With a Christmas Eve valentine from the New York Times' critic, the little musical Little Ham seems poised for an extension at Off Broadway's Hudson Guild Theatre, where it's currently scheduled to close Dec. 30. Producer Eric Krebs told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 24), "We're trying to extend it, but we won't know till Wednesday [Dec. 26]. A lot of the company's out of town [for the holiday], but we hope to extend or even move it..."
Following a three-day shutdown for revisions, the Off-Off-Broadway Amas Musical Theatre production of the new Langston Hughes-inspired musical went from an Off-Off to an Off-Broadway contract, Dec. 14 and officially opened Dec. 16.
The show ended its Off Off-Broadway run Dec. 9 at the Hudson Guild, at which time it gained commercial producer Krebs. The hope was to draw more press and investor interest for the show by Dan Owens, Judd Woldin and Richard Engquist, Krebs said, a wish that came true with positive reviews from the Village Voice and other media, most importantly, the New York Times.
The Hudson Guild venue is available through Feb. 17, 2002, the producer added, saying he hopes the fable will eventually find a larger venue and a wider commercial life.
* Krebs (Broadway's It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, Electra) told Playbill On-Line Dec. 3 the Depression-set musical based on the Hughes play of the same name (about the white mob putting pressure on the Harlem numbers racket) is filled with pungent characters typical of the folk who populated works by Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and other Harlem Renaissance writers. During the production's brief shutdown (Dec. 10-13), a new dance number was added and some material was reshaped.
"It's fun and funny and warm and beautifully inspired by Langston's characters," Krebs said. "What first attracted me was not the story, which is substantially new by the book writer, Dan Owens. But the characters and language — the warmth, the spirit and energy of the community as Hughes wrote it."
Titled Langston Hughes's Little Ham, and billed as "a Harlem Jazzical," the musical has a book by Dan Owens, music by Judd Woldin (who composed Raisin) and lyrics by Richard Engquist (Kuni-Leml, Abie's Island Rose) and Woldin. It began previews Nov. 14 and opened its Off-Off-Broadway showcase run Nov. 28.
Set in the height of the Harlem Renaissance, the work focuses on the uptown "numbers" games — betting on horses — that allow locals to dream about a better life, and how the games are threatened by a downtown mob. The white mob coerces smooth and witty Harlemite Little Ham into helping them control the games, and squeezing protection money from local businesses. But when he's assigned to rattle Tiny Lee's Beauty Shop, he's stuck between double crossing the mob or the woman he loves, Miss Tiny Lee herself. Krebs calls it a musical comedy fable — the sort of show with tap-dancing gangsters.
Eric Riley directs. Musical direction is by David Alan Bunn, choreography by Leslie Dockery, arrangements and orchestrations are by the legendary Luther Henderson. The cast includes Adrian Bailey, Ben Blake, D'Ambrose Boyd, Venida Evans, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Jerry Gallagher, Andre Garner, Danielle Greaves, Julia Lema, Stacey Sargeant, Joy Styles, Lee Summers, Richard Vida and Joe Wilson, Jr.
Designers are Edward T. Gianfrancesco (set), Bernard Grenier (costume) and Richard Latta (lighting).
Arranger-orchestrator Henderson has worked on more than two dozen Broadway productions in various capacities. For Ain't Misbehavin' he was the original pianist as well as orchestrator, arranger and musical supervisor. For Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, he was the musical consultant and arranged several selections. Henderson orchestrated and co-composed Jelly's Last Jam. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1997 for orchestrating Play On!
Hudson Guild Theatre is at 441 W. 26th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 206-1515 or (212) 563-2565.
Amas Musical Theatre is a non-profit theatrical organization founded in 1968 by Rosetta LeNoire, a Broadway actress, singer and humanitarian. Known to millions as "Mother Winslow" on TV's Family Matters, LeNoire received the National Medal of Arts in 1999. Her vision for Amas ("you love" in Latin) is grounded in non-traditional, multi-racial production, education and casting. Recent Amas productions include Starmites 2001, 4 Guys Named Jose...and Una Mujer Named Maria, Reunion: A Civil War Musical.
Krebs' intimate concert of blues music, Good Time Blues, with Pat Tandy and Genovis Albright, has been extended to Feb. 25, 2002, at the John Houseman Theatre. It plays three shows a week.
— By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz and Steve Luber