BCBG Max Azria Fall 2010

Photos courtesy of Marcio Madeira / FirstView.com

Love Is In the Air

With all the leftover Valentine’s Day cards, candy and stuffed animals littering the shelves at Duane Reade and Walgreens, the remnants of the world’s biggest day of manufactured adoration is still lingering in the city, but are special shared menus, boxes of chocolate and Hallmark cards true representations of love?  Love is more than corporate displays of affection.  Last Friday, I attended the opening performance of “all about love”, an off-Broadway production at the Paradise Factory Theater. 

Donysha Smith

“all about love” is an engaging and truthful exploration of love and its many facets.  Written by Donysha Smith, who is also making her directorial debut, “all about love” is a wonderful reflection of a lifetime labor.  “I used to put on plays at three-years-old.  I used to put the tablecloth around my neck and become a different character and perform for my family and extended family at cookouts,” she says.  Smith is a Philadelphia born playwright, producer and actress.  She earned a B.F.A in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.  She has held several roles in NYC Theater, Media and Fashion.   “This is all I ever wanted to do my entire life and I’m finally at a place in my life where it’s like this is what I’m going to do,” Donysha adds.

Wesley Voley, Zdenko Slobodnik and Aubyn Peterson

“all about love” is a tapestry that combines three perspectives of love.  The first, Three Point Stance at the Edge of the World, journeys into the psyche of soldiers living for the love they receive through letters from family and lovers at home.  Zdenko Slobodnik, an Iraq War soldier, and Wesley Voley, a Union soldier during the Civil War, provide a harsh glimpse into the alienation, somber, stressful and loveless existence that a soldier during wartime endures.  Sometimes love is a desperate thing.  Through Slobodnik’s and Voley’s narration of the letters they send home the audience can feel  their desperation and frustration to get home, back to the people they love.  The choreography in this scene is sharp and aggressive and compliments the performances given by these two actors.

Bianca Lemaire and Erickson Dautruche

The second, Carmelita 1:13, provides a modern “Thorn Birds” look at love.  The scene involves a young couple in the throws of a break up.  Carmelita’s love for the lord is driving a wedge between her relationship and is pushing her and her man to the brink of insanity.  When falling in and out of love, one can sometimes forget how another person’s upbringing and religious beliefs can affect their views on love.  Carmelita 1:13 is a poignant observation of a relationship from the other side of the spectrum.  As the characters played by Bianca Lemaire and Erickson Dautruche share memories while also expressing anger and confusion, the audience is reminded of how a breakup is just as multi-dimensional as a relationship and sometimes people must break apart in order to find their way back to each other.

Jeff Kozel and Warren Katz

After a brief intermission, the audience is treated to an amusing display of Casual Addictions and Lost & Found, the third and final scene.  Lost and Found is a touching story about acceptance and unconditional love.  While shopping for a family dinner, an elderly gay couple comes to grips with failed past relationships, a disapproving daughter and dementia.  As the scene ends, they learn the only way to move forward is with love, and a dance doesn’t hurt either.  Jeff Kozel, Warren Katz and Aubyn Peterson are extremely convincing and moved me to the brink of tears.

Aiding in the transition of the scenes are video interludes and the music of Stevie Wonder. “I think that Stevie’s music is hopeful, it’s honest [and] it is resonant,” Donysha explains about the use of Stevie Wonder’s music in the show, “He’s one of those artists that everybody loves.  Everyone knows a Stevie Wonder song.  No matter what their age, class [or] race, everybody can hear one of his songs and is like that is my jam.”  The video contains footage of New Yorkers talking about their perception of love and their experience with it, and creates a love letter to New Yorkers in general.

 A percentage of ticket sales from “all about love” will go to the Fistula Foundation, www.fistulafoundation.org.   The Fistula Foundation a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising awareness of and funding for fistula treatment, prevention and educational programs worldwide. 

“all about love” will be playing at the Paradise Factory Theater until February 21. I suggest all FAMERS get a dose of love before this productions ends. 

To purchase tickets for “all about love”, please visit www.allaboutloveshow.com.

Photos courtesy of D. Austin

The Interactive Art of Broadway

“The Lullaby of Broadway” from the musical 42nd St is one of the most recognizable songs to ever be sung on a theater stage, but in the wake of the digital age, the adaptation of this lullaby is being delivered differently than when the tune was originally written.

 It is fair to say that the internet has become a bit of a conundrum to those in the arts and entertainment field.  Industries like publishing and music have suffered while trying to decipher how to adapt and maximize the new way in which the world receives art and information and ultimately remain profitable.  Broadway has not been exempt in this digital wave, but here to navigate Broadway and off-Broadway productions through vast wilderness of the internet is Art Meets Commerce.

Starting with one client, a small off-Broadway production at the SoHo Playhouse titled Room Service, three years ago Art Meets Commerce has grown into a multi-services company that provides internet marketing, web design, advertising and video packages to an array of Broadway and off-Broadway shows.  Their current client roster includes Fela!, A Little Night Music, Stomp, Rock of Ages and the upcoming revival of Promises Promises.  

The AMC team is comprised of individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experience within the entertainment industry giving them an advantage when crafting exclusive, boutique campaigns designed for needs of each show.   With their deep understanding of internet branding, Art Meets Commerce’s clients are not only exposed to Generation Y, but other generations as well.  Their hands-on approach allows them to cultivate a following for the shows that transfer over when a client takes a show from off-Broadway to Broadway, as was the case for Fela! and Rock of Ages.

“I think it is very important to reach out to new audiences, to get them excited about the shows we work on.  There is a misconception that the internet and social networking is for kids, [but] I completely disagree,” states Jim Glaub, AMC’s interactive creative director, “I think it’s an easy tool to communicate and that’s why people of all ages are grasping on to it. It’s still very new; it’s changed so much from just a year ago.  There are so many things that have changed with how to use social networking [and] the internet.  For me it is about trying to keep on top of the changes and meanwhile test and try new things for each of the clients.”

There is nothing like the experience of live entertainment whether it is a play, a musical or a performance from a dance ensemble or Grammy award-winning artist.  The energy that is shared between the audience and the performers on stage creates a spark of electricity that cannot be duplicated making each performance a unique journey.  It is this exact distinct power that is can be lost when trying to translate live theater to the internet and sites like You Tube, and it is this dynamism that Art Meets Commerce infuses into social networking sites and other client sites.  As a person that has had a lifelong love affair with the arts, it appears to me that Art Meets Commerce is a necessity for any show.  By remaining on the pulse of live theater and the internet, AMC ensures that the lights of off-Broadway and the Great White Way remain luminous for decades to come.

Making A School

Recently I asked what realm Diddy will conquer next.  Apparently, the next stop on the Diddy expansion express is school, Sean “Diddy” Combs plans to open a school in the Big Apple to teach aspiring entrepreneurs the secrets behind his success.

The mogul told CNN, “I want to have an academy that’s known for building leaders. I feel that’s one of the things I can have an impact on.”

If anyone can teach people how to turn an endeavor into an empire, it is Diddy.  Besides being one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world, Diddy’s resume reads as the CEO of Bad Boy Records and Sean John Clothing, executive producer of MTV’s “Making The Band” and VH1’s “I Wanna Work For Diddy” and owner of Justin’s restaurant chain.  Along with these achievements and a development deal with Ciroc vodka, Diddy has kept a firm grasp on the corporate and entertainment worlds since the ‘90s all while doing so with impeccable style and panache. 

Nobody does it like Diddy; this new business school will no doubt reflect the “Diddy way” of doing things.  I’m sure that “No Bitchassness” will be written in the Diddy Business School code of conduct.  I also wonder about the selection process for applicants, if Diddy will teach any courses and if there will be campus housing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  I do have one suggestion; turn it into a television series.  If “Making The Band” and “I Wanna Work For Diddy” has shown me anything, it is that the man knows how to make entertaining reality TV, I’m sure “Diddy U” will be no different.

Help For Haiti

Last Tuesday the tiny Caribbean island of Haiti was torn asunder by a 7.0 earthquake.  Since then we have seen images of a landscape in ruins and a nation dealing with unfathomable homelessness, hunger and death.  Indeed the enormity of devastation that has been witnessed can no doubt be compared to the tragedy that happened in 2005 when the levies broke in New Orleans.  What makes the images and reports more tragic is that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere.  Our Caribbean neighbors have had to combat poverty and subpar living conditions for decades and have been overlooked by all its neighbors, including the U.S.  How much can one small country endure?

News stations have dedicated countless time to report on the aftermath of the earthquake and the relief efforts that have been initiated to help aid the people of Haiti.  CNN has become “earthquake central” with constant updates regarding the conditions of Haiti and its people following the earthquake as well as the stream of support both nationally and internationally.  It is shameful to believe that it took a catastrophe of this magnitude to shine a spotlight on Haiti, but now that Haiti has the world’s attention, it is imperative that we do what we can to ensure that this nation can finally rise from the deplorable conditions that Haitians have been living in even before the earthquake.

We have read and seen countless celebrities donate their time and money to help in the relief effort.  On Friday George Clooney, Anderson Cooper and Wyclef Jean, Grammy award winning diplomat and Haiti’s biggest champion, will team up to host the “Hope for Haiti” telethon, which is set to air commercial-free on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, BET, the CW, HBO, MTV, VH1 and CMT on at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The telethon will be hosted by Clooney in Los Angeles, Jean in New York and Cooper in Haiti. All donations will directly benefit Oxfam America, Partners in Health, the Red Cross, UNICEF and Wyclef’s Yele Haiti Foundation.   Yele Haiti has already raised $2M in text donations.  I urge all FAMERs to watch and donate whatever they can, even a donation as small as $5 can collectively make a huge difference if we all contribute.

New York City is known as a Mecca for Fashion, Art, Music and Entertainment, but I say it is also a microcosm for our global community and an epicenter for the most creative, resilient citizens on the planet.  In an effort to help in the relief effort, there are plenty of events going on in the Big Apple that are donating proceeds to various charities such as Yele Haiti, the Red Cross, etc.

On Wednesday, Soulgasm, one of NYC’s most successful underground parties, is having their weekly party at Sin Sin, located on 2nd Avenue.  They will be taking up a cash collection with the proceeds going to Americares.   On Saturday, S.O.Bs will host AYITI DEPLOGE: Special Earthquake Benefit Show with proceeds from ticket sales going to UNICEF and the Red Cross.  On the 28th Libation, held at the Sullivan Room, will open its doors to Urban Sanctuary to help raise money and supplies for the earthquake relief, I urge everyone to attend at least one event in the city that is donating proceeds to help aid the people of Haiti.

As I learn and attend events like these, I will continue to share them with you.  Now more than ever we are becoming one global village.  It is up to each of us to ensure that as citizens of the world we do all we can to assist each other as we move forward into the next decade of this millennium.

Photos of Haiti courtesy of AP and Getty Images

Empire State of Mind Top Single for 2009

Not since Frank Sinatra’s rendition of New York, New York has the Big Apple had a theme song that unites, describes and inspires the way Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” has.  Jigga hit pay dirt with this single and the feature of Alicia Keys, another fellow New Yorker, on the hook.  Both these artists are at the top of their game musically and could make for no better New York duo.  The song seemed to be perfect for the time since the Yankees used it as their theme song while clinching their 27th World Series victory.  “Empire State of Mind” took on a life of its own; from ringtones to victory parades, this single was everywhere.  It took more than 30 years for hip hop to deliver an anthem dedicated to the birth place of hip hop.  Thanks to Hov constant creativity, “Empire State of Mind” has reached beyond hip hop’s global borders with a timeless anthem that will carry us into the next decade of the new millennium. 

The Black President Comes To the Great White Way Top Broadway Production for 2009

Whether you are walking or driving in Times Square, the gridlock can feel as if you are going to a United Nations Summit.  The electricity from the flashing lights and projection screens places you are on another planet, but when you walk into the Eugene O’Neil Theater you are transported into time. 

After passing through the doors you are no longer in modern day New York City, you are whisked to Lagos, Nigeria.  Pictures of black leaders adorn the walls colored in rainbow hues.  The espiritu of the Orishas openly gather like spectators at a coming out party.   It is the time of bell bottoms and dashikis and on the continent of Africa Afrobeat is being brought to the masses.  Who is pied piper you ask, the black president of course, not Barack, but Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

On Broadway the spirit and long overlooked legacy of Fela Kuti is being resurrected through Fela! The Musical, courtesy of director Bill T. Jones.  From the opening curtain to the last one, Fela!  The Musical leads the audience through a high energy journey that follows a particular time in Fela’s life.  The musical takes place in the Shrine, Fela’s famous club in Lagos.   It may his final performance, as he is contemplating leaving Nigeria six months after the brutal murder of his mother, played by Lillias White, by the hands of government soldiers.  His existential crisis is explored through the number “Trouble Sleep.”

Like the actual performances held at the Shrine, Fela, brilliantly portrayed by Sahr Ngaujah, interacts with the audience through his music, testimonials to the corruption in Nigeria and storytelling.  The play tells the story of how Fela came to be the originator of Afrobeat, focusing on his influences like the Yoruba religion and artists like James Brown and John Coltrane.  It takes the audience back to Fela’s friendship with Sandra Isadore, played by Saycon Sengbloh, a relationship that spawned Fela’s awareness of self.  This awareness was brought to life in the number “Upside Down.” 

Fela began to reflect this awareness in his music and took it back with him to Nigeria from abroad and it is of course Fela’s music that is the highlight of this production.  For the majority of the people Fela! The Musical will be their first introduction to Fela’s music, but for me this musical is a homecoming.  As a devout househead, Fela is one of our high priests; his music is extremely influential to our community and music. 

My feet were moving to Fela’s feverish horns, African rhythms and powerful lyrics way before I knew about the man and the sacrifices he made for his beliefs.   At times it was torture to remain seated while watching numbers like “Zombie”, “Expensive Shit”, “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)”, “Yellow Fever” and “Water No Get Enemy”, some of my favorite Fela tunes.  I wanted to get up with the rest of the cast, gyrate and move my feet in praise of the black president.

The choreography was magnificent with footwork; pelvis grinding and aerial moves that remind me of the incensed lit, baby powered dance floors I spin on and dance circles I revolve in.  In fact, everything about the musical feels authentic.  The use of multimedia helps to guide the audience deeper into Fela’s world.  Sahr Ngaujah is perfect as Fela Kuti.  Sometimes I thought he was Fela; the extensive research he did for the role paid off.  He delivers a performance that is worthy of a Tony nomination and win. 

The most powerful point in the play is the recreation of the raid on Fela’s compound.  “The Storming of Kalakuta” was one of the most compelling dramatizations I have seen on stage.  The impact of the barbarous acts committed on that day was not lost on the audience although the scene was not visually graphic, yet the visions were still seared into your mind anyway.  Fela! The Musical is a tour de force in American musical theater, long live Fela Anikulapo Kuti. 

Video courtesy of FelaonBroadway.com

History of Violence Top Live Art Installation for 2009

Violence is almost as American an activity as baseball.  This country was liberated by war; our forefathers were nothing more than wig wearing rebel rousers.  This fact, I’m sure, was not lost on British artist Russell Young when he first envisioned A History of Violence

In March, Bagatelle teamed up with Keszler Gallery to present a private viewing of the exhibit.  Young’s work added a sassy energy to the romantic French bistro.  The dimly lit chandeliers and track lighting glimmering off the freshly painted silk screens gave the restaurant sex appeal.  It was a delight to sip wine and watch Russell create right before our eyes.

Before the art world beckoned, Russell past incarnations included celebrity photography and directing music videos.  A History of Violence examines the connection this country has to violence through iconic imagery and eye popping color.  I’m sure Russell’s background in photography aided in his selections of photos, which were stunning and told individual stories that help to contribute to the entire visual narrative.

Don't talk to me about heroes, most of these men smoke cocaine. 2006 Screen print on canvas

Hollywood has always had a fascination with the Wild West; in fact movies depicting boisterous stories from that time help to save Hollywood and television.  Shows like Wagon Training, The Rifleman and Maverick taught generations of kids about the rough frontier existence, morality and how violence is sometimes a necessary part of living.  No movie sums these lessons up better than The Magnificent Seven.  The movie was just as majestic as the soundtrack.  To see Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and company astride their steeds, ready to save the day, all in pink plays with the ideas of masculinity, vigilantism and heroism. 

Marlon Brando "Oh that boy's a slag" 2007 Acrylic and enamel screen print on linen

What makes bad boys so appealing?  It is a question that has perplexed parents and their daughters since the beginning of time.  Russell chose one of the ultimate bad boys to make his statement about the allure of a man who lives outside of the law, makes his own rules and still has a heart –Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  Painted boldly in red, Brando in his biker gear and looking defiant as ever in dark shades shows exactly why the bad boy is so tantalizing – there is nothing more intoxicating than the idea of a man being able to protect a woman from peril and no one messes with a bad boy.

Beauty, at times can be tragic, like a moon plant that dies in the face of dawn.  The photo of Marilyn Monroe trying to shield her face as she suffers is the epitome of tragic, fragile beauty.  This photo shows that sometimes the violence can come from within and is inflicted on ourselves.

The most compelling installation completed that night was of a gun cataloged by police.  By sight it is an ordinary handgun until the audience learned that it is a photo of the gun that killed John Lennon.  Instead of paint, Russell uses blood. 

Mouths hung as Russell smeared the blood on the silk screen.  The silence in the room while he is creating the piece was beyond creepy as we all came face to face with the mayhem that a violent mind can create.  As we sipped our wine in this trendy restaurant, the idea that violence is a part of our history and our present was never clearer to me.  Safety is only a hope, not a guarantee. 

The Dali Lama stated, “It is my belief that whereas the twentieth century has been a century of war and untold suffering, the twenty-first century should be one of peace and dialogue. As the continued advances in information technology make our world a truly global village, I believe there will come a time when war and armed conflict will be considered an outdated method of settling differences among nations.”    It is this sentiment that came to mind when I witnessed the canvas of President Obama shimmering in gold paint. 

It is no wonder the photo sold that night, Obama represented hope and change to many around the world, and is the perfect visual representation of historical change.  Art is at its best when it stimulates your senses.  The History of Violence did that and more.

Photos courtesy of KB Network News and http://www.russellyoung.com

The Call Was Answered Top Event at MSG for 2009

September 11th will always be a day of remembrance and reflection for New Yorkers, but this year Jay-Z sent out a call and answered without a shadow of a doubt.  New Yorkers made their way through the downpour of showers to Madison Square Garden to witness Hov deliver a knock out performance.  The Jay-Z and friends concert proceeds were donated to the New York Police And Fire Widows’ And Children’s Benefit Fund providing awareness to this worthy cause as well as an additional boost of pride on the usual somber day.

The friends that came out for this show included Kid Cudi, Diddy, John Mayer, Memphis Bleek, Pharell, Kanye West, Rihanna, Santo Gold and Jigga’s wife, the diva Ms. Bey.  The tickets sold out faster than a New York minute and thanks to Fuse those who were unable to witness the concert live were able to see the concert without interruption. 

The energy that was circling at the Garden was crazy.  The concert was a genuine celebration of every life lost in the 911 attacks. Every time another artist came out on stage the energy heightened.  Everyone was rocking and singing along, it was the best representation of hip hop I have witnessed in a long time and made me realized why I loved this music.  The Garden has played host to many events, this will undoubtedly rank in the top of all time.  I just hope Jigga will give us an encore next year.

It Most Certainly…WAS Top Tour for 2009

That it I am referring to was Beyonce’s “I AM…” world tour.  I checked out the show at Madison Square Garden on June 23rd and can honestly say even P.T. Barnum would have fallen crazy in love with this display of fabulousness.

French designer Thierry Mugler has always been known for his fashion forward, futuristic designs.  Both Beyonce and alter ego Sasha sashay in some the best work from Mr. Mugler since George Michael’s Too Funky video.   He mixes opulence, sexiness and strength seamlessly.

Beyonce’s all-female band can be summed up on one word, rockin’.  These ladies can jam and made sure that crowd did not remain in their seat for too long.  I also enjoyed the background vocals from “The Mommas.”  These ladies reminded me of days when Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes sang behind Sylvester.  They’re thick, beautiful and full of soul.

The show began with Crazy In Love and featured a special on stage surprise from Jigga himself.  Beyonce performed songs from “Dangerously In Love”, “B-Day” and “I am…Sasha Fierce.”  My favorite highlights included If I Were A Boy (in which Beyonce broke into Alanis Morrissette’s break-up classic You Oughta Know), Baby Boy (in which “the diva” was hoisted above the crowd with wire cable, performing mid-air somersaults ala Cirque du Soleil), Ava Maria (which shows just how Beyonce has grown vocally since her days with Destiny’s Child),  At Last (which shows video footage from the march on Washington, D.C. and ends with footage of the first couple dancing at one of the Inaugural balls), and of course Single Ladies, the new anthem for single ladies everywhere.

Another favorite of mine was the Ego interlude because that was what the show had, ego from beginning to end.  Beyonce’s “I AM…” tour delivered in every way imaginable.  The wardrobe changes on stage were effortless. She performed all her hits even those from Destiny’s Child.  The choreography is upbeat and sensual with hip swinging, booty shaking, leg jiggling and hair flipping action that would make the great Tina Turner proud.  The energy that was exchanged between Beyonce and the crowd would make anyone feel as if they had been hit with a lightening bolt.  The show provided glamour, excitement and empowerment.  It didn’t matter what seat you are in, you were included in the party.  Whether you called the show fierce, fabulous or fun, it was…all of that