Big band sound transforms the Lincoln Theatre into a Duke Ellington jazz club as Arena Stage presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies, choreographed by and starring Maurice Hines (Broadway's Sophisticated Ladies and Uptown... It's Hot!) with direction by Charles Randolph-Wright (Arena's Guys and Dolls and Blue). Sophisticated Ladies celebrates the life and music of Duke Ellington, a native of D.C. who began his career playing jazz clubs on U Street including the Lincoln Colonnade in the Lincoln Theatre, one of the first desegregated clubs in D.C. Kenneth Lee Roberson will provide additional choreography for this 15-person cast. Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington and an assistant choreographer for the original Broadway production, serves as artistic consultant to offer insight into the history of Ellington's life and music. Musical Director David Alan Bunn (Broadway's Rollin' on the T.O.B.A.) will lead an onstage orchestra of 13 musicians through this musical journey. Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies runs April 9 - May 30, 2010 at Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre. The press opening performance is April 15, 2010.
"Sophisticated Ladies is the last Arena Restaged show at the Lincoln Theater, and what a wonderful way to end our time on U Street," said Artistic Director Molly Smith. "I am pleased to welcome Charles Randolph-Wright, a renaissance man, and Maurice Hines, a Sophisticated Ladies veteran, back to Arena Stage. This isn't just a revival, it's a true creation, and to explore the history of Ellington in D.C. with these artists at the Lincoln is really a thrill."
Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies is a musical revue based on the music of Duke Ellington and was conceived by Donald McKayle (Broadway's and Arena's Raisin), with music, dance and vocal arrangements by Lloyd Mayers, additional vocal arrangements by Malcolm Dodd and original music direction by Mercer Ellington. It explores the legacy of local jazz hero Duke Ellington and follows his journey from the beginnings in D.C. through his time in New York City to his national and international stardom. The show travels through a history of song and dance with an "authentic, jazzy, brassy sound and dancing of high voltage and precision" (The New York Times). Big band music, from the roaring '20s through the swing era, serves as the show's soundtrack with hits like "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and "Take the ‘A' Train" while dance styles range from Charleston to swing to virtuosic tap.
"This piece is a joyous celebration of Duke Ellington and D.C.," said Randolph-Wright. "Duke Ellington is D.C. This is where he grew up and where his career began. We're going to tell the story of his musical journey both visually and through song and dance. We want to celebrate him not only as a true American composer, but as one of the greatest in the world."
Maurice Hines returns to Arena Stage for the first time since his acclaimed starring role in Guys and Dolls, also directed by Randolph-Wright, as both choreographer and performer in a role originated by his late brother Gregory in the Broadway production. Hines, who replaced his brother in the Broadway production, will be joined by fellow Sophisticated Ladies Broadway veteran Wynonna Smyth (Broadway's Hot Feet). The cast also includes Arena Stage favorite Marva Hicks (Broadway's Caroline, or Change and Arena's Crowns), as well as Janine DiVita (Broadway's Grease), Karla Mosley (Off-Broadway's Expatriate), Sam Cahn (Broadway's Wicked), Sabra Lewis (Broadway's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Tony Mansker (Broadway's Mary Poppins), Keith LaMelle Thomas (Broadway's Ragtime), DeMoya Watson (New York's Radio City Christmas Spectacular), Hollie E. Wright (Broadway's Hot Feet) and Richard Riaz Yoder (Broadway's Irving Berlin's White Christmas).
John and Leo Manzari will round out the cast in their professional regional theater debuts. Hines found John, 17, and Leo, 15, at a master class in D.C. in October 2009 and urged them to attend an open audition for the show the following day. The teens, who attend The Field School in Northwest D.C., are both accomplished dancers on the regional and national scene. They've grown up on D.C.'s waterfront, next door to Arena Stage's permanent theater complex.
"I'm doing this show because it's a first-class production, and of course because I love D.C.," said Hines. "I want to do this show to honor Arena Stage, Duke Ellington and my brother Gregory. When you see me on stage, you'll see Gregory right there with me."
The Broadway production of Sophisticated Ladies opened March 1, 1981 and ran for 767 performances at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The show, with music direction from Duke Ellington's son Mercer Ellington, garnered eight Tony nominations, including Best Musical, and two Tony Awards. After closing on Broadway, the show went on a national tour in 1982.
Duke Ellington (1899-1974), a composer, conductor and pianist, was one of the most respected figures in the history of jazz, and brought jazz into concert halls and religious services. He was born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C., and played professionally from age 17. In 1923 he moved to New York City and organized a 10-piece band. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Ellington and his band, greatly enlarged, appeared in theaters and nightclubs, on the radio and in foreign tours. Among his most famous songs are "Mood Indigo" (1931), "Sophisticated Lady" (1933) and "Solitude" (1934). His large-scale works include Black, Brown, and Beige (1943), Liberian Suite (1948), A Concert of Sacred Music (1965) and Far East Suite (1967); scores for the films Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Paris Blues (1961); and for the musicals Beggar's Opera (1947) and Pousse-Café (1966). Ellington's autobiography is Music Is My Mistress (1973). Sophisticated Ladies, a theatrical retrospective of his work, opened on Broadway in 1981 and garnered eight Tony noms, including Best Musical.
Donald McKayle's (Concept) acclaimed works include Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, District Storyville, Games and Songs of the Disinherited, now in the repertories of companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and San Jose Ballet. He received five Tony noms for direction and choreography of the Tony-winning Raisin, an Outer Critics Circle Award for Sophisticated Ladies, an NAACP Image Award for these shows as well as for Doctor Jazz and A Time for Singing, and an Emmy nom for the TV special Free to Be You and Me.
Charles Randolph-Wright (Director) is thrilled to return to Arena Stage, where he directed Oak & Ivy, Anthems, Senor Discretion Himself, Cuttin' Up, and Guys and Dolls (starring Maurice Hines). He wrote the plays Blue and Cuttin' Up, (which had sold-out runs at Arena and have been produced around the country) and most recently The Night Is A Child (starring Jo Beth Williams at Pasadena Playhouse). His directing credits include the 75th anniversary international tour of Porgy and Bess, Daniel Beaty in Through The Night (Geffen Playhouse) They're Playing Our Song in Brazil (in Portuguese), Brian Stokes Mitchell in Love/Life (Lincoln Center), Tough Titty (Williamstown), Blood Knot (with music by Tracy Chapman at ACT), among other productions at the Roundabout, NY Shakespeare Festival, NY Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club, Mark Taper and Carnegie Hall. Randolph-Wright wrote and directed the upcoming film Mama I Want to Sing and directed the award-winning film Preaching to the Choir. TV directing credits include Lincoln Heights, South of Nowhere, and the Nike Freestyle Soccer campaign starring Ronaldinho. He also produced and wrote Showtime's critically acclaimed series Linc's.
David Alan Bunn (Musical Director) is delighted to conduct this new production of Sophisticated Ladies. He's a protégé of Luther Henderson, himself a protégé of Duke Ellington, collaborating on songs like "Love You Madly." Broadway, regional & tours as conductor-pianist-arranger: Rollin on the T.O.B.A., Little Ham, Stormy Weather (Leslie Uggams), Ain't Misbehavin' (Ruben Studdard), The Wiz, Jennifer Holliday in concert, Lady Day ... (Jackée Harry), Forever Swing (Michael Bublé), Blanche & Her Joy Boys (Chris Calloway), Beauty and the Beast, Arena Stage's Hallelujah, Baby! (dir. Arthur Laurents), West Side Story and George Faison's If This Hat Could Talk (Apollo Theater, Melba Moore & Stephanie Mills). He's also conducted, arranged for, or shared the stage with London Royal Philharmonic, Canadian Brass, Gabrielle Goodman, Kevin Eubanks, N.J. Symphony with Ray Charles, Lena Horne, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Miller, and Delaware Symphony. He composed the fanfare for Reginald Lewis Museum's Live the Dream, performed by Baltimore Symphony and Morgan State Choir conducted by Dr. Nathan Carter.
Kenneth Lee Roberson (Additional Choreography) last worked at Arena Stage when he directed and choreographed Crowns. Other Arena: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill and Ain't Misbehavin' (dir/chor), She Loves Me, Guys and Dolls and Thunder Knocking on the Door (chor). NY choreography: Avenue Q, All Shook Up and John Leguizamo's Freak (Broadway), Purlie (Encores), Harlem Song (Apollo), Drowning Crow (MTC) and Jelly's Last Jam (asst chor). Regional: Caroline, or Change (chor: CenterStage); Purlie (chor: Pasadena; Goodman); Once on This Island (dir/chor: CenterStage); Smokey Joe's Café (dir/chor: Alabama Shakespeare) and Spunk (dir/chor: Cincinnati Playhouse). TV/film: Lackawanna Blues (HBO), Preaching to the Choir and John Leguizamo's House of Buggin' (Fox). He has received an Emmy nom, two NAACP Achievement Awards, Lucille Lortel nom, Drama Desk nom, AUDELCO Award, NPT Spirit Award, NYSCA Award and Our Time Theater Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mercedes Ellington (Artistic Consultant, Theatrical Advisor, Production Historian) is president and founder of Duke Ellington Center for the Arts; professional choreographer, director, producer and historian; and spokesperson for the legacy and heritage of her grandfather Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. She graduated from Juilliard and has won numerous distinctions in a prolific career, including honorary citizen of Paris; Helen Hayes Award; Actors' Equity/Paul Robeson Award; Flo-Bert Award; and American Tap Dance Foundation's Hoofer Award. With many Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional credits, her endeavors take her cross-country and worldwide. Her Broadway credits as performer and/or choreographer include No, No, Nanette; Sophisticated Ladies and Play On!, a Duke Ellington musical adaptation of Twelfth Night. In addition, she was producer, choreographer, performer and hostess of the large-scale multimedia musical SophisticatEd Ellington: Symphony and Swing, one of her many tributes to Duke Ellington, which completed an eight-year tour in 2000.
Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies Cast:
Maurice Hines (choreographer, performer) star of stage, screen and TV, began his acclaimed career at 5, studying tap at Henry LeTang Studio in New York. LeTang recognized his extraordinary talents and began choreographing numbers specifically for Maurice and his brother, who soon were appearing on Broadway and touring as the opening act for headliners such as Lionel Hampton and Gypsy Rose Lee. Their father joined the act, and Hines, Hines & Dad was performing to rave reviews in New York, Las Vegas, and Europe. The group appeared on many TV shows, incl. The Pearl Bailey Show, Hollywood Palace and 35 appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Hines pursued a solo career and success soon followed when he was chosen to star as Nathan Detroit in the national tour of Guys and Dolls. After his thrilling performance, Broadway beckoned, and Hines created a sensation in the 1978/79 season with his singing and dancing in the hit Eubie! He followed this with celebrated roles co-starring in Bring Back Birdie with Chita Rivera and Donald O'Connor and starring in Sophisticated Ladies. Next, Hines made his screen debut in Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club. As the film hit theaters, so did Ballet USA, a dance company created by Hines and Mercedes Ellington. Hines then conceived, directed and choreographed Uptown ... It's Hot!, which played 17 sold-out weeks in Atlantic City. He joined the cast when they moved to Broadway and received a 1986 Tony nom as Best Actor in a Musical. He followed this by co-directing and choreographing the national tour of Satchmo, produced by Kenneth Feld. As one of the few stars who truly loves the road, Hines directed, choreographed and starred in the national tour of Harlem Suite, with successive leading ladies Jennifer Holliday, Stephanie Mills and Melba Moore. Following these successful runs, Hines turned his attention to directing and choreographing music videos, incl. "I'll Be good to You," the first release off Quincy Jones' Back on the Block. Hines also has directed The Radio City Spectacular - the first African-American director for Radio City Music Hall. In the 1994/95 season, Hines starred as Jelly Roll Morton in the national tour of Jelly's Last Jam. He recently returned to the role of Nathan Detroit in the first-class national tour of Guys and Dolls. In 2006, Hines, collaborating with Maurice White, choreographed and directed the hip-hop musical Hot Feet featuring the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. Hines is currently preparing the one-man show Maurice Hines, Comin' Home, as well as doing a national tour of Blues in the Night, for which he won the 2007 San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award as Best Actor in a Musical. Hines has just completed his first ballet at BalletMet for Stevie Wonder, to premiere this year.