If you frequent New York theatre and haven't heard of Charles Randolph Wright, you will soon know his name. In July, his coming production, Ball, will hold a workshop performance. And in August, the 50-city national tour of his production of Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls will kick off at the Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center in Virginia.
First, however, comes his play Blue, which opens at the Gramercy Theatre, courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company. In Blue, the career of jazz singer Blue Williams is followed by Peggy Clark (Phylicia Rashad), the mother of a well-off African-American family who run a funeral home business in South Carolina. The production, directed by Sheldon Epps, also features Michael McElroy, Hill Harper, Howard W. Overshown, Jewell Robinson, Randall Shepperd, Messeret Stroman and Chad Tucker.
The design team comprises set designer James Leonard Joy, costume designer Debra Bauer and lighting designer Michael Gilliam and sound designer Kurt Fischer.
Blue's music is by Nona Hendryx of LaBelle fame ("Lady Marmalade") and lyrics are by both Hendryx and Randolph-Wright. The two are also teaming up with Savion Glover and Sarah Jones for the upcoming musical Ball. Randolph Wright told Playbill On-Line at a May press preview that, two days earlier, they had been recording some songs for that production as well. Buzz is certainly circulating for the musical based on the Nike Freestyle ad campaign because, as we spoke, he let out a Cheshire Cat-like smile and said that he's getting "many calls" about the production.
Randolph-Wright says that the music in the play "is really what a soundtrack does in film" serving as a character rather than an external part of the play. Michael McElroy (Encores!Hair, Broadway's Wild Party) sang "Out of the Blue" and pieces of "The Beat" and "Angel" (3 of 10 songs that he will perform live in the show). Blue, which premiered at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage last April (along with Randolph-Wright's Guys and Dolls), will begin previewing at the Gramercy Theatre June 1 and open June 28 for a run through Sept. 2.
—By Robert Simonson
and Ernio Hernandez