Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Feb. 13: Denise Burse, Michael Early, Phillip James Brannon, Malesha Jessie & Ellen Mandel featured in HAPPY BIRTHDAY LANGSTON HUGHES at Cornelia Street Cafe

Photo by Lia Chang

Photo by Lia Chang

On Monday, February 13, 2012, The Cornelia Street Café presents HAPPY BIRTHDAY LANGSTON HUGHES at 29 Cornelia St in New York at 6pm. Actors Denise Burse, Michael Early and Phillip James Brannon, along with soprano Malesha Jessie and pianist Ellen Mandel are featured in this ongoing series celebrating the birthdays of poets with words and music. Assembled and produced by Paul Hecht. Tickets are $10 plus $10 cover. Call 212 989-9319 for reservations. For more information and directions, please go to www.corneliastreetcafe.com

Denise Burse is most recently known for her recurring role as Claretha Jenkins on Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” She can be seen in Bruce Beresford’s upcoming film Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding, starring Jane Fonda. Ms. Burse has worked on most of the daytime and nighttime series shot in New York. Her theatre credits stretch from Broadway to Off Off Broadway and most regional theatres in between. Her theatre performances have garnered her three Audelco nominations, a Theatre World Award and an Audelco Award all for best performance by a female in a lead role.

Michael Early most recently appeared as the Duke of Exeter in Henry V with the Classical Theatre of Harlem. He has worked extensively Off-Broadway, in regional theatre and on television. Michael received a 2011 Audio Publishers Association Award for his work on Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers. He can be heard on numerous projects with Recorded Books and Wide Iris Productions. His short film, A Bed-Stuy Xmas, In Search of Home will be released this summer. Currently on the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, Mr. Early is a graduate of Yale School of Drama.

Phillip James Brannon – was last seen in Booty Candy, written & directed by Robert O’Hara (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington D.C.); Chicago credits: As You Like It, Richard III, Macbeth, Amadeus (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); Joan Dark (co-production with Linz ‘09 Festival), The Ballad of Emmett Till, The Cook, Oedipus Compex, A Christmas Carol (Goodman Theatre); Titus Andronicus (Court Theatre); Elmina’s Kitchen (Congo Square Theatre); An Immigrant Class (Remy Bumppo Theatre); Film credit: Contagion. Brannon is a member of SAG and received his BFA in Acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Malesha Jessie, soprano is a native of Los Angeles, CA. Engagements include performances with the American Symphony, Boston Pops Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera and San Francisco Opera.

Ellen Mandel has created music for over fifty plays, at the Jean Cocteau Rep, Mint, Arkansas Rep, Riverside Shakespeare, Asolo, Tennessee Rep. She has scored four films, and released four CDs: a wind has blown the rainaway, her E.E. Cummings songs, the first of all mydreams, songs to poems by Cummings, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats,and others, Every Play’s an Opera, theatre music,and Pamela Bob Sings the Mandel and Lydon Songbook, which includes settings of Wallace Stevens and Cummings, and some ofher own lyrics, as well as songs by Michael Lydon. Malesha Jessie has recorded four of her songs. Ellen’s current NYC shows: Rutherford and Son at the Mint, Agamemnon and Rumpelstiltskin, at the Phoenix Theatre in March.

Paul Hecht is a regular contributor to the intellectual stimulation at the Cafe and has assembled literary/musical events honoring such poets as Shakespeare, Pablo Neruda, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, John Milton, Edna St Vincent Millay, Tennyson, Ogden Nash, Emily Dickinson, Sholem Aleichem and Anne Sexton.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Ensemble Studio Theatre/Going to the River presents The River Crosses Rivers II: 9 Short Plays by Women of Color, 9/14-10/2/11
Photos: Phylicia Rashad, Michael McElroy, Marva Hicks in Broadway Inspirational Voices “Wondrous Grace” Concert in NY
Marva Hicks and the Columbus Jazz Orchestra light up the Southern Theatre with a “A Night at the Apollo”
Broadwayworld.com Photo Flash: Library of Congress’ IN REHEARSAL Exhibit
Photos: Willie Reale, Frances McDormand, Lewis Black, Bela Fleck, Renee Goldsberry, Duncan Sheik, Lisa Benavides, Abigail Washburn, Tim Blake Nelson at The 52nd Street Project Benefit
House of Payne’s Denise Burse on the 2011 NAACP Image Awards & Season 7; “Shout Out” Episode airs April 20
Photos: David Duchovny, John Earl Jelks, Amanda Peet, Tracee Chimo opening night of Neil LaBute’s The Break of Noon
Mu Daiko 15th Anniversary Concert and Minnesota Tour, February 9-19, 2012
Photos: Yellow Fever Playwright Rick Shiomi Explores New Territory with An All-Female Cast
Photos: “How To Succeed” stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rose Hemingway and John Larroquette at Lord & Taylor for Windows Unveiling
Multimedia: Promises, Promises’ Stars Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes at Lord & Taylor Fifth Ave
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

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Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography


Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. In 2010, the Library of Congress established The Lia Chang APA Theater Portfolio in the Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian Pacific American Islander Collection.


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