Troupe of Nell Carter's Final Project, Raisin, Decides Show Will Go On

News   Troupe of Nell Carter's Final Project, Raisin, Decides Show Will Go On International City Theatre's in-rehearsal production of Raisin was brought to a halt Jan. 23 with news of the death of its star, Nell Carter, who was to play mama Lena Younger in the musical based on A Raisin in the Sun.

The troupe announced, however, that the show would go on and open as scheduled Feb. 7 (after previews from Feb. 4) and play to March 9.

"We are devastated by the news of Nell's death," ICT artistic director Shashin Desai said in a statement. "Nell was an enormous talent, and one of the finest people I’ve ever worked with. At a meeting of the cast, co-directors and the rest of the creative team, a decision was made to press on and open the show as Nell would have wanted.  All of the performances will be dedicated to Nell."

Taking over the role of "Mama" is theatre veteran Carol Dennis.  Dennis has appeared on Broadway in Street Corner Symphony and Big River; Off Broadway in Moms, The River, Mama I Want to Sing; at New York's Public Theater in La Boheme; and in the national tours of The Wiz and Once on this Island.

"The news of Nell's 'transition' took my breath away," Dennis said in a statement. "I am both honored and humbled to have been asked to take on this role.  Nell's joyous spirit will be with me and the entire cast for each performance.  Our hearts and prayers are with her family and closest friends."

Raisin won both the Tony (Best Musical) and Grammy (Best Score From The Original Cast Show Album) Awards after it premiered on Broadway in 1973.  Adapted from Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun by librettist Robert Nemiroff (Hansberry's husband) and Charlotte Zaltzberg, with music by Judd Woldin and lyrics by Robert Brittan, Raisin "infuses the classic drama with a score that includes blues, gospel, and jazz," according to the company. This 30th anniversary production marks only the third professional production of Raisin since its national tour. The story concerns an African-American family's conflicting values and wishes when a windfall comes its way. The cast includes Terron Brooks, Reggie Burrell, Curtis C., Carol Dennis, Kecia Lewis, Dejon Mayes, Don DeForest Paul, Alisa Prince, Matt Rochester, Michael A. Shepperd, Anne Thomas, Hurshel Williams, and Micah Williams.

ICT artistic director Shashin Desai and general manager caryn desai [sic] co-direct; Darryl Archibald is musical director; set design is by Don Llewellyn; lighting design is by Liz Stillwell; costume design is by Diana Eden.

International City Theatre is the resident professional theatre at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Raisin tickets are $28-$40.

The Center Theater is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 E. Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach.  For reservations and information, call (562) 436 4610.

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Nell Carter, the zaftig actress-singer who won a Tony Award for singing Fats Waller tunes in Ain't Misbehavin', died Jan. 23 at the age of 54.She collapsed and died of natural causes in her Beverly Hills home, according to her publicist. Ms. Carter struggled with diabetes over the years and had a brain aneurysm in the 1990s, according to CNN.

Her most recent work on Broadway was playing the nasty Miss Hannigan in the 20th anniversary revival of Annie, in which she sang a new song. Her turn in the Tony Award-winning Ain't Misbehavin' in 1977-78 was so potent she landed a Hollywood job, starring as a sassy housekeeper in the popular NBC sitcom, "Gimme a Break!"

Carter, a Birmingham, AL, native, appeared in Broadway's Dude, Soon, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and Jesus Christ Superstar. She appeared as a tribe member in the 1979 film, "Hair."

In 1978's Ain't Misbehavin', devised by Richard Maltby, Jr, using songs by (or made famous by) Thomas "Fats" Waller, Carter appeared as "Nell" (there were no character names) and brought the house down with her nasaly voice and strutting, bosomy presence. She sang "Cash for Your Trash," "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," and (with Ken Page) "Honeysuckle Rose," among other tunes. Her rendition of "Mean to Me" was singled out as heartbreaking and a highlight of the revue.

Her co-stars in 1978 were Andre de Shields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page and Charlaine (now Charlayne) Woodard. The show was originally produced by Off Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club. The show took the Best Musical Tony Award that year. When the ensemble musical was revived on Broadway in 1988, Carter had risen above the title, as the show's star.

Carter began performing professionally when she was 11, on a weekly radio show in her hometown. She first came to New York as a nightclub singer and played such spots as Reno Sweeney's and The Village Gate.

Her 1988 Playbill bio for the Ain't Misbehavin' revival read: "This space is usually used to tell you what I've done. Instead, I will tell you what I'm going to do: the best that I possibly can. Enjoy. Love, Nell."

In 1997, Carter expressed her dismay that the producers of Annie used an old TV commercial featuring Marcia Lewis from the original run of the show to promote the revival.

"Maybe they don't want audiences to know Nell Carter is black," she told the New York Post at the time. The producers said it was too costly to shoot a new commercial, though the spot did mention that Carter was the new star. "It hurts a lot," Carter told the Post. "I've asked them nicely to stop it — it's insulting to me as a black woman."