Trials of a One Picked Wonder

Every artist wants their 15 minutes of fame (after all, Andy Warhol did promise we all would have our moment), but the trick for an artist is to extend that 15 minutes into a career.  Artists languish in a basement of doubts, menial employment and lingering questions until the elevator doors open and the ride to the penthouse begins.  Then it happens…the big break comes, but just as quick it fades like smoke in the atmosphere.  What must it be like to be a one hit wonder – to reach the glass ceiling of success, crack it, but not burst through to superstardom?  It is a question plenty in the entertainment industry know the answer to, and thanks to clever storytelling of Christopher Shinn, audiences at the Vineyard Theatre now know what it is like as well. 

Picked is a story about Kevin, a young actor poised for success when a famous, eccentric director casts him as the lead in his next big-budget Hollywood movie.  Known for making John Woo-esque big action flicks, John (the director) is looking for his next film to really connect with the audience on a deeper, expressive level, and for this he wants a virtual unknown actor to play the protagonist – enter Kevin an actor that has only had bit roles, but seems to project a sincere aura and is not concerned with fame.  John proposes a sketchy synopsis of a sci-fi film that takes place in space with the lead character basically battling himself as the lead and the nemesis are the same person.  Kevin agrees and then undergoes a battery of brain wave scans to uncover deep issues that he struggles with physiologically and emotionally.  The script is then written based on John’s findings.  As production of the film begins, John brings in Nick to play the part of the Kevin’s evil other half.  Kevin and Nick appear to develop a bromance that is abruptly put to a halt by Nick once production of the film ends, leaving Kevin baffled.  After the successful release of the film, Nick is working consistently, but Kevin cannot book a gig.  The lack of work and the bewilderment that comes with it makes Kevin estranged from girlfriend Jen, himself and eventually with the entertainment business.  At the end of the play Kevin had found that like the character he played, he had grappled with his own sense of self and was left with lingering questions, while forging into a new frontier.

Playwright Christopher Shinn did put together a brainy script, but perhaps that is the problem lurking deep within Picked – it is too clever.  As the production ended, the applause that came from the seats was slow and while walking out the Vineyard Theatre, the audience seemed more perplexed than entertained.  Like the protagonist who underwent extreme research, it appears that audience members were a litmus test for the playwright and the director – the hypothesis: how would a group of people viewing a play react to numerous loose ends.  There are multiple subplots of the Picked that were not fully developed, Kevin and Nick’s bromance, John’s issues with intimacy, Kevin’s emotional neediness with men, the lack of a deeper connection with Jen as well as Nick’s collapse. 

Perhaps Shinn outsmarted the audiences by forcing them to actually think, or perhaps he overestimated the need for heady, intellectual drama.  Even with these holes in the story, the cast does a wonderful job pushing through these gaps to deliver introspective performances.  I was able to identify with each of these characters – people struggling to balance their human, emotive instincts with their digital/progressive selves.   And that is what makes Picked worth going to see, it is not about the questions Shinn does not answer, it is about the questions you will have for yourself after viewing it.  Picked is definitely gets my vote – it is mature, conscious theatre.

Photos:  Carol Rosegg

Jersey Girls

Broadway has always had an affinity for rock and roll’s golden era – it is almost like its secret golden goose.  The music from that time in America’s history is everlasting, resonating good feelings from those who lived during the 50s and 60s and converting new fans within each generation that followed.  In addition, Baby Boomers are mostly the faces that make up the audience, it only is logical to produce musicals that would cater to their ears and wallets.  Jukebox musicals like Smokey Joes Café, Million Dollar Quartet and Jersey Boys are all successful testaments to the formula of infusing early rock and roll music with a book from that time period.  Jersey Boys has been going strong on Broadway for five years – now it is the ladies turn.  Baby It’s You debuted on April 27 at the Broadhurst Theatre adding another chapter to Broadway’s love story, or should I say stories, with rock and roll.

Baby It’s You is a loosely based on the life of Florence Greenberg – a real housewife from New Jersey, and mother of two who stepped out of her kitchen and into the music business.  She was a trailblazer and integrator, helping to make the Shirelles the first major female vocal group of rock and roll with the a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100.  She also founded Tiara, Scepter, Wand and Citation Records and along with songwriter and producer Luther Dixon, helped to launch the careers of Tammi Terrell, Chuck Jackson, The Isley Brothers, B.J. Thomas, The Kingsmen and Dionne Warwick. In 1976, she retired from the music industry, and sold all of her labels to Springboard International.  In 1995, the 82-year-old visionary died of heart failure in Teaneck, New Jersey.

The production strictly follows the paradigm of a jukebox musical.  The music and lyrics are all derived from previous released songs.  Theses songs are then used to craft the book and facilitate the plot through the play’s myriad musical numbers.  Baby It’s You is set between 1958 through 1965 and takes place in Passaic, New Jersey and New York City.  Harmonizing the show’s story along with the music and current events of that era is Jocko a spirited narrator/DJ that operates on payola – the system for “breaking records” in those days.  When Florence is first introduced to young Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Beverly Lee and Micki Harris by her daughter, they are students at Passaic High School practicing in the schoolyard.  She immediately sees potential in them and changes their name from The Poquellos to The Shirelles.  She becomes their manager, surrogate mom, producer and biggest fan.  Once she teams up with Luther Dixon after forming Scepter Records, the Shirelles really begin to shine and their signature sound is created and duplicated.  Along with the triumphs Florence had, Baby It’s You also chronicles her struggles getting started, the disintegration of her marriage as well as the effects her success had on her relationship with her children.  The musical also briefly covers the decline of the Shirelles and the departure of Luther Dixon from Scepter Records due to the changing musical climate of the mid and late 60s.

If anyone were to ask me my opinion about Baby It’s You, I would say, “Baby, it’s a hit!”  It is a solid gold trip down memory lane in a 1959 fishtail Cadillac with an awesome soundtrack to compliment the journey.  By today’s standards, if this musical was an album it would go platinum several times over.  Anyone that loves to watch the oldies revues on PBS will be in poodle-skirt heaven watching this show. The weaving of the musical numbers with the story is nearly flawless.  Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott should be praised for the baby they conceived and created.  Costume Designer Lizz Wolf and Scenic Designer set the mood visually – it is akin to viewing a rolling set of Happy Days or American Graffiti mixed with a little Showtime at the Apollo.  Like Rock of Ages the band is on stage instead of the orchestra pit, sliding forward and back during the musical numbers.  The choreography, courtesy of Birgitte Mutrux, captured the exuberant dancing of the 60’s along with the graceful and sometimes over-the-top moves performers used on stage.  But as much as I enjoyed Baby It’s You, there was one minor disconnect for me.  One pitfall a jukebox musical can fall into is the overuse of previously recorded music, which turns the production into an elaborate anthology instead of art.  Mutrux and Colin Escott could have used a little restraint when choosing the music and how it correlated to the overall story.  It almost appeared as if they wanted or did use every popular song in Scepter’s catalog. Had the music not been so endearing, this could have been a major problem.  But trust me when I tell you FAMERS this issue is minute.  Their accuracy to pair a song with a situation the cast is confronting is almost 100%.  Using “Mama Said” to express Florence’s discontentment with being a housewife or “The Dark End of the Street” to illustrate the illicitness of Florence and Luther’s affair, provides the audience with an aural exclamation point that they could thoroughly enjoy.  After all, it is the music that is the star of any jukebox musical, and the cast does a groovy job of making these classics relevant again.

I am such a sucker for Beth Leavel, in my sound book, she can do no wrong.  She was the perfect choice to play Florence Greenberg – funny, sensitive and boy can she belt a tune.  She brought a star quality to the role and offered a wonderful homage to woman who knew what “girl power” really meant.  Allan Louis gave a genuine performance as Luther Dixon.  Besides Leavel and Louis, the rest of the cast played multiple roles.  Geno Henderson is the MVP of the show playing Jocko, Chuck Jackson, Ronald Isley and Gene Chandler.  If this was MSG instead of Broadway I could confidently say that the Knicks would make it to the finals.  Erica Ash, Kyra Da Costa, Crystal Starr Knighton and Christina Sajous enrapture the audience as the Shirelles and other singers of that era.  Their ability inspires delight and their energy is infectious.  

From the first song to the last the audience is sold on Baby It’s You.  And I was right there with them singing along in my seat, moving my feet to the beat.  In 2006, Jersey Boys took home the Tony for Best Musical.  My prediction, there is no dark end of the street in sight for this musical, Baby It’s You will twist and shout its way to the podium to snag some awards in June.


Introducing Mr. Bailey

One thing a recording artist must become used to is talking with the media about themselves.  Press junkets are just as important to the process of getting an album to consumers as being in the booth.  On April 21, R&B artist Antwon Bailey sat down with members of the media to talk about the upcoming release of his mixtape Mr. Bailey.  When Antwon spoke with the press at Selfish Music Group Studios in Brooklyn, this 19-year-old Queens native was realizing a dream.  A dream that was conceived when he was boy, entertaining family and participating in school talent shows.  That dream began to come to fruition when Bailey was signed to famed Power 105.1 FM radio personality DJ Self’s Selfish Music Group.  Now an internet sensation, Antwon’s videos received multiple hits on YouTube and has him being compared to young, sexy R&B crooner Trey Songz. 

Antwon Bailey is ready for the world, literally, and got acclimated to speaking with the press by sharing with F.A.M.E NYC his thoughts about the media, being compared to Trey Songz and the new millennium way of breaking new artists into the mainstream.

April 21, 2011 was your media day.  What did you enjoy most about talking to the press?

I liked the fact that most of the media/press was really down to earth and knew what my music was about and really express their appreciation for my music.

What is the craziest question you have received?

Someone asked if I would sleep with Lisa Raye.

In your bio it stated that as a child you were called upon to entertain your family.  When did you realize that music was something you wanted to pursue as a career?

 Once I started doing talent shows at school and performing for the All Stars, that’s when I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career.

Describe your feelings when you were first signed to Selfish Music Group.

I was excited that I was starting a new venture with all those affiliated with the record label and waiting to see what the next step was. I was happy to be working with one of the hottest DJ’s in NYC.

How would you describe your sound?

I would describe my sound as unique, fun and geared towards the youth, but you can still feel the late 80s, early 90s sound. Overall, it’s definitely for the people. I like to incorporate punch lines that the ladies can relate to.

I have been viewing your videos on YouTube.  Some viewers have compared you to Trey Songz.  Do you feel that is a fair comparison?  Also, how do you feel about artist comparisons in general?

 I think it’s an ok comparison.  I can see how they would see that being that I’m young and he was young when he started and had braids and I have braids now;  I think I just have a little more of an angle geared toward the youth right now.   It’s not all grown and sexy.  

 I don’t really think about being compared to other artists as I’m focusing on my own music currently, but people always compare new artists to known artist so I expect it.

Tell me about the process of recording, “Mr. Bailey.”  How have you grown from the experience?

 It was a fun experience. I felt like my career is actually growing and I got to see the results of my product, my voice, my music.   I must say, that with me being my toughest critic, I was actually satisfied.

“Mr. Bailey” is a mixtape.  While the mixtape game is widely known for being a launching pad for hip hop artists, do you think the mixtape game has also benefited the world of R&B?

I feel that the mixtape circuit is just a way to promote your music to those [who] haven’t necessarily heard your music whether it be hip hop or R&B. I think it allows people to see my creative side as I prepare for my album.

The music industry has changed drastically in the way new artists break to the public, do you believe that has served to help or hinder a new artist like yourself?  Why or Why not?

 I think that it helps new artists like me because the ways artists are brought to the public now are by way of the internet and online media.  People from all over the world can see who you are and what you do.  It allows artists to communicate with our fans in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to back in the days.

Which track on the mixtape is the most personal for you and why?

“Hotta Hotta” which is number two on the mixtape, is the most personal track on the mixtape for me because it explains my grind in the music industry.   It is also a song [about] me explaining to other artists that although they’re hot now, I’m going to come out being even hotter. My quote for “Hotta Hotta” is, “You can stand out, but I’m outstanding.”

Photo courtesy of  McQueen Media

Triangle Offers Homage to a Centennial NYC Tragedy

March 25, 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  The inferno was the most deleterious industrial catastrophe in NYC history and ranked the fourth highest in casualties from an industrial accident in US history.  It was also the most mortiferous tragedy in Manhattan until 9/11.  The sweatshop blaze, located in the Asch Building on 23-29 Washington Place, resulted in the deaths of 146 workers, most of whom were Jewish and Italian immigrants.  Because of locked doors, people jumped to their deaths and created outrage with the community and politicians alike. But the fire’s lasting legacies were not just the deaths, it was the legislation passed to improve factory safety standards and the creation of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. 

Currently, the Americas Off-Broadway series offers a production that exhumes the ghosts of that tragedy and the lives it affected with TriangleTriangle is a 120 minute drama that recounts the adulterous liaison between “Big” Tim Sullivan and actress Margaret Holland against the backdrop of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the events that followed.   When young, beautiful Margaret goes to audition for Big Tim at his headquarters, he is already known as “The Boss of the Bowery.”  Along with being a one of the prominent politicos of Tammany Hall, he was also the kingfish of various criminal enterprises which included prostitution, gambling and extortion.  Margaret, a highbrow, progressive woman, becomes seduced by Tim’s immoral, yet captivating demeanor.  Tim immediately recognizes Margaret’s beauty and casts her in his productions out of state.  While Margaret continues to tour on the acting circuit, she and Tim fall in love and have an illegitimate daughter named Mary Catherine.  But the Triangle Factory fire forever changes Margaret, Tim and Mary Catherine.  Margaret tirelessly works as a reformist, causing a strain on her relationship with her growing daughter, and blames Tim for taking kickbacks.  Guilt spurs Tim into using his political muscle to aide the reformers and sponsors legislation limiting the maximum number of hours women were forced to work despite his failing health from syphilis. 

One aspect I find with Off-Broadway productions is that they are generally hit or miss.  This production teeters somewhere in the middle.  At best Triangle is a nondescript tribute to the legacies of the women and men who perished in Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, focusing more on the love affair between Tim and Margaret instead of the immigrant men and women who toiled and died in the fire.  It reminded me of Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, a think piece that provided a glimpse into the lives of people placed in a stressful situation.  The acting in Triangle impressed me more than the story itself, and when the play did focus on the fire specifically, it showed flashes of brilliance.  Ruba Audeh is superb, playing dual roles as a young Jewish girl and a former Triangle Shirtwaist worker turned hooker – her scenes are some of the most telling, emotional moments of the play and will painfully stick with you like burnt clothing on skin.  Donna Davis and Dennis Wit are very engaging as Cathleen Murphy and Izzy Weissman, a common law couple on Big Tim’s payroll.  Their banter and narration throughout the production not only offered comic relief, but prevented the show from dragging.  They, along with Audeh, are without a doubt the most memorable characters and performances.  Joe Gately, Ashley C. Williams and Michaela McPherson round out the cast giving fine performances as Tim Sullivan, Margaret Holland and Mary Catherine. 

Triangle’s final performance at 59E59 Theatre is May 1.  It is my conclusion that parts of this show were greater than its sum.  Overall, Triangle is a satisfactory play that produced solid performances, but the jury is still out on whether this drama did or did not deliver on its commitment to honor the victims of the fire.

Photos:  Carol Rosegg

Traces of Africa


As the start of the Tribeca Film Festival approaches, many New Yorkers are unaware that another film festival has already been underway.  The African Film Festival is now in the third week of a two-month fete that celebrates and presents African arts and culture in all of its various hues.  This year marks the festival’s 18th season, which not only showcases films, but also features a gallery exhibit, fashion show, Q&As with directors and actors and live performances.  The festival kicked off on April 2 with a enlightening and inspiring panel discussion with screen legend and human rights activist Harry Belafonte, crochet artist and griot Xenobia Bailey and British-Nigerian filmmaker and former BBC journalist Zina Saro-Wiwa at the Museum of Art and Design, located on 2 Columbus Circle. The festival will travel to different locations throughout New York City before it concludes on May 31. 

The United Nations has proclaimed 2011 to be the “International Year for the People of African Descent.”  While I think it is wonderful that the achievements of Africans and people of African ancestry are celebrated for a month during the year or recognized by a global institution such as the UN, I would much rather applaud the efforts of African Film Festival, Inc. who have been assiduously pushing to make sure that the filmmakers of post-colonial Africa have a voice and a venue to display their talent as well as educate the public about the multiple faces of Africa.  The African Film Festival ensures that continent of Africa remains a relevant topic for dialogue not only in the arts and culture scene, but within the global community as well.

To learn more about the African Film Festival, its mission, the films screening this year, the locations and ticket prices, click

Logo courtesy of African Film

Intonations of Love

Love is an all-encompassing entity.  It can be displayed through all five senses.  You can hear the sounds of love coming from a bedroom or pining through a radio.  You can see it dancing in someone’s eyes or in their gestures.  There is a different aroma that follows a couple in love – even food taste different when the person preparing it is in love.  In contrast, a person lacking love in their life is as anemic as a person living with diabetes.  And this is where the audience finds Beane, the tragic, young protagonist of John Kolvenbach’s brilliant romantic comedy Love Song, when the play begins.

To say that Beane is an eccentric would be an understatement.  He lives alone in an apartment void of furniture; his worldly possessions include a cup, a spoon, a couple of pairs of socks, two button down shirts and two slacks.  Beane is a shadow and likes it that way.  Like the boy in the bubble, he encloses himself in an orb to survive, but for Beane his oxygen is filled with misery.  He desires no interactions with humans, if he desires at all.   Outside of work, the only people Beane sees are his sister Joan and her husband Harry, an upwardly mobile couple too busy with work for Beane or even themselves for that matter.  Then along comes Molly, a hellcat/burglar that robs Beane and incidentally develops a weird infatuation for him as does Beane for her.  Suddenly, the light in Beane’s dreary world has been turned on.  His whole outlook on life changes, which does not go unnoticed by Joan and Harry.  In fact, Beane’s new attitude is contagious and assists in reigniting the romance in Joan and Harry’s life. Molly is like the Sazón that adds essential flavor to a dish of arroz con pollo – there is only one problem with her – she is as real as the Easter Bunny.  Once Beane’s secret is out in the open, he must decide whether to move forward or shrink back into the existence he once had.

Love Song is one of the best character studies I have ever witnessed.  It is Punch Drunk Love on LSD – a wild, trippy ride into the dimensions of love, loneliness and lunacy – three paths that can sometimes run side by side or collide into each other like a messy intersection.  Playwright and director John Kolvenbach aims for the heart and hits his target dead on the mark.  I adore this comedy; it is great theatre plain and simple.  The cast radiates even brighter than the light Beane has been trying to avoid all his life.  Laura Latreille and Ian Barford are a scream as Joan and Harry.  Their chemistry was extremely organic.  Zoe Winters is the most convincing imaginary girlfriend I have seen and Andrew Pastides makes quite an impression as Beane.  Love Song is playing a limited engagement at 59E59 Theatres until May 8 as part of their America’s Off Broadway series.  There are many tales of love in the world, but this one that should not be missed.

Photos:  Jeff Larkin

Dawning of a Superstar

What is the difference between a superhero and a superstar?  Both have larger than life personas, are admired by legions of followers and equally despised by multitudes of haters.  They posses a distinct sense of fashion and generally posses a divine gift that sets them apart from mere mortals.  And like a superhero, superstars generally have an alter ego that allows them to futz around in public.

By day, Aurora Barnes is a music teacher, teaching children the violin in an elementary school in the Bronx.  By night, she is a Botticellian tresseled beauty, belting out songs that are a testament to her personal story.  A native New Yorker, she has taken the eclecticism of Manhattan, her childhood influences and used it to shine brighter than the top of the Empire State Building.  By age 11, she had already performed with violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and as a teenager; she attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts (the FAME high school).  Aurora’s footprints are all over New York City, performing at the City Center, Central Park’s SummerStage, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, 92YTribeca, Knitting Factory, Bowery Poetry Club, Nuyorican Poet’s Café and The David Letterman Show.  Recently, she has performed at The Bitter End and Bryant Park.

Aurora is also a budding actress, making her film debut in 2009 with bit parts in The Last Film Festival and Get Him To The Greek.  After learning more about this young lady – a woman who is passionate about the arts, children and activism – there is one thing I am certain of, it will not be long before Aurora Barnes has Gotham eating out of the palm of her hand.  The mayor may not use her insignia to gleam in sky like Batman, but promoters will use her name to headline marquees all over The Big Apple and the world.  And just as Batman‘s name is synonymous with heroism, her name will be recognized the world over for her amazing sound.

Recently, F.A.M.E NYC spoke with Aurora after her performance at The Bitter End.  She shared with us her influences, experiences and the superstars she would love to join forces with.

You were born in raised in NYC.  What neighborhood did you grow up in?

Until I was 14, I lived on the Upper West Side and went to school in East Harlem, so I always say I grew up in those two neighborhoods.  During high school, I went to the FAME School (Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts) and lived in that neighborhood, by Lincoln Center.  Since then, I’ve lived in Central Harlem.

How did living in NYC influence your musical style?

NYC is a cultural melting pot.  I grew up in El Barrio, in the 80s, and fell in love with hip-hop, R&B and popular Latin music.  My mother taught me all about Stephen Sondheim and musical theater (I joined TADA! Youth Theater at the age of 5).  Every Sunday morning, I would awaken to my father playing Bob Dylan, The Beatles or The Four Tops on the record player.  My grandfather loved jazz and Frank Sinatra.  My grandmother loved Shirley Caeser and gospel music.  A small part of my family is from Spain and Cuba, so I was even exposed to some Latin Jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms.  I used to say, as most kids did, that I loved every kind of music except Country.  Country was never considered “cool.”  But as I grew older, I learned that country was rooted in the blues and folk music.  It’s shocking to me that music and art programs are always the first to get cut by government funding.  There is so much history in art – so much to be educated about!        

You have played in many different venues and stages.  Tell me about your first experience performing in front of an audience?

Oh, brother.  As the story goes, my family took me to see a show at TADA! Youth Theater, when I was about 4-years-old (TADA! is a wonderful theater experience for kids). After the show was over, I am told I walked onto the stage and refused to get off.  I suppose that can be considered a first time.    

What has been your most memorable performance to date?

I had the honor of performing at SummerStage in Central Park, last summer, June 30th, 2010.  It was the most thrilling experience of my life thus far.  Being able to convey my thoughts and feelings, through my words and music, in front of thousands of people and have them love it?  Nothing beats that.  A very close second was when I was 10- years-old, I performed the Bach Double Concerto, on violin, standing on stage between Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern, in Carnegie Hall during a benefit performance for the violin program I grew up in called the Opus 118 East Harlem Violin Program.  I honestly don’t think my mother will ever be more proud of me than she was at that moment.  It was very special.

LaGuardia H.S. is one of the most famous performing arts high schools in the country.  How did going to this high school prepare you for a career in entertainment industry?

The best thing about LaGuardia is the kids – so much talent.  I learned a great deal about healthy competition; supporting my friends and fellow performers without “hating” on another artist.  It is really important for your art, but also for your person, to be able to appreciate someone else’s light.  It’s not necessary to be “the best,” whatever that means.  We can all vibe off each other and gain tremendously from all the talent, intelligence and love.  That’s what going to LaGuardia teaches you. 

In college you studied Philosophy, Politics and Law.  Has the study of these subjects influenced your writing style?

I love this question.  Early on, I wanted to quit college.  I thought it was impeding my performance career.  My beloved acting coach, Harold Guskin explained to me how important life experience and education is to your art.  He told me to read everything, go to museums, listen to all kinds of music. So, I went back to school.  I decided to major in Philosophy, Politics and Law because it allowed me to study all sorts of human rights and social justice issues.  My family has a deep history in activism so these subjects have always been a major part of my life.  Studying these subjects hasn’t directly influenced my writing style, but it has contributed to the content.  Exploring, in general, influences my writing style.  I used to be afraid of change.  Now, I’m thirsty for it.    

How does your personal story reflect in your music?

I am unable to write unless I can relate to it, personally.  My songs reflect a time, a relationship, an incident that was/is real.  I am moved, to write or sing, by emotion.  I once read an article, by Roseanne Cash, where she said, “A song can be anything you want it to be.”  You can create it from your imagination.  This article changed the way I looked at songwriting.  Now, I’m interested in painting a picture with words.  You can create a brand new experience, still rooted in an honest idea or emotion, but much more layered.  I love Seurat’s style of painting because he used so many different colors to create one color, viewed, at first sight, by the naked eye.  But if you look closely, you can see the pointillism; you can see all the different colors.  It creates an unspeakable depth.  It’s so multi-thematic but ultimately makes for a simple, clear, relatable statement.  The cool thing about art is I can use pieces of my personal story to create it, and if it connects, the audience, gathers from it, pieces of their personal story. 

What prompted you to want to start acting?

I have always wanted to be a singer and an actress.  I’ve always wanted to work in theater, film and music.  In terms of acting, I fell in love with the work, when I met my coach, Harold Guskin.   

How has studying acting help you in performing on stage?

Majorly.  When I sing, I sing the words of a song.  I convey what the lyrics mean to me.  Just like in acting, I take the words off the page and see how the words play on me.   

Besides being an artist, you are also an elementary school music teacher.  What is do enjoy most about working with children?

I never thought I would love teaching, but I love teaching.  I just love my students.  I love all the crazy things about them and all the sweet things about them.  My favorite thing about teaching violin is when the kids are just beginning to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and they recognize the song as they’re playing it.  It’s the best moment.  It is the first time they are playing an actual song and not just open strings.  When they realize what they are doing, they fill with pride –their eyes light up and they smile – it’s so wonderful.       

You have worked some very accomplished artists?  If you could select three artists to work with this year, who would it be and why?

 This is my favorite question.  I am giddy just thinking about the possibilities.   

A.  It has always been a goal of mine, to sing with Bernadette Peters.  She has been my favorite performer since I was 6-years-old.  And she has been very supportive of me and my career.  She gave me my singing coach, Adrienne Angel.  Singing with her would be very special, in many ways.  

B.  I want to sing with Pete Seeger.  I grew up listening to him.  I watched this wonderful documentary, on PBS, about his life and I realized he is one of the few morally upstanding men who have ever existed.  His devotion to human rights is boundless.  This is a man who means what he says and says what he means.  The honor would be tremendous, just to shake his hand. 

C.  I want to write with Bruce Springsteen and his team and I want them to produce my album.  Bruce is one of the few artists who can sing anything.  He does folk, Rock & Roll, gospel, blues, pop… I want to work with him.  I believe he will understand my vision, my voice and me.   

 Sneak a peek of Aurora Barnes – Then Comes You

Want more of Aurora…check out,   Photos courtesy of Aurora Barnes


F.A.M.E NYC Remembers Sidney Lumet

“While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.”  – Sidney Lumet  

Dog Day Afternoon12 Angry MenPrince of the City…Serpico…Night Falls on Manhattan…The Wiz, no other director offered as many complex stories about New York City as Sidney Lumet.  I was initially introduced to his movies when I was a child.  My mother was (and still is) a television czarina and a classic movies junkie.  AMC was the channel of choice in our household, and while I wanted to see the latest and greatest on HBO, we always ended up watching a film with an epic musical score, cast of 1,000’s and actors who were megastars before I was even thought of. 

12 Angry Men was my first Sidney Lumet film.  It was different from most of the other films I had seen.  The score was incidental; almost all the scenes took place in a stuffy jury room, but the breadth of the actors masterful command of the dialogue and emotion of the story, filled each frame to its fullest capacity.  This film left an indelible impression on me about the justice system – what the system could be when used correctly and to its maximum potential.  From then on I was hooked.  I devoured Sidney Lumet films like a kid pigging-out on penny candy.  For me his films were like partaking in a free sociology class, even before I was required to take one.  While watching a Sidney Lumet movie I learned lessons about human nature; lessons that I am still attempting to master today.

Sidney Lumet’s stories generally focused on the grittier side of the city – the side that is least attractive at the surface – but like the snip of sand that gets caught in a clam, he knew that it is from grit that a pearl is ultimately cultivated.   His movies were like deep seas pearls, oddly shaped, unique works of art that should be coveted and displayed for their beauty and preciousness. I want to thank Sidney Lumet for all the magnificent shades he painted of the Big Apple on celluloid.  In a time in which all the artisans I looked up to as a young girl seem to be crossing the great divide to the other side where spirit and body no longer coexist, his genius will surely be missed, but his movies will always serve as a reminder of what good filmmaking really is.

The Promise Delivers

To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is a task most people can conceive, but rarely can be executed.  Why, because it is more difficult to actually live another person’s experiences than one might believe.  This is why empathy is such a virtuous emotion.  Thanks to the exquisite delivery of Scottish actress Joanna Tope, the audiences watching The Promise embark on a 90-minute trek following in the footsteps of Maggie Brodie in an alluring monologue that holds the viewers captive from the first sentence. 

The Promise, a drama inspired by true events, centers around one climatic day in the life of twice retired school teacher Maggie Brodie.  She is an alcoholic struggling with the ghosts of her past – her father’s pride and demeanor (which she inadvertently inherited), her disdain for religion, the broken relationship with her little sister and vampish ways with men.  But Ms. Brodie has one thing on her side, she has always been able to keep a promise.  On this day she is called back to do a substitute teaching gig, her ability to keep a promise will be tested as a new student matriculates into the classroom – a young Somali girl named Rosie who refuses to speak.  Maggie sees little Rosie as a mirror and instantly connects with her.  When community leaders, who have arranged a deal with the school to have a ritual performed in class, attempt to free Rosie of her evil spirits, Maggie’s demons come full circle as she zealously defends Rosie and the promise she made to keep her safe and not disclose her secret.

Playwright Douglas Maxwell has written a gripping story that reminds me of Ravel’s Bolero.  Just like the classic composer, he excels in bringing drama to a frenzied crescendo.   Both he and Joana Trope are Scottish imports that I would not mind having around for a while.  Too bad countries cannot trade actors and playwrights they way the NBA trade players.  Watching Joanna Tope sashay across the stage in fire engine red patent leather pumps like a weathered gunslinger aching for the opportunity to get her gun off is a rare treat – her commanding presence is sexy and spellbinding. She is a definitely a force to be reckoned with.  The only problem I had with The Promise is its limited run at 59E59 Theaters.  The final performance is April 17; FAMERS, make a promise to yourself and go see The Promise before it ends.  It is a covenant of terrific theatre with a twist you will never forget.   

Photos:  Niall Walker

Gettin’ Muggle Wit It

Discovery Times Square is more like a time portal than an exhibition space.  With its knack for presenting shows that flawlessly harmonize history, culture and spectacle, Discovery Times Square allows New Yorkers to walk through ancient worlds and alternate universes without ever having to step into an airport.  On April 5 the world of muggles and wizards invaded the Big Apple as Harry Potter: The Exhibition opened at Discovery Times Square, marking its final North American Stop before the train to Hogwarts goes international. 

In June 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in a series of seven novels written by British author J.K. Rowling, was released.  Its tremendous popularity spurred the ultimate 20th century homage – a film adaptation.  In 2001, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and the rest of the cast brought the characters to life onscreen and muggle-mania erupted.  In the last decade, fans of the series have watched these child actors grow into young adults and contributed to a franchise that is worth billions.  July 2011 signifies an end of an era as the last Harry Potter film will be released and the fates of the characters that have enraptured millions of devoted followers will be revealed.  Harry Potter: The Exhibition is an homage in its own right – a walk down memory lane, literally.

The exhibition is brought to fruition through the partnership of Global Experience Specialists (GES) and Warner Bros. Consumer Products.  GES is a leading provider of event, exhibition and retail marketing services.  Warner Bros. Consumer Products is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment Company and is one of the foremost global merchandising and licensing organizations. In 2009, the exhibition made its world premiere in Chicago; following its debut, it travelled to Boston, Toronto and Seattle.  The timing could not be more felicitous for Harry Potter: The Exhibition to be arriving in New York City; Daniel Radcliffe is blocks away at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre playing the lead character in the 50th anniversary revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Trying.  Like the other exhibits that have passed through Discovery Times Square, Harry Potter: The Exhibition scoops the visitors up and drops them off in the magical world created by the producers, set decorators, costume, graphic, prosthetics, make-up and props designers of the Harry Potter films.  Presented in nine connecting sections, the exhibit is an intricate, multifaceted exploration into the creative nuances of moviemaking. 

The show begins with the Sorting Hat, the famed headpiece that proclaims which house the new arrivals at Hogwarts will be placed into.  Volunteers come forth, and like the movie the hat is placed on their heads, comes alive, assesses the individuals’ personality and assigns them to either Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin.  But the Sorting Hat does have a bit of assistance, before the dormant hat is placed on the volunteer’s head; the volunteer expresses which house they prefer.  Cute and witty, it is an appropriate introduction into the universe of Harry Potter and Hogwarts.  Next the group enters The Pre-Show, an eight screen montage of the Harry Potter films.  The video mosaic culminates with the whistle to the Hogwarts Express being heard and the wall of the Pre-Show rising to reveal a replica of the train that takes the students to Hogwarts. A colossal vision to behold, the replica along with the mist that accompanies it gives the audience the sense that they are about to embark on a journey of sight, sound and emotions. 

After the Pre-Show, the exhibition truly begins.  Guests are led past a gallery of portraits and the Fat Lady, the guardian of the Gryffindor area of the castle/school, into the third installment of the exhibition, the Gryffindor Common Room.   Gryffindor is the house that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, the series principle characters, belong to.  In this area the audience views the house colors (scarlet and gold), Harry’s glasses and wand, Ron’s monogrammed sweater and the Marauder’s Map.  Past the Gryffindor Common Room are the dormitories where the visitors can view more of the wardrobe and garner an understanding of the actors’ journey growing from children to young adults as the clothing shows their physical growth from the first film to the last.  The fourth set are the classrooms – displays of the props and costumes of the Potions, Divinations, Defense Against the Dark Arts as well as a recreation of the Herbology greenhouse.  This is one of three areas in which the touching of props is encouraged – visitors can pull a squealing Mandrake from its potted roots. 

Once out of the classroom area, the tour goes outside the grounds of Hogwarts into the Forbidden Forest – the audience can get up close and personal with the Hungarian Horntail Dragon, a Centaur and a Thestral.  Also displayed are Buckbeak the Hippogriff and additional costuming from the film.  The Forbidden Forest leads to Hagrid’s Hut, which is actually located on the outskirts of the forest in the book and film series.  This oversize room contains Hagrid’s clothing, the Monster Book of Monsters as well as a mammoth chair that visitors can sit in.   Quidditch is the sport of choice for wizards and is the next section of the exhibit complete with Quidditch equipment, a Nimbus 2000 broom, the Golden Snitch used in all the movies and uniforms from the different houses.  If a guest is feeling athletic, they are invited to toss a Quaffle around and try to score a point or two. The exhibit takes a dark turn as the next segment is dedicated to the darker elements of the films.  On display are the Angel of Death Statue, robes, costumes and masks of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  The tour of the enchanting world of Hogwarts and its inhabitants ends in grand fashion with the Great Hall.  The Great Hall is a setting that plays a major role in the film, visitors will view props and costumes from the Yule Ball, Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore’s costumes and wands as well as Dobby, the house elf, and Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore’s phoenix.

The exhibitions build in excitement and education with each setting seemingly more fascinating and fabulous than the previous one.   The price for admission for Harry Potter: The Exhibition is $25.00 for adults and $19.50 for children ages 4-12; an audio tour is available for $7.00.  The items of the exhibit are labeled with numbers and information about the artifact, with the audio tour the visitor can learn more information about the prop by the people that actually manufactured it.  Both the price for admission and the audio tour are worth every penny.  This exhibit is a must see for anyone that is a fan of the Harry Potter series or anyone that is a true movie buff.  I have never read J.K. Rowling’s books and I have not watched the Harry Potter film series in its entirety, but I found Harry Potter: The Exhibition to be a very enriching experience.  The concern to make these fictional characters and settings believable and the attention to the minutest detail is amazing.  When I arrived at Discovery Times Square, I was a muggle novice; I left feeling as if I had known and grown with the cast (human and non-human) as well as any Harry Potter fan and will be eagerly anticipating seeing how it all ends when the last film is released in July.   Harry Potter: The Exhibition, leaves New York City September5, go and indulge the wizard in you.

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