Play On!, the Shakespeare-meets-Ellington musical which recently ended its hit run at the Pasadena Playhouse, will officially open at the co- producing Arizona Theatre Company in Phoenix on Sept. 10 (after previews from Sept. 8) for a run through Oct. 10. After that, the tuner will visit ATC's Tucson home Oct. 7-24. Conceived and directed by the Pasadena Playhouse's artistic director Sheldon Epps, with a book by Cheryl L. West and music by Duke Ellington, Play On! takes its inspiration from Twelfth Night but is set in Harlem in the 1940s. Natalie Venetia Belcon stars as a would-be songwriter who must dress as a man to be accepted by the male-dominated jazz world. Nikki Crawford stars as the sultry, blues-singing Lady Liv.
Play On also stars Kevin Ramsey as Jester, Richard Allen as Rev, Clinton Derricks-Carroll as Sweets, Yvette Cason as Miss Mary, Shirley Caludia Charles as CC and Raun Ruffin (The Civil War) as the Duke.
The show is timed to celebrate the centennial of Ellington's birth and features such songs as "Take the A Train," "Drop Me Off in Harlem," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing" and "In a Mellow Tone."
Play On! opened July 18 at the Pasadena Playhouse, where it received near-unanimous rave reviews from the critical community. After the show concludes its run at the ATC this fall, it will return to L.A. for an open-ended run at a major theatre, most likely the 1,270-seat Wilshire-Ebell. Although none of the producers would confirm the deal, several key personnel connected to the show said that news of the show's return would soon be announced.
-- By Robert Simonson and Willard Manus