McKinley Johnson's musical, Train Is Comin', was named best musical at this year's Black Theatre Alliance Awards, announced in Chicago Sept. 16. Best play went to Urban Transitions: Loose Blossoms by Ron Milner.
Train, set in the post-Civil War era, follows a group of poor black students as they take spirituals and hymns to an international audience and become the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Transitions tells of a middle-class black family and its insidiously corroding values.
Actress, director and writer Jackie Taylor won a special merit award. She's the founder and artistic director of the Black Ensemble Theatre, which recently produced the big Chicago hit, Doo Wop Shoo Bop.
Other winners are:
Onyx Theatre Ensemble's East Texas Hot Links for best ensemble. Director Tazewell Thompson, for staging Goodman Theatre's Black Star Line, and Debra Gray, for directing Train Is Coming.
Marcia L. Leslie's The Trial Of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise And Safreeta Mae (at E.T.A.) for the writing of an original play or musical.
Charles Smith's Black Star Line for adaptation.
In acting categories, Charles Michael Moore took leading actor in a play for Urban Transitions; Kenny Davis won the musical honors as Sammy Davis Jr. In Sammy: The Sammy Davis Junior Story at Black Ensemble Theatre. Best actor in an ensemble resulted in a tie: Earl Fox for The Trial Of One Short-Sighted Black Woman and Michael Williams for East Texas Hot Links. Allan Louis took featured actor in a play for Black Star Line; Keith Stewart won the musical honors for the E.T.A.'s Get Ready.
Leadings actresses were Nambi E. Kelley in the play, Coffee Will Make You Black (at City Lit); Roxiana Fugua in the musical, Me And Miss D (at Black Ensemble); Leala Marie Baghi in the ensemble of Home (at Chicago Theatre Company); E. Faye Butler, featured in Steppenwolf's Crumbs From The Table Of Joy , and Greta Oglesby, featured in the musical Train Is Coming.
George Paco Patterson, Jimmy Tillman and Tom Tom 99 received best musical direction honors for Sammy. Kevin Iega Jeff won best choreography for his work on Church Nations.
In technical awards, Robert C. Martin won for set (Unjustifiable Acts), Darryl Goodman Sr. won for lighting (E.T.A.'s The Temple), Vaune Blalock and Harry Detry won for costumes (Woloba at Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago), and Black Ensemble Theatre's Sammy won for sound.
Playbill On-Line credits Hedy Weiss' "Arts & Show" column in the Chicago Sun-Times for information used in this piece.
-- By David Lefkowitz