Back in 1959, she was one of the first black artists to cross into the all white pop charts. With such hits as "What A Difference A Day Makes" and "Come Rain or Come Shine," not to mention her great duet with Brook Benton, "Baby, You've Got What It Takes," Dinah Washington became a legendary songstress before she died at a mere 39.
Oliver Goldstick's drama with music, Dinah Was, captures the singer at the peak of her fame, telling of her battles with racism and career in the music business. The off-Broadway hit now gets a staging in Pennsylvania, as Dinah Was will play at the Philadelphia Theatre Company Oct. 22-Nov. 20, at PTC's home base at the Plays & Players Theatre. The official opening is Oct. 27.
E. Faye Butler, who toured in Ain't Misbehavin' and two Nunsenses, plays Washington. Also in the cast are Matt DeCaro, Carla J. Hargrove, Jeffrey Hutchinson, and Darryl Alan Reed. Designing the show are Michael Yeargan (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Stephen Strawbridge (lighting) and Rob Milburn (sound).
David Petrarca, who staged the New York Dinah Was, repeats his duties here. Other credits include Marvin's Room and serving as a resident director at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Songs in the show include "What a Difference a Day Makes" and "Come Rain or Come Shine."
For tickets or more information on Dinah Was and other Philadelphia Theatre Company productions, call (215) 568-1920.
A second mainstage show (Jan. 21-Feb. 20, 1999) has yet to be announced, though sources say it's likely to be White People by J. T. Rogers.
The 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Wit by Margaret Edson, will play March 17 - April 16, 2000 at The Plays & Players Theatre. The tragic drama is about an icy but verbally-nimble poetry professor stricken with fourth-stage ovarian cancer.
A woman of few but well-selected words, both in her plays and in life, Edson told Playbill On-Line that winning the Pulitzer Prize, "Feels delightful." Nevertheless, all the attention over Wit hasn't affected her day-to-day existence the way we might imagine. "The talk of New York isn't as relevant outside New York as inside," she said. "Once the school day begins, nothing from the outside has any impact at all." Edson also noted that a classroom of five-year olds is unlikely to treat her like a literary superstar.
Asked whether the acclaim for Wit would change her mind about not writing any more plays, Edson told PBOL, "I have one other play, Satisfied, which nobody likes. I'm changing the title to `Dissatisfied,' and I don't plan to work on it again... If Wit is successful, it's because this is the one play I really wanted to write. I'm not interested in establishing a career as a playwright. If there's something else I really want to say, then I'll write another."
Edson added that no particular play -- or work of art, for that matter -- directly influenced her decision to write Wit. She wrote it as a theatrical piece because, "No other format occurred to me. I wasn't interested in novels or stories or essays."
She reiterated her oft-told claim that her day job is far more fulfilling than any ambition toward fame and recognition. "The thing about teaching elementary school.. it's simply the way you go through the day. No external event matters. It's only yourself going through the day." Asked why she chose to teach such young pupils rather than sharing her obvious erudition with grad students, Edson replied, "This is a lot more fun. Teaching in graduate school, you don't get to sing, dance or laugh. I do that every day." Not surprisingly, when asked to define the most important theme of Wit, Edson replies in one sentence: "The play is about grace."
The 1998-99 Tony Award winning play, Side Man by Warren Leight will finish out PTC's 99-00 Season, May 26 - June 25, 2000. The play, still running on Broadway, is a jazz-based drama that tells of a man's love of jazz ruining his marriage -- and his wife's sanity.
-- By David Lefkowitz and Sean McGrath