By Lynn Venhaus

Let’s cut to the chase. Tiffany Mann’s electrifying rendition of the signature song, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” is everything you want it to be and more, exceeding the highest expectations.

If The Muny had a roof, she would have smashed it to smithereens. She met her Muny moment by unleashing a torrent of fury, hurt, pain and devotion with such ferocity – and control – that the only one not breathless after listening was Ms. Mann. She was stunning in her range and vocal reservoirs.

It was truly one of the most spectacular powerhouse performances in my 60 years of attending Muny shows. She received thunderous ovations throughout, with some of us leaping to our feet as we applauded at the finish.

It’s no wonder she took us to church, for she’s been doing that for a long time. Her parents are nationally renowned gospel singers and actors David and Tamela Mann. You may recall Tiffany bringing the house down in “Smokey Joe’s Café” in the Muny’s first post-pandemic show in 2021.

Tiffany Mann in the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

That “Dreamgirls” showstopping first act closer has been thrilling audiences since its debut in 1981 and was ranked the no. 1 rhythm-and-blues song of 1982 on the Billboard chart. It’s an intimidating one to master, even for the most gifted vocalists.

Tony winner Jennifer Holliday’s career took off after originating the role of Effie White on Broadway, winning a separate Grammy for best vocal performance, and Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for the 2006 movie adaptation.

This rags-to-riches showbiz musical stands out because it delves into the complexities of gender and race at a time when pop music was going through a seismic cultural shift, with changing times and tastes.

Black singers were breaking down racial barriers with ‘crossover’ music, yet often compromised in a live music and recording business hierarchy.

These are subjects explored in such crowd-pleasing jukebox musicals as “Motown: The Musical,” “Memphis,” and “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical,” but “Dreamgirls” was among the first, marked by its style and sophistication.

The book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger focuses on an all-girl singing group – think Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Chiffons — as they rocket to superstardom in the 1960s and 1970s.

From left: Charl Brown, Courtnee Carter, Aramie Payton, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Tiffany Mann, Aisha Jackson and Ron Himes in the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

They must learn the ins and outs of a cutthroat system while not having much control over their contracts or lives. The soul sounds recall the Motown music trajectory of 1962-1976 in a peppy upbeat score, with meaningful emotional ballads to reflect character transitions.

It’s the kind of big splashy production that lends itself well to the glitz and glamour that the Muny can dazzle us with – and the creative team worked its customary magic to generate.

The look is super-sleek, with chic fashions from indomitable costume designer Leon Dobkowski, trendy wig designs from master stylist Kelley Jordan, ritzy set designs from ever-sharp Edward E. Haynes Jr., and perceptive bygone era video design from clever Elaine J. McCarthy.

Now in his 12th season, lighting designer extraordinaire Rob Denton enhances the in-vogue parade of fashions, glittery nightclub settings and mod TV appearances.

In 2012, the Muny staged a robust production featuring Holliday as Effie – and future “Hamilton” star Christopher Jackson as unscrupulous manager Curtis Taylor Jr.

Tiffany Mann and Ron Himes in the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

In this dynamic reprise, Mann makes Effie her own – and the high-spirited ensemble comes together seamlessly as a family along to an effervescent pulsating rhythm.

The principal characters are an impressive gathering of seasoned pros who’ve made a name for themselves on Broadway.

Immensely likable performers Aisha Jackson is classy Deena Jones and Courtnee Carter is flashy Lorrell Robinson, with the later addition of Effie’s replacement, Natalie Kaye Clater as charming Michelle Morris. They bring a lot of sparkle and pizzazz to the ambitious and naïve rising trio The Dreamettes.

They beautifully blend harmonies, and you root for them and their big dreams. Making their Muny debuts, Jackson was the first black woman to play the role of Anna in the Broadway production of “Frozen” and Carter was recently in the Tony-winning revival of “Parade.”

And the male leads are equally strong – silky-smooth Charl Brown is again impressive as the ethically challenged Curtis Taylor Jr., the Svengali manager-producer, after his memorable turn in the aforementioned “Smokey Joe’s Café” the summer of 2021. He was Tony nominated as pioneering Smokey Robinson in “Motown: The Musical.”

From left: Aisha Jackson, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Tiffany Mann, Courtnee Carter and the company of the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

With the theatricality and bluster of James Brown and Little Richard, Nick Rashad Burroughs is on fire as live-wire star Jimmy “Thunder” Early. He quickly won over the audience with his brash charm and high energy.

Burroughs originated the role of Ike Turner in “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” on Broadway and was recently seen as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the touring production of “Moulin Rouge” that came to the Fox this spring.

Aramie Payton is warm and personable as the talented songwriter C.C. White, Effie’s brother. He was the original Michael Jackson standby in “MJ – The Musical.”

Local treasure Ron Himes is a formidable Marty, an early mover and shaker who helps the group navigate the biz and tries to keep Curtis in check.

They are a tight-knit unit gliding through the ups and downs of fame.

Director Robert Clater makes sure we feel the heart along with the soul as a whirlwind rise marks Act One. His vivacious staging of the Apollo Amateur Night line-up opening and a supercool “Steppin’ to the Bad Side” gets us off to a rousing start.

The company of the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

The momentum keeps going with “Dreamgirls” and “Party Party,” followed by the serious “Heavy” and that soul-stirring rafter-shaking hit song.

Highlights also include the ironic white milquetoast rendition of “Cadillac Car” by Dave and the Sweethearts – really hammering a serious point with humor – and one of the most poignant numbers, “Family.” That is the enduring theme that ultimately saves some of them from themselves.

Choreographer Lesia Kaye keeps the dancers moving while music director/conductor Anne Shuttlesworth ensures everybody’s grooving, although I did feel at times the orchestra overpowered the vocals..

The late great legend Michael Bennett, fresh from the phenomenon that was “A Chorus Line,” directed and choreographed the original “Dreamgirls” 43 years ago, and Kaye honors that legacy with vigor.

Because of the heady mix of achieving their dreams in Act One, there is a believable joy throughout – until Effie’s heartbreaking personal and professional betrayal, although her erratic unprofessionalism and off-putting diva behavior precipitates her inevitable downfall.

Aisha Jackson and the company of the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

The cool and refined Deena becomes the more ‘presentable’ leader of the group, now known as Deena Jones and the Dreams, and is everything hot-headed Effie lacks, so Act Two interjects more of the pitfalls of fame and personal strife as fortunes run high and low.

While the cliched backstage drama also features Effie’s redemption, karma for Curtis, and Jimmy’s career tumbles, the girls’ can’t stop the detrimental cracks in their upward direction.

The consequences of single-minded success are obvious, and the book isn’t as strong in this snapshot, and the pacing sags midway.. You can see the strain of having everything tied up neatly on the page, yet the resolution feels earned for the principals, if rushed..

“And I Am Telling You…” isn’t Mann’s only slam dunk, for her contrite “I Am Changing” and her pensive “One Night Only” soar.

And darn if that long-time-coming reunion doesn’t produce a lump in the throat!

Among noteworthy elements to emphasize, Dobkowski’s elegant interpretations of retro fashions deserve their own standing ovation. His work always suits the characters perfectly, and he’s won two St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, for “Seussical” and “The Wiz.” He is in his 11th season, and brings out a shiny, happy vibe to everything he produces. Remember his jubilant “Sister Act” from last season?

From left: Courtnee Carter, Aisha Jackson, Natalie Kaye Clater and the company of the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

And Haynes’ scenic design is so fluid, one must salute his depth – briskly moving scenes in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Miami, Las Vegas, and other cities with remarkable dexterity. Theater Circle winner for “Smokey Joe’s Café,” he created the landmark set for last season’s “Chess.”

One doesn’t achieve this slick sense of time and place with its distinctive sound and fury without prioritizing collaboration. That is what sets this show apart from a typical “Behind the Music” documentary, with a cast and crew determined to razzle dazzle us in a most exuberant triumph.

Come for THE SONG, stay for the teamwork.

From left: Courtnee Carter, Aisha Jackson and Natalie Kaye Clater in the 2024 Muny production of “Dreamgirls.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

The Muny presents “Dreamgirls” at 8:15 p.m. nightly June 27 – July 3 on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. The run time is nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission. Tickets are available at, by calling MetroTix at (314) 534-1111 or in person at the Muny Box Office, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

By Lynn Venhaus

Sins of the past collide with a volatile present in the intense gut-punch that is August Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” part of his American Century Cycle now in return rotation at The Black Rep.

One of the foremost interpreters of Wilson’s work, director Ron Himes superbly creates a powder keg of family secrets, desires for fresh starts, and hopes punctured by despair.

Shaping vivid portrayals, an outstanding ensemble conveys an abundance of passion in a heartbreaking and tragic tale.

The ninth of Wilson’s 10 plays set in the 20th Century, “King Hedley II,” written in 1999, takes place in Reagan’s America 1985, when class struggles were escalating.

This was a fraught time for black men and women trapped by circumstances – few opportunities and an alarming rise in gun violence, teen pregnancies and unemployment. Wilson hammers all those points home in poetic dialogue that spills out in blistering, breathtaking monologues that offer perspective.

Ka’ramuu Kush, J. Samuel Davis and Geovonday Jones. Photo by Keshon Campbell.

Himes understands the rhythms of these individual characters so that their story arcs are distinctive – and the six intertwining connections are convincing. It is masterful, moving work from Ka’ramuu Kush as rage-filled King and Alex Jay as his conflicted wife Tonya, local legends Denise Thimes as matriarch Ruby and J. Samuel Davis as ramblin’, gamblin’ Elmore, with strong support from A.C. Smith as evangelical neighbor Stool Pigeon and Geovonday Jones as King’s pal Mister.

With daily indignities chipping away at his self-respect, King is attempting to overcome a world of hurt to rebuild his life. He just spent seven years in prison for killing a man who disfigured his face. Now, he wants to provide for his family as he hustles stolen refrigerators and dreams of opening a video store with his best friend Mister.

Trouble seems to lurk everywhere, to pull him back, and his life could blow up at any moment because of all these small fires and volatile situations fanning the flames.

Such is the action in a backyard of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, fertile ground for Wilson’s dark, complex story about the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. Some of the characters we met in his “Seven Guitars” reappear a generation later.

Alex Jay as Tonya. Photo by Keshon Campbell.

“Seven Guitars,” presented in 1995, confronted obstacles faced by a blues musician, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who lived in a boarding house in 1948.  In that one, Ruby, visiting from Alabama, is pregnant with the son she names King Hedley II. Hedley is a prominent character, although the father’s paternity is not explained. Stool Pigeon appears as musician Canewell, one of Floyd’s best buds who is now collecting newspapers and trying to maintain historical records in “King Hedley II.” His friend, Red Carter, is Mister’s father.

Wilson’s 10 plays, each exploring the African American experience by decade over the course of 100 years, have been performed by the Black Rep before. During this second go-round for the anthology, I have seen them all since “The Piano Lesson” in 2013, with “Jitney” in 2022 and “Two Trains Running” in 2020 earning outstanding production awards from the St. Louis Theater Circle.

Next season, they will complete this recent cycle with “Radio Golf,” which takes place in the 1990s and was Wilson’s final work, presented in 2005.

All powerful in their own ways, these finely acted and impeccably produced shows illuminate black heritage and specific challenges.

Denise Thimes and J. Samuel Davis. Photo by Keshon Campbell.

This production’s gritty look immerses us into the neighboring row houses’ struggles through scenic designer Timothy Jones’s shabby stoop of Stool Pigeon’s and the grimy back porch of Miss Ruby’s delapidating family home while Travis Richardson’s lighting design, Alan Phillips’ sound design and Mikhail Lynn’s props create an authentic daily atmosphere.

Kush’s King gains our sympathies as he expresses his self-doubts and displays his vulnerabilities, detailing the reasons behind his noticeable facial scar, prison sentence, and his impoverished life to date.

He’s trying to grow flowers in a neighborhood of few success stories, an apt metaphor, but an unwavering sense of community is present, even as they lament the disrespectful thug environment encroaching on their turf they try so hard to protect.

The cast excels in fleshing out their characters’ colorful personalities and backstories so that you understand their motivations and philosophies on life. Stool Pigeon and Mister present some welcome humor, which both Smith and Jones are skilled at providing.

Stool Pigeon’s frequent quoting of the Bible often gives the play a spiritual angle that reveals more as it unfolds. “God got a plan. That medicine can’t go against God. God do what he want to do. He don’t have to ask nobody nothing,” Smith matter-of-factly states.

Denise Thimes, Alex Jay, Ka’ramuu Kush. Photo by Keshon Campbell.

Wilson’s views on disadvantaged lives hit hard as their truths tumble out – exemplified by a fiery outburst from Tonya on why she doesn’t want another child, and we feel all of Jay’s anguish.

Davis, a two-time St. Louis Theater Circle acting award winner, is silky-smooth as the charming Elmore, a rascal and former suitor that reconnects with Ruby. He’s trying to soothe his soul on some of the messes of his life.

Davis’s stellar track record with Wilson’s plays continues in one of his finest portrayals, deftly maneuvering the rapid-fire exchanges of a flashy con artist always trying to score.

Thimes, known as one of the best jazz singers in town, fully embodies Ruby, trying to find peace in her golden years, and looking back at regretful missteps.

Costume designer Kristie Chiyere Osi has outfitted the working-class characters specifically, with Elmore’s slick suits and snazzy hats an interesting contrast to everyone else’s casual attire.

Geovonday Jones, Ka’ramuu Kush, J. Samuel Davis. Photo by Keshon Campbell.

The cast is riveting as the action heats up, leading to an explosive climax that left me shaken. The tension is telegraphed all through Wilson’s exceptional prose, as past violence is recounted, but it still stuns.

Nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, “King Hedley II” is impactful in its goal, to better understand behavior when people are robbed of dignity and humanity. That message resonates with The Black Rep’s insightful staging.

The Black Rep presents “King Hedley II” from June 19 to July 14 at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. An intergenerational matinee is June 26. It is 2 hours, 45 minutes, with an intermission, and contains mature language. For more information,

AC Smith as Stool Pigeon. Photo by Keshon Campbell.

By Lynn Venhaus
In 1965, the conflict between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson regarding voting rights came to a head because of escalating violence. On the streets of Selma, Alabama, the struggle to end racial discrimination was real. The drive for equality that resulted in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery and the hard-fought triumph that was the Voting Act Rights is depicted in a new historical drama written by British playwright Paul Webb.

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company hosted British playwright Webb for the world premiere of “Hold On!” that began with previews Jan. 10, opening night was Jan. 12, and the show ran Wednesday through Sunday until Jan. 28 in the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. It was the kickoff to their 47th mainstage season and directed by founder and producing director Ron Himes.

“We’re delighted to be producing this exceptional world premiere and we’ve pulled together an extraordinarily talented group of creatives to tell this story, It’s a great way to kick off our 47th Season,” Himes said.

Webb. who wrote the screenplay for the 2014 film “Selma,” was first inspired to write a play focused on the historic events in the Civil Rights Movement that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a year after the landmark Civil Rights Act was passed, and after King won the Nobel Peace Prize.

“What I came to realize was that the Selma voting rights campaign was the pinnacle of the careers for two extraordinary, although extraordinarily different, leaders,” Webb says.

Webb said he has been fascinated with American culture since childhood, and told a group of us at the opening night party about hitchhiking across America for six months. He saw how complicated race relations were in the South. He was intrigued by President Johnson’s efforts during the civil rights area, and his relationship with King. The importance of the demonstrations in Selma was a way to develop the story he wanted to pursue. .

Webb’s other works include “Four Knights in Knaresborough” about the assassination of Thomas Becket, and the BET mini-series “Madiba” about the life of Nelson Mandela.

Paul Webb, standing next to Ron Himes, says a few words about his play’s cast. Lynn Venhaus photo

Conversations with the Webb were included throughout the opening weekend, at the Jan. 11 preview performance at 7 p.m., followed by a post-show discussion, and after opening night Jan. 12, there was a post-show reception and a meet and greet. On Sunday, Jan. 14, there was a pre-show discussion at 2 p.m. before the 3 p.m. matinee performance.,

In 1957, King said: “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind; it is made up for me.”

In the 1960s, Americans debated what the “equal protection of the laws” in the 14th Amendment meant. Did the Constitution’s prohibition of denying equal protection always ban the use of racial, ethnic, or gender criteria in an attempt to bring social justice and social benefits?

In June 1963, President John Kennedy asked Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill. This was after resistance to desegregation and the murder of Medgar Evans, a civil rights activist in Mississippi, who was fatally shot on June 12.

After Kennedy’s assassination in November, President Johnson took up pushing for it, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, passed. That forbade using race and sex as reasons in hiring, promoting and firing, and strengthened the enforcement of voting rights and desegregation of schools.

Then, Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act to Congress in March 1965, the same month that voter registration protests began in Selma.. The violence there added pressure on Congress to act, and the bill passed in four months.

To further learn about King’s journey, here are some resources:

Fifty-nine years ago, Selma became the battleground for Black suffrage, and. the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the brutal Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights marchers, is now a national historic landmark. Because the attacks were televised, public support for the activists grew, and marches continued for voting rights.

For more information about the landmarks in the historic civil rights efforts, visit the Civil Rights Trail:

The protections that King and his supporters fought for are under actual threat today, with attempts at voter suppression making the Voting Rights Act vulnerable. The Freedom to Vote Act addresses voter registration and voting access, election integrity and security, redistricting, and campaign finance. (Sources: and

Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.

Next, the bill establishes Election Day as a federal holiday.

The bill declares that the right of a U.S. citizen to vote in any election for federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless, at the time of the election, such individual is serving a felony sentence.

The bill establishes certain federal criminal offenses related to voting. In particular, the bill establishes a new criminal offense for conduct (or attempted conduct) to corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from registering to vote or helping someone register to vote.

Additionally, the bill sets forth provisions related to election security, including by requiring states to conduct post-election audits for federal elections.

The bill outlines criteria for congressional redistricting and generally prohibits mid-decade redistricting.

The bill addresses campaign finance, including by expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.

‘Hold On!’ at The Black Rep

The Black Rep’s 47th season will continue with “Fly” (Feb. 14 to March 10) in WashU’s A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, followed by “Wedding Band” (March 13-31) at COCA, 6880 Washington Ave., and “Timbuktu!” (May 15 to June 9) in Edison. The season will conclude with “King Hedley II” (June 19-July 14), also in Edison.

Single tickets are now available through the Box Office, in person, or at (314) 534.3807. Reduced pricing is available for seniors, educators, students, and groups of 12 or more. Season 47 subscriptions remain on sale at

Support for The Black Rep’s 47th Main Stage Season comes from The Berges Family Foundation, The Black Seed Initiative, Caleres, Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, Rogers-Townsend, The Shubert Foundation, and the Steward Family Foundation.

Opening Night Meet and Greet: Lynn Venhaus, Playwright Paul Webb, Chas Adams

By Lynn Venhaus

The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtapositionin’ us
Justice for all just ain’t specific enough

–“Glory” by Common and John Legend
2015 Oscar winner for Best Song, from the movie “Selma”

A remarkable history lesson more so than a lecture, “Hold On!” features a powerhouse ensemble recreating a pivotal period in 1965 that was a clarion call then and eerily an alarm bell now.

The Black Rep honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy with the timing of opening weekend to coincide with the federal holiday marking his Jan. 15 birthday, which has taken place on the third Monday of January every year since 1983.

King, the most prominent advocate for nonviolent activism to protest racial discrimination, helped get the Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965, after convincing the president a year earlier to sign the landmark Civil Rights Act (July 2, 1964), the same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (Dec. 2, 1964).

Their fascinating relationship was at times contentious but also collaborative, and those power battles royale are embodied by Enoch King as resolute MLK and Brian Dykstra as salty LBJ.

Dykstra easily slips into playing the master politician Johnson, for he has appeared twice before in the role – but in the drama “All the Way” that was produced at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in fall 2015, which focuses on the civil rights endeavors in ’64, and as Brian Cox’s understudy in “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s sequel, on Broadway in 2019

King is tenacious as the motivational visionary, remaining idealistic about moving people to action in divisive times. Both King and Johnson knew they couldn’t advance anything alone but needed supporters to be fervent about progress. The good reverend is a shrewd strategist in getting what he wants with the President, whose legendary battles with the “Dixiecrats” are well-documented.

While both were certainly flawed individuals, they were able to come together and change the course of America, pushing to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

On March 15, 1965, LBJ delivered a speech before Congress on voting rights — stating that the civil rights problems challenged the entire country, not one region. He asked for legislation that dictated clear, uniform guidelines for voting regardless of race or ethnicity, which would allow all citizens to register to vote free from harassment.

Through a turbulent lens, this sobering play looks back when blacks were being murdered in the South, just for daring to register to vote, use their voice to speak up and stand up, and the killers were not punished. These incidents still pack a gut-punch, and this drama, thriller-like, illuminates gathering storms, and as history prompts us, we must be vigilant.

In 1965, Selma represented the epicenter, and in Alabama, the struggle for justice and equality escalated. This well-researched historical work by Paul Webb depicts the drive for voting rights that resulted in the March 7 “Bloody Sunday” where protesters were beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge trying to march to Montgomery, the state capital.

Two weeks later, King, James Forman and John Lewis led marchers on that landmark trail after a U.S. District judge upheld the rights of demonstrators.

Webb, a British playwright and screenwriter who is credited with the screenplay for the 2014 film “Selma,” first began the project as a play, then moved forward instead with the film, but in the years since, has revised and finished his play. The Black Rep is the first company to produce it.

The Civil Rights Movement was a long and winding road, starting in 1954 and ending in 1968. Webb, fascinated by the motives of both Johnson and King during the 1964-65 period, has formatted the play as a series of vignettes, with 21 scenes, carried out by a cast of 14.

Ambitious, yes, and director Ron Himes deftly moves along characters and action, focusing on the urgency.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

This true story has a lot of moving parts to convey onstage, establishing characters who figure prominently in the tumultuous days highlighted. Scenes are mostly divided between Selma, Atlanta (King’s residence), Brown Chapel and Washington D.C., where Dunsi Dai’s evocative scenic design includes the Oval Office as a focal point, and Meg Brinkley’s prop design conveys.

Because of the nature of a stage play, the action offstage is chronicled through news clippings and video reports, which projections designer Zach Cohn has astutely put together.

The play is dense at first, takes a while to gain momentum, but when it does, it’s riveting and empowering.

Those unfamiliar with this period may need a primer to know who the key players are. People alive then or who remember it from the history books may recall who Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark are, both masterfully played as hot-headed intolerant bigots by Eric Dean White.

The segregationists were firmly entrenched in the power grid during the Jim Crow era, and the selective timeline deepens the storytelling,

Making an impression as racist Al Lingo of the Alabama Highway Patrol and heroic activists Jimmie Lee Jackson and Annie Lee Cooper are Jeff Cummings, Jason Little and Tamara Thomas, who also play another role each.

Little and Thomas are strong in their characterizations of ordinary citizens who represent how despicably treated minorities were – and you’ll remember those names.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo smoothly plays a cruel county courthouse registrar and a redneck state trooper in addition to presidential speech writer Richard N. Goodwin. Thomas Patrick Riley tackles three unflattering roles – the ignorant courthouse worker Leverne, and an unenlightened deputy and state trooper. Tammie Holland is posh as King’s fling Della.

Other dedicated performers resemble the real people of King’s inner circle so we don’t forget their contributions:  Greg Carr Sr. as Ralph Abernathy, Olajuwon Davis as James Foreman, Greg Carr II as (future Congressman) John Lewis, Joel Antony as Hosiah Williams and Little doubling as Andrew Young (future Congressman, US Ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta mayor).

These characters earned a place in history but perhaps are unknown to subsequent generations. (And if history is being rewritten in certain school districts…I digress).

Evann DeBose

For the play version, Webb laudably expanded the role of Coretta Scott King, and Evann DeBose is radiant –and assertive — as a woman working alongside her famous husband on the same goals, a strong force who won’t be diminished or treated callously.

Musically inclined, Coretta is shown singing and playing the piano (kudos to pianist Antonio Foster). DeBose’s soulful and heartfelt renditions of songs associated with the movement — Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” from 1964 and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” a folk song referencing Biblical passages, also known as “Hold On,” popularized in 1963, remain indelible. The rallying anthem “We Shall Overcome” had to be prominently featured and it is.

One of the highlights of this production is sound designer Lamar Harris’ original music score. His compositions vividly capture the moods and punctuate the action in a notable way.

Some of the horrifying attacks are choreographed movements to represent the explosive violence and shrouded in blue lighting by expert designer Sean M. Savoie. Annie Lee Cooper’s front-page-news punch to the sheriff is well-staged for optimum effect.

Costume designer Marc W. Vital II has put together appropriate vintage looks for the women and standard business attire for the men. Special recognition goes to stage manager Tracy D. Holliway Wiggins and assistant Alan Phillips for maintaining the flow of all the comings and goings, no easy feat.

It’s important to keep this story at the forefront today because of its relevancy to equal rights.

The shock of brutal attacks with prejudice and without accountability reminds us that we are again living in tense times and protections are not absolute. As far as we have come in 59 years, scary to even think suppression is happening again.

It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around that more than 60 years ago, people died for the right to vote, and as I write this, voting rights are being threatened. However, a movement is underway supporting the Freedom to Vote Act of 2021 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2023, which would modernize and revitalize the 1965 Voting Rights Act, strengthening legal protections against discriminatory voting policies and practices. Maybe “Hold On!” will be a timely nudge in the right direction.

“Hold On!” is a fine example of people keeping their eye on the prize, illustrating how many marched away from the darkness and into the light because of King’s special skills, and those he passed the torch to during his lifetime and beyond. It’s a refresher course on Selma not being a bridge too far.

Facin’ the league of justice, his power was the people
Enemy is lethal, a king became regal
Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle
The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful
We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy
One day when the glory comes


The Black Rep presents the world premiere of “Hold On!” Jan. 10-Jan. 28 with performances Wednesday-Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Performances take place Jan. 10-28. Tickets are $50, or $45 for seniors and $20 for students (17+), with student rush tickets $15. No one aged 5 and under is admitted. Season 47 subscriptions are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Edison Theatre box office; the Black Rep’s box office, 813 N. Skinker Blvd.; or by calling 314-534-3810. For more information, visit:

Cinema St. Louis is pleased to partner with the St. Louis Black Repertory Company for a special screening of the film, “Selma,” on Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Hi-Pointe Theatre at 1 pm. General Admission Tickets are $10, and a discounted ticket of $8 is available for current students and senior citizens aged 55+.” Visit site for tickets:

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company has named Brian McKinley as Director of Education and Community Programs. The actor, educator, and former intern assumes the role after serving 6 years in various positions at the Company.

“Brian is a talented emerging leader in our field,” said Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep. “I am very pleased that he has agreed to continue to bring his innovative and collaborative style to advancing our initiatives in the schools and community.”

Brian came to The Black Rep as an intern in 2017, directly after earning his BFA in Musical Theatre from Western Illinois University. Most recently he has served in the role of executive assistant to Producing Director Ron Himes, where he has coordinated the Black Rep’s Professional Fellow company, ensuring that thousands of local children gain access to quality theatre and engaging them in conversation and inquiry about the world around them. 

As an actor, Brian’s talents have taken him to stages across the country. Recent credits include: Skeleton Crew; Sweat (The St. Louis Black Repertory Company), King Lear (St. Louis Shakespeare Festival), The Wizard of Oz (Theatre League, Inc.), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Minot State University Summer Theatre), and The Wiz (COCA-Center of Creative Arts). He was recognized in 2021 with an award for Outstanding Supporting Performance from the St. Louis Theatre Circle for his role in Spell #7 (The St. Louis Black Repertory Co.) and was among the early-career professionals selected for the Fall 2021 Focus-St. Louis cohort of Emerging Leaders.

As education and community engagement director, McKinley will continue to manage the company’s professional fellow company as well as oversee the Touring Show Productions and growing portfolio of  programming for education and community partners. 

“I’m excited to continue to spread my wings as an arts leader and to continue to build awareness and partnerships with The Black Rep,” said McKinley. “Thanks to the support of generous donors we are able to bring the arts to more of the St. Louis community and most importantly, to our growing list of school partners.”

McKinley won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for his performance in “Spell #7” at The Black Rep.

About the Black Rep

The Black Rep, a 46-year-old legacy Black arts organization, is committed to producing, re-imagining, and commissioning work written by Black playwrights and creating opportunities for new voices and youth. Founded by Producing Director Ron Himes, the vision for The Black Rep continues: a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources for Black professionals and students in the theatre; improved representation on and back-stage in the theatre industry; and a fostered community culture of support and mentorship for those who will follow. For more information: 

Brian McKinley

By Lynn Venhaus
Guaranteed to put a spring in your step and a song in your heart, “Eubie!” is a sparkling and joyous tribute to one of the groundbreaking talents of the 20th century.

The Black Rep’s third time presenting a musical revue of American musician and composer Eubie Blake’s greatest hits is musical theater of the finest caliber.

The convivial cast, high-spirited choreography, cheerful musical numbers, elegant costumes, and silky-smooth orchestra combine for an uplifting production.

The musical extolling the talents of James Hubert “Eubie” Blake over his long, lauded career, especially his achievements in the early 1900s that helped spark the fabled Harlem Renaissance in the ‘20s and ‘30s, was the of the toast of the 1978-1979 Broadway season, nominated for three Tony Awards, including Eubie’s score and Gregory Hines’ performance. Blake died in 1983 at 96 years old.

With his 1921 musical, “Shuffle Along,” he and lyricist Noble Sissle helped break down racial barriers because it was the first Broadway musical written, directed by and starring black Americans. It also helped shape American musical theater as we know it today.

In 2006, his album “The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake” from 1969 was included in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board. They annually select music that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Coda Boyce. Photo by Phillip Hamer

This effervescent cast has individual standouts but really comes together as an ensemble to celebrate Eubie’s contributions in ragtime, jazz, and popular music. Director Ron Himes’s thorough knowledge of the piece and the song styles helps expertly extract the very best from the cast, which has five performers making their Black Rep debut (DeAnte Bryant, Serdalyer Darden, Carvas Pickens, Tamara PiLar, and J’Kobe Wallace).

Himes deftly stages the group numbers – ‘Shuffle Along,” “I’m Just Simply Full of Jazz,” “High Steppin’ Days,” and “Roll Jordan” with polished and buoyant dance designed by master choreographers Heather Beal and Vivian Watt. Such verve!

Noteworthy in the Black Rep’s last musical, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” in 2019, the multi-faceted Robert Crenshaw stars and designed the tap choreography, He dances with such joy, that when he’s performing a solo number, it’s extraordinary, especially in “Low Down Blues” and “Hot Feet.”

In perhaps Blake’s most well-known song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” Crenshaw joined Evann De-Bose, Coda Boyce, Samantha Madison and PiLar for a rousing rendition.

Crenshaw opened the show with Boyce and Venezia Manuel, performing the jolly “Charleston Rag” and “Good Night Angeline” in the prologue.

J’Kobe Wallace. Photo by Phillip Hamer

Boyce, so good in “The African Company Presents Richard III” at the Black Rep last year, shows off her vocal chops in “Craving for That Kind of Love” and her playful moves in “Baltimore Buzz” with Manuel and lithe Bryant and Wallace.

The acrobatic moves of Bryant and Wallace are eye-popping and crowd-pleasing, and add pizzazz to the music numbers, Wallace is especially impressive in “Dixie Moon” and “Got to Get the Getting While the Gittin’s Good.”

Newcomer Darden has a good time with “I’m a Great Big Baby” and other solos of note include PiLar in “Daddy,” and De-Bose in “Memories of You.”

PiLar has a terrific duet with powerful-voiced Pickens in “My Handyman Isn’t Handy Anymore.”

They both have a good time with the cast in a fun, very theatrical number “If You Never Been Vamped by a Brownskin, You’ve Never Been Vamped At All,” where they take on roles of The Vamp, wife, husband, judge, bailiff and jury.

Taijah Silas is part of the 11-person ensemble, and they all move with vigor and enthusiasm.

Phillip Hamer Photo

Music Director Joe Dreyer, who also plays piano, is a virtuoso musician, and seamlessly leads a superb orchestra of Chris Tomlin on tuba, Bernard Long on drums, Anthony Wiggins on trumpet and Harvey Lockhart on saxophone. They are behind a scrim, but they breeze through the music catalogue with aplomb.

The musicians are part of this dream team that delighted in delivering a beautiful lesson in music appreciation of an earlier era.

The sound design by Justin Schmitz is splendid, and so is the look of the production, with impressive lighting design by Jasmine Williams and scenic design by Tim Jones setting the atmosphere through the decades.

Costume Designer Marc W. Vital II’s exceptional craftsmanship captured the period’s glamour perfectly.

It’s rare when you get to experience not only the cast having the best time on stage, but the audience thoroughly engaged and enchanted with the vitality of those involved.

“Eubie!” closes the Black Rep’s 46th season on a high note.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The Black Rep presents the musical revue “Eubie!” from May 3 to May 21 at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information, visit

Photo by Phillip Hamer.
Photo by Phillip Hamer

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company continues its 46th Anniversary Season with the musical revue EUBIE!, featuring music from the groundbreaking musician and composer Eubie Blake. The production opens May 3 through Sunday May 21, 2023 at The Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

On Broadway in the 1970s, Eubie! re-introduced audiences to Blake’s iconic career and highlighted his role in breaking down racial barriers with the 1921 musical, Shuffle Along –  the first Broadway musical written, directed by and starring Black Americans. 

At The Black Rep, the ensemble cast for EUBIE! includes Coda Boyce (The African Company Presents Richard III; The Light), DeAnté Bryant (TBR debut), Robert Crenshaw (Spell #7; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope), Serdalyer Darden (TBR debut), Evann De-Bose (Lines in the Dust; Black Nativity), Samantha Madison (Do I Move You? Black Nativity), Venezia Manuel (Crossin’ Over), Carvas Pickens (TBR debut), Tamara PiLar (TBR debut), J’Kobe Wallace (TBR debut), and Taijha Necole Silas (Behind The Sheet; Death Of A Salesman).

Audiences will be treated to well-known tunes such as: “In Honeysuckle Time,” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” with live music featuring: Joseph Dreyer – Piano, Chris Tomlin – tuba, Bernard Long Jr. – drums, Anthony Wiggins – trumpet, and Harvey Lockhart – saxophone.

“EUBIE! showcases many of Blake’s best songs, many from Shuffle Along, which was a smashing success when it ran on Broadway in 1921,” explains Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep. “Eubie Blake not only helped shape American musical theatre as we know it today, but that show is credited with kicking off the Harlem Renaissance that swept New York City culture in the late 1920s and 1930s.”

Directed by Ron Himes with Musical Director Joe Dreyer and written by Eubie Blake, Andy Razaf, Noble Sissle and Julianne Boyd, the production showcases Choreography by Vivian Watt, Heather Beal, and Robert Crenshaw; Scenic Design by Tim Jones, Costume Design by Marc W. Vital II, Sound Design by Justin Schmitz, Lighting Design by Jasmine Williams. Tracy Holliway D. Wiggins is the Stage Manager and Zahria Moore is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Tickets are available at or through the Box Office at 314-534-3807. Reduced pricing is available for seniors, educators, museum staff, students, and groups of 12 or more. The Black Rep is highly recommending face masks inside the theatre. Please visit for up-to-date health protocols.

Support for The Black Rep’s 46th Main Stage Season comes from the Arts and Education Council, The Berges Family Foundation, The Black Seed Initiative, Caleres, Missouri Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts Commission, Rogers-Townsend, The Shubert Foundation, the Steward Family Foundation, and Washington University in St. Louis, with matinee support from the Union Pacific Foundation.

About The Black Rep

The Black Rep, a 46-year-old legacy Black arts organization, is committed to producing, re-imagining, and commissioning work written by Black playwrights and creating opportunities for new voices and youth. Founded by Producing Director Ron Himes, the vision for The Black Rep continues: a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources for Black professionals and students in the theatre; improved representation on and back-stage in the theatre industry; and a fostered community culture of support and mentorship for those who will follow. For more information: 

By Lynn Venhaus
Stages St. Louis’ “In the Heights,” a jubilant celebration of culture, community, and connection, won six awards, including Outstanding Musical Production, Music Director, Choreography, Set Design, Costume Design (tie) and Ensemble in a Musical, at the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards Monday.

Their world premiere of “The Karate Kid – The Musical” won Outstanding Lighting Design for a total of seven, and Jack Lane, retired executive producer, announced the musical is Broadway-bound in 2024.

Seven is what The Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis amassed for four productions: August Wilson’s “Jitney” (2 – Outstanding Production and Ensemble), “Behind the Sheet,” (2 – tie for Outstanding Production – Drama and Best Director), “The African Company Presents Richard III” (1 – Supporting Performer, Male or Non-Binary, Cameron Jamarr Davis) and “Dontrell, Who Was Kissed by the Sea” (2 – Lighting Design and Sound Design).

Brian McKnight accepted on behalf of The Black Rep and described founder Ron Himes as a man “who has vision.”

The Muny, SATE (Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble), and West End Players Guild each won four at the 10th Annual Theater Circle Awards, which recognized achievements in comedies, dramas, musicals and operas.

SATE’s original play “Bronte Sister House Party” won 4 (Best New Play, Outstanding Comedy Production, Comedy Ensemble and Supporting Performer Male or Non-Binary Role). “The Color Purple” at The Muny won 3 – Leading Performer, Female or Non-Binary in a Musical, Supporting Performer, Female or Non-Binary, and Costume Designer while Martin McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West” won 3 – Leading Performer, Male or Non-Binary, Supporting Performer, Female or Non-Binary, and Director Robert Ashton for the West End Players Guild.

For more than 10 years, the St. Louis Theater Circle has been presenting annual awards for regional professional theater, and resumed a live ceremony after virtual productions streamed by HEC Media online in 2020 and 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, cancelling 2021 (but including a few of those productions last year).

It was the first live ceremony since 2019, and held at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s Loretto-Hilton Center on Webster University’s campus.

Approximately 90 productions were considered for this year’s event. Three productions – “Chicago” at the Muny, “A Christmas Carol” at The Rep, and “Head Over Heels” at New Line Theatre — were ineligible because the same production was presented within the last three years at the respective venues.

The Circle presented more than 30 categories for outstanding achievements from 2022, with 20 theater companies receiving nominations.

Nationally recognized playwright, theater producer, and long-time advocate for the arts Joan Lipkin was honored with a special award for lifetime achievement.

Records that evening included Joel Moses winning two acting awards in one night and Jennifer Theby-Quinn won her third acting award, joining Will Bonfiglio and Laurie McConnell as three-time winners.

Luis Salgado, who made “In the Heights” ‘pop’ with his spirited direction and vibrant choreography, accepted awards while praising the theater community in St. Louis. He and actor Ryan Alvarado, a nominee for playing Usnavi, flew in from New York City to attend .

Here are the awards given out April 3:

Cameron Jamarr Davis “The African Company Presents Richard III” at the Black Rep

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role: Hannah Geisz, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role: Joel Moses, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Outstanding Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role: Molly Burris, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role: Jason Meyers, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play: Jasmine Williams, “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Sound Design: Jackie Sharp, “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play: Oona Natesan, “House of Joy,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Set Design in a Play (tie): Bess Moynihan, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company and Josh Smith, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Winner Jason Meyers, at right “The Lonesome West”

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role: Rachel Tibbetts, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role: Cameron Jamarr Davis, “The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role: Jennifer Theby-Quinn, “Iphigenia in Splott,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role: Joel Moses, “The Christians,” West End Players Guild

Joel Moses, “The Christians” at West End Players Guild

Outstanding New Play: “Brontë Sister House Party,” by Courtney Bailey, SATE

Outstanding Achievement in Opera: (tie) Thomas Glass, “Harvey Milk,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Robert Mellon, “Falstaff,” Union Avenue Opera

Outstanding Production of an Opera: “A Little Night Music,” Union Avenue Opera

Outstanding Musical Director: Walter “Bobby” McCoy, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Choreographer: Luis Salgado, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role: Nicole Michelle Haskins, “The Color Purple,” The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role: Jeffrey Izquierdo-Malon, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical: Bradley King, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical: Anna Louizos, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical: (tie) Samantha C. Jones, “The Color Purple,” The Muny and Brad Musgrove, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Anastacia McCleskey “The Color Purple” at The Muny

Outstanding Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role: Anastacia McCleskey, “The Color Purple,” The Muny

Outstanding Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role: Ben Davis, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy: “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama: “Jitney,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical: “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Director of a Comedy: Robert Ashton, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild

Outstanding Director of a Drama: Ron Himes, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Director of a Musical: Bradley Rohlf, “Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals

“Bronte Sister House Party” won four Circle Awards

Outstanding Production of a Comedy: “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Outstanding Production of a Drama: (tie) “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep and “Jitney,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Production of a Musical: “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Special Award: Joan Lipkin, for lifetime achievement

The St. Louis Theater Circle was formed the summer of 2012 and began awarding excellence in regional professional theater in 2013. No touring, community theater or school productions are considered.

Current embers of the St. Louis Theater Circle include Steve Allen,; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Tina Farmer, KDHX; Rob Levy,; Michelle Kenyon, and KDHX; Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle (HEC-TV); Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Judith Newmark,; Lynn Venhaus, and KTRS Radio; Bob Wilcox, Two on the Aisle (HEC-TV); and Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Eleanor Mullin, local actress and arts supporter, is group administrator.

The mood was extraordinary, and, in Joan Lipkin’s words, we could feel the “palpable joy” for each other. The speeches were heartfelt, and I wish we had them on record. It was truly “celebratory revelry.”

The Black Rep was a winner for four separate shows in the same year, an a back to back winner for August Wilson, as last year’s drama production was “Two Trains Running”)

We discovered we had two different Josh Smiths nominated — the one for Shakepeare’s Italian villa who won for “Much Ado About Nothing” was not the same for the carnival in “Ride the Cyclone.”

Happy the ‘tribe’ had so much fun — and the fellowship was really special. Hope the feedback continues to be positive.


“Jitney” Best Drama Production and Best Dramatic Ensemble

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company announces the Morehouse College Glee Club in a special benefit concert Saturday, November 12, 2022, as part of the organization’s annual GALA at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity Avenue. 

“This has been an extraordinary year, and we are so happy to be bringing the Morehouse College Glee Club to St. Louis audiences,” said Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep. “There is no better way to celebrate our ability to experience the joy of live performance together than to hear these voices. The Black Rep made a five year commitment to present an HBCU Chorale group each year at our Gala.”

The all-male Glee Club was formed at the historically Black men’s university in Atlanta in 1911. They have performed around the world, as well as at historic events such as the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, former President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, and at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral – a notable alumni of the Glee Club and Morehouse University.

Under the direction of Dr. David E. Morrow, the Glee Club will perform a repertoire of African and American songs for St. Louis audiences. Tickets are available for purchase now.

Funds raised at the annual GALA directly support The Black Rep’s Community and Education programs including classes and workshops, Summer Performing Arts, Teen Tech Training, Professional Fellowships, and Regional Touring Company season for school and community audiences. Shanti Parikh and Dennis Reagan are the co-chairs of the fundraising event.

For concert tickets contact The Black Rep at 314-534-3807 or visit

By Lynn Venhaus

Bigotry is an ugly thing to witness, even in the context of 1821. It’s expected, but always unsettling, no matter what period.

So, when the first scene of “The African Company Presents Richard III” opens with a condescending and arrogant white supremist shutting down a competing Shakespearean production, that sets the tone for a battle between right and might.

As Stephen Price, the haughty and cruel producer at the Park Theatre, Eric Dean White will make your skin crawl. He is threatened by their success and will use his influence to get the powers-at-be to make it hard on them.

While our sympathies lie with the performers in The African Company, they are having their own conflicts to deal with from within that threatens their existence too.

This 1994 play within a play by Carlyle Brown is a provocative showcase for compelling artists in The Black Rep’s latest riveting work. And opens the Black Rep’s 46th season in fine fashion.

Based on a true story, Brown’s drama is set in pre-Civil War New York when two productions of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” are vying for audiences. Slavery was not outlawed yet, but there were more free blacks living there.

Shakespeare famously said, “The play is the thing,” and The African Company, through the Black Rep’s hard-hitting production, shows you why art can break barriers, and all the challenges are worth it.

Cameron Jamarr Davis as James Hewlett as Richard III. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The first black theatre in the U.S., The African Company of New York was a downtown theater growing in popularity with not only black audiences, but white audiences too. Their satires drew crowds, particularly when it was about the status quo white society. And the unenlightened were outraged those blacks had a voice. How dare they tackle the Shakespeare and other British classics!

William Henry “Billy” Brown had turned his home’s backyard into The African Grove, where blacks could socialize as society became increasingly segregated, then he expanded to theater, founding The African Company.

Price’s company has paid a renowned British actor, Junius Brutus Booth (father of John Wilkes Booth), a pretty penny and a sweet contract promising a full house, so they want a return on the investment, more revenue, and will not play nice.

The black theater doesn’t have the luxuries afforded the other theater, and most of the actors work as domestic servants or as laborers or in other roles.

“We all charade one great role of the happy, obedient Negro,” says character James Hewlett, the first black Shakespearean actor in U.S., and is playing the lead role.

Some of the cast is worried about the police shutting them down. What if they are taken to jail?

Director Ron Himes keeps the tension simmering both in racial friction and the tussling actors. He ensures that the company’s commitment to art is a focal point, while he laces this distinctive history lesson with humor and music.

As Hewlett, Cameron Jamarr Davis is passionate about the work, and doubles-down on his conviction, despite mounting odds – and a complicated romantic entanglement.

Ann Johnson, the actress playing Lady Anne, is exhausted by her day job and feelings that don’t seem to be reciprocated in equal measure. She is confused by the part and the play’s action, and not afraid to say so. Coda Boyce gives a fierce performance as someone speaking up for herself, and not compromising in a world that expects her to be subservient.

Alex Jay is a strong Sarah, who tries to keep things going smoothly, and is an accomplished seamstress. Costume designer Andre Harrington has beautifully captured the period and the royal costumes.

Olajuwon Davis is tough and tenacious in his portrayal as the dedicated, steadfast promoter Brown, who tries to not let what he calls “silly” views of white people grind him down. He channels his anger into action.

In real life, Brown wrote “The Drama of King Shotaway,” which is considered the first play by an African American and was about the black Caribbean war of 1796 against white settlers. Somehow, it’s been lost. However, what he did for blacks in theater will never be forgotten.

Papa Shakespeare is trying hard to keep them together. He’s quite a storyteller, a repository of history and wisdom – and colorful, as played by Wali Jamal Abdull. As the racist constable, Dustin Petrillo is a despicable meanie.

The simple set, designed by Jamie Bullins, doubles as a rehearsal hall and a theatrical stage, well-accented by Jasmine Williams’ lighting design.

This well-acted, well-staged play is a noteworthy moment in time that will resonate with modern audiences, for its power is timeless.

The Black Rep presents “The African Company Presents Richard III” Sept. through Sept. 25 at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University. For more information, visit

Photos by Phillip Hamer