“Do you know how tardy you are?,” Anthony Anderson said to a man coming in obscenely late around 9:15 to the NAACP Theatre Awards, on Monday, June 30 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Anderson and his lovely co-host Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) hosted the 18th Annual Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Theatre Awards acknowledging L.A. theater performances both in equity and local. It was a competition between the show and the Hancock premiere which happened across the street at the El Captain Theatre starring Academy-award nominee Will Smith. A few of the younger nominees admitted to stopping by the premiere and picked up a few goodies.
The festival weekend began Friday night, June 27 at the VIP opening party at the Clarity Theatre in Beverly Hills. Major sponsors included Honda, Crown Royal and Macy*s. Familiar faces like Richard Brooks (Law & Order) and Clifton Powell (Ray) hobnobbed with others along with local talent like Charles Reese, curator of Teeth & Eyes Communications (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/4/235/730) graciously greeted others coming in. Actress/producer N’Bushe Wright (Blade) and her co-producer, actor/comedian Vincent Cook (Ali) co-hosted the weekend festival. Over 25 solo shows were performed over the weekend. Each one demonstrated a gamut of emotions from hysterical to poignant. Ella Joyce (Roc) performed her spectacular A Rose among Thorns, (www.aroseamongthorns.com) on both days, a tribute to the late Rosa Parks directed by her husband Dan Martin (The Bold and the Beautiful). Right next to Ms. Ella, stellar performance by Morehouse graduate Charles Reese in A Soul on Fire, www.thejamesbaldwinproject.com based on a secret meeting writer James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain) had with State Attorney General Robert Kennedy along with playwright Lorraine Hansberry (Raisin in the Sun), singers and actors Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte and Dr. Kenneth Clark in 1963. Reese immediately captured eager ears singing in a strong baritone voice “Can I Get a Witness?” as he walked up stage. Adding both drama and amusement was Stogie Kenyatta in Paul Roberson: The World is my Home. Kenyatta began with Roberson’s glory days playing football at the prestigious Rutgers University. This son of a preacher man graduated valedictorian in 1919, graduated from Columbia Law School and was at the mecca of Harlem Renaissance. He lived life by meeting literary giants and listening to Cab Calloway, even though he wasn’t easy to understand
Cece Antoinette (www.ceceliaantoinette.com) rattled the funny in “Watermelon-Git it While it’s Hot!!!” Both historic and hysterical, Ms. Antoinette took her enraptured audience back to Texas, her hometown, in 1954, coincidentally the same year that Brown vs. Board of Education overturned the decision of African American children being allowed in school. She was named both after the saint and goddess. This goddess-in-training lived in Hamilton Park, the first African American neighborhood in Texas “built from the ground up” as she proudly said. The term watermelon is what her momma used in discussing a woman’s private parts. As a young girl, Ms. Antoinette had more questions but didn’t dare ask her momma. Would you? So, she took her inquisitive mind and asked the strong-minded women in her area. There was Agnes who owned the neighborhood greasy spoon and allegedly is related to Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima. Agnes added, literally, a little of herself in her burgers and other foods. Then there was Sapphire, the first female preacher who made every place she went as her personal ministry. Then there’s the leech of the neighborhood. The man always around the corner from sun-up to sundown doing his best Fat Joe impression by leaning back and enjoying the view. Jody is the backdoor man.
Ms. Antoinette had this man down to the tee. From his Stetson hat cocked to the side to a foil silver grill, probably hiding the fact he doesn’t have any teeth. Wearing aviator glasses in the daylight and an oversized handle-bar moustache, carrying a small bag of Crown Royal and a bag Tootsie Roll lollipops to add a little sweetness as he raps to a cute young thing. Lastly, it’s all about Rules of the Weeney, hot dog that is. She learned from her Fairy Godsista that she had to stroke and charm it if she wanted its attention. Ms. Antoinette became all these individuals using only a long, grey and metallic scarf. That’s the sign of a true artist to use what little you got in so many different ways and making it authentic.
Former NAACP Image Award winner Vanessa Williams did a sample of her recently closed show at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood Feet on the Ceiling. All about her sexual awakening in her native Brooklyn, New York, Williams learned about life by watching successful commercial from 70s, which heavily emphasized on being a woman, such as the memorable Enjoli perfume ads. “I can bring home the bacon/Fry it up in the pan/And never let you forget you’re man/ Cause I’m a woman, Enjoli.” And of course the 1972 Grammy-winning classic “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy.
Ella Joyce’s portrayal on the late Rosa Parks was spectacular. She captured the late civil rights leader speech, etiquette, appearance and most importantly the fire within. As Rosa Parks, Joyce displayed her sly humor and her elegant manner. As Parks, Joyce gracefully walked in the room, admires her cover on Ebony magazine and begins her tale. She informed the audience that she wasn’t the first or only woman who was demanded of the bus. She mentioned how Claudette Colvin back in 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks faced the same situation, was handcuffed and dragged off the bus for refusing to give her seat to a white person. Or, ironically, how Parks encountered Thomas Edwards Brooks, the bus driver who infamously told her to get up and out of his bus for a white man, was the same driver 12 years prior she tried to avoid. Joyce showed off the infamous mug shot of Parks, cell number 7053 and sarcastically said the audience is looking at a hardened criminal. Her husband Dan Martin (The Bold and the Beautiful), who directed Among Thorns was seated in the back enjoying his wife‘s performance.
The award show honored distinguished individuals in theater such as Benjamin Jealous, the current president-elect and chief executive officer of the NAACP with President’s Award. Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Two Can Play That Game) received the Spirit Award. Production ranged the gamut from poignant and serious to flat-out laughing so-hard-your-sides-hurt funny. The performances in between was equally mesmerizing as the presenters and nominees. The cast from the musical City Kids performed a snippet from their show, former American Idol from season 2 Trenyce Cobbins outdid herself in the Whitney Houston classic “Always Love You” first in acapella then with music. Fans showed their love with shout outs of approval and a few “You know you should’ve won” referring to the newly married Ruben “The Velvet Teddy Bear” Studdard who won.
Actress Terri J. Vaughan (The Steve Harvey Show, Daddy‘s Little Girls) and Malinda Williams (Soul Food) couldn’t keep it together to present Best Director Local. Williams improvised when the teleprompter was blank. She had no lines to say. She laughed, which made Vaughan laugh which lead to everyone else cracking up. Apparently, the ladies came on too soon. Former America’s Next Top Model cycle 3 contestant Tocarra Jones and actor Leon (The Temptations, Get Rich or Die Tryin’) were the scheduled presenters. They kept it funny and it made what could have been a disaster work beautifully.
Black Hollywood shone brightly on award night. Presenters, nominees and fans made it a celebrated evening in paying homage to the theater. Whatever you choose to see, you will not be disappointed. All the productions are winners.
Log on to www.bhwdnaacptheatreawards.com for more information and video.