On the last Sunday afternoon in June, Woodie King’s New Federal Theatre presented Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott’s Marie Laveau, with music by Hair composer Galt MacDermot and musical arrangement by Chapman Roberts, as the final play in the Gurfein Foundation/Ntozake Shange Play Reading Series at Castillo Theatre in New York.
Walcott’s musical comedy, which has elements of French farce, tells the fascinating story of New Orleans madame and Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, who attempts to wrest control of her brothel away from its white financier, and in the process unleashes a racial and religious storm that threatens to consume the city.
Woodie King Jr. assembled a cast featuring Marie Thomas as Marie Laveau, Arthur Bartow, Trazana Beverly, Tom Brangle, Gerard Catus, Hunter Canning, John Danelle, Brandon Dirden, DK Dyson, Steve Greenstein, Teresa Lasley, Harrison Lee, Mizan Nunes, Stu Richel, Martin Shakar, DeWanda Wise and myself.
Over a tight two day rehearsal period, director Clinton Turner Davis expertly navigated us through the poetic rhythms of the script and we were lucky to have playwright Derek Walcott, who had flown in from his home in St. Lucia, in the house. Just hours before our 3pm show on Sunday, Chapman Roberts infused the text with blues, jazz, the call and response of a church congregation and African drum rhythms, adding yet another dimension to our performances.
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