helmed a revival of Ntozake Shange's colored girls at Baltimore's Center Stage Theatre and again this spring at the Langston Hughes Theatre of the Schomberg Center in Harlem.
Shange's play gives voice to various aspects of life as a black woman, with different characters and their perspective defined by their costume, i.e., red, green, blue, yellow, blue and brown. colored girls earned a Tony nomination for Best Play and an Obie Award for Best Play in 1977, and helped define the "choreopoem" as a new form of storytelling. (Original colored girls cast member Trazana Beverley earned a 1977 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.)
The recent five-performance run of Shange's play at the Langston Hughes Theatre of the Schomberg Center in Harlem closed March 18.
"My interpretation of colored girls, " Faison told Playbill On-Line, "was that I would be able to put it more into a play form by using the all of the women [on stage] to fill out the other voices. In other words, I would use other cast members and their actions as if it were a play, so that they become characters in each other's poems." Faison said the play became more interesting and fun when the audience was able to "laugh a little more and see the plight of women trying to find their voices." To that end, Faison used "snippets" of recorded material featuring the works of music artists like Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige, which are scattered appropriately throughout the colored girls production so that "young girls can easily identify with the material." Featured in the American Place Theatre cast of colored girls are Carol-Jean Lewis (woman in green), Eleanor McCoy (woman in red), Lizan Mitchell (woman in purple), Novella Nelson (woman in brown), J. Ieasha Prime (woman in yellow), Katharine J. Smith (woman in orange) and Jackee (woman in blue). (Eleanor McCoy's daughter, Sanaa Lathan stars in the Gina Price film, "Love and Basketball" opposite Omar Epps.)
A noted choreographer, colored girls director Faison's other Broadway credits include Tony nominated work for Porgy and Bess, Don't Bother, I Can't Cope, and Timon of Athens.
"Irene Lewis from [Baltimore's] Center Stage approached me about colored girls and I had second thoughts about it at first because of all the male-bashing associated with the first production," Faison said. "But looking at colored girls now, 25 years later, I realized this was an artist and a poet and a very dynamic force." Faison said that playwright Shange was able to capture the rage women have experienced for centuries. "She was very representative of black women seeking a voice," Faison said. "But, remember that black men had little voice and black women had even less, so when she came out with this fierce voice, she was ahead of her time a little bit.
"After reading the last poem in the piece," Faison said, "I asked the author, 'Who's to blame in all of this?' and she told me, 'Both of them, the man and the woman.'"
Seeking to interpret the playwrights sense of the relationships between men and women, Faison said that "once that ball starts rolling, the fierceness grows and pretty soon understanding can't find its way inside. But if we are nicer or kinder to each other, we become better people. It's always easy for men to forget that some women are as jockey and as forceful and ambitious as men. This piece allows them that, which is necessary for them to be complete and whole. I tried to give the audience a kind of insight into each one of the women and maybe put up some of the reasons for their [character's] attitude. They're not completely on the bottom anymore, women have more money, more power, and you really can't look at them as `colored girls of the '70s' anymore. We can look at their history and see how far they've come."
Tickets for the show range from $45-$49. The American Place Theatre's Main Stage is located at 111 West 46th Street. For tickets call Tele Charge at (212) 239-6200.
-- By Murdoch McBride