Interim artistic director Benard Cummings has stocked Jubilee Theatre's 38th season with regional premieres — five of them, to be exact. He's also added a musical revival to the mix, resulting in a season that represents "a diversity of voices and styles, including ripped-from-the headlines dramas, nostalgic musicals, and fresh assessments of the world around us."
It starts with Nina Simone: Four Women by Christina Ham, a play that takes place on September 16, 1963, the day after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. That was the event that led Nina Simone to shift her career from artist to artist-activist, as she believed that "an artist's responsibility is to reflect the times." Using the framework of one of Simone's most blistering songs, "Four Women," the play gives voice to a group of women who suffered from self-hatred due to the different hues of their skin. Some of Simone's most popular Civil Rights anthems are included, such as "Mississippi Goddam," "Go Limp," and "Young, Gifted, and Black." It runs September 28-October 28, 2018.
Jubilee's answer to the perennial holiday classic is The First Noel, a musical by Lelund Durond Thompson and Michael Jason Webb. This memory musical flashes back to Harlem in 1985 and follows the story of Noel as a child and her desire for Christmas in a house where holiday joy has been unwelcome for years. Her parents struggle to recover from the death of their first child until an unexpected visitor turns things upside-down and brings three generations of the family together just in time for Christmas. The score is infused with gospel, pop, and re-imagined holiday classics, delivering Christmas spirit to audiences in a fresh, new way. It runs November 23-December 23, 2018.
2019 sees a stunning new play that demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit to overcome defeat at the hands of social repression and financial hardship. Obama-ology by Aurin Squire follows African-American college graduate Warren as he takes a job with the 2008 Obama campaign. He's fired up and ready to go — until he lands in the troubled streets of East Cleveland. But somewhere between knocking on doors, fending off cops, and questioning his own racial and sexual identity, he learns that changing society isn't as easy as he imagined. The play runs January 25-February 24, 2019.
Bubbling Brown Sugar takes audiences on a journey back in time to the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940), when audiences flocked to the area's popular nightclubs to see the greatest talents entertain. Loften Mitchell's three-time Tony-nominated musical revue features the music of artists such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday, who all created a golden age of music with their exciting sounds and glamorous shows. The musical runs March 22-April 28, 2019.
Dennis McIntyre's taut, incendiary drama Split Second explores the story of a respected African-American police officer who arrests a white man on suspicion of attempted car theft. The suspect taunts the officer with racist insults and verbal attacks until, in the grip of uncontrollable rage, the officer loses his cool and guns down his handcuffed antagonist. There are no witnesses; the cop can probably get away with it. Does he turn himself in or does he cover himself? The play focuses on the officer's moral dilemma: Should he tell the truth about the slaying or should he let the matter slide away as self-defense? The extremely timely play runs May 24-June 24, 2019.
A collaboration with Illinois' SPAA Theater, The Five Heartbeats brings the musical film to life onstage, following a quintet of hopeful young African-American men who form an amateur vocal group in the early 1960s. After an initially rocky start, the group improves, turns pro, and rises to become a top-flight music sensation. Of course, the guys learn many hard lessons about the reality of the music industry along the way, experiencing casual racism and greed while the members' personal weaknesses threaten to destroy the integrity of the group. It runs July 26-August 28, 2019.
"We are excited about our 2018-19 season," says Cummings. "Building on the success of A Motown Christmas, Detroit ’67, and It Ain't Nothing But the Blues, we are ecstatic to continue giving our audience fresh, thought-provoking content. Jubilee has always been at the forefront of arts creativity and this season will be no different."
Season ticket prices range from $99-$250 and are now available online at www.jubileetheatre.org or by calling the box office at 817-338-4411.