‘It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues’ at New Haarlem Arts Theatre

New Haarlem Arts Theatre (NHAT), the new professional theater company of City College of New York (CCNY), will present “It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues,” directed by Alfred Preisser, from July 28 to August 21, 2011 at Aaron Davis Hall, located at W. 135th Street and Convent Avenue, Manhattan (Hamilton Heights). This will be the play’s first New York production since its Broadway run in 1999.

“It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues,” written by Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler, Ron Taylor, and Dan Wheetman, is a rich and rousing musical revue with songs ranging from African chants and spirituals to Delta and Chicago Blues. There are deeply spiritual numbers and raw and kinetic blues standards, with a healthy nod to the American popular song along the way. The score includes classics like “Crossroads Blues,” “Goodnight Irene,” “Fever” and “Let the Good Times Roll,” together with iconic popular songs made famous by Robert Johnson, BB King, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and more.

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From LR: Marvel Allen, Jeffrey Bolding, Dameka Hayes, Shawn Brown. Photo by Clarissa Marzan.

The revue originated in 1994 at the Denver Center Theater Company and was presented at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 1996. It opened in NYC in March, 1999, presented by the New 42nd Street, Inc. at the New Victory Theater, produced by Crossroads Theatre Company in association with San Diego Rep and Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The New York Times (Lawrence Van Gelder) wrote, “Besides its cornucopia of splendidly interpreted song, ‘It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues’ is a potent blend of visual eloquence and historical sweep that engages the eye and touches the heart while its songs soothe the ear, occasionally work mischief on the funny bone and always raise the spirits.” Subsequently that year, the show transferred to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and ultimately, to the Ambassador Theatre.

Director Alfred Preisser explains, “This is all great iconic American music, performed concert style right at the audience. It’s a meditation on all the great music from the American blues and jazz tradition.” His production “will be danced a little more heavily than it was the first time around.” There will not be pit musicians but a five-piece band (bass, electric guitar, keyboard, piano, drums) performing onstage, right alongside the acting company.

Productions of New Haarlem Arts Theatre are conceived and presented to connect outstanding talent from the New York stage with the best theater talent at CCNY in a professional working situation. Accordingly, the casts are always a mixture of New York working professionals (occasionally “name” performers), current CCNY students and recent graduates. The “working professionals” in this cast are three specialized performers: actor/dancer Dameka Hayes (“The Lion King,” “The Color Purple”), recording artist Marvel Allen and performer/musical director Jeffrey Bolding (Choir Director of Abyssinian Baptist Church). Nathaly Lopez is a recent graduate of the theater program at CCNY. Shawn Brown and Darilyn Castillo are current students. Scenic Design is by Heather Wolensky. Costume design is by Mary Myers. Lighting design is by Brian Aldous.

New Haarlem Arts Theatre (NHAT), a new professional theater company in residence at Aaron Davis Hall, is producing its first season this summer. The troupe was founded by Eugene Nesmith, with crucial support from CCNY, to establish a professional theater uptown that will rival the best college-based repertories in the country. There has never been a theater with this particular profile uptown before. NHAT produces iconic theatrical works that express the true history, culture, and diversity of America while providing professional development opportunities for CCNY students by enabling them to work alongside leading professionals.

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Choreographer Tracy Jack (L) and Director Alfred Preisser (R). Photo by Clarissa Marzan.

Alfred Preisser (Director) has helmed over forty professional productions in New York and regionally. He was Founding Artistic Director of The Classical Theatre of Harlem, where he created a wide and distinguished body of work noted for its physicality, originality, and use of music and dance. Highlights include “Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe” with Andre De Shields (four Audelcos), “Ain’t Supposed To Die a Natural Death” by Melvin Van Peebles (seven Audelcos) and “King Lear” with Andre De Shields, which opened the 75th Anniversary season at The Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. in 2006. He has created critically acclaimed original adaptations of “Medea,” “The Trojan Women” and “Electra.” Other productions in New York include “Macbeth,” which toured Germany in 2004, “Hamlet,” “Day of Absence,” “Dream on Monkey Mountan,” “Romeo and Juliet” and the recent (and unlikely) hit, “The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller” by Jeff Cohen. He was Director of the Theatre Department at The Harlem School of the Arts from 1999-2007 and many of his students are now enjoying successful professional careers. His work has been recognized with the American Theatre Wing Award (Outstanding Artistic Achievement), Drama Desk Award (Artistic Achievement), Edwin Booth Award (Outstanding Contribution to NYC Theater), Lucille Lortel Award (Outstanding Body of Work), two Obie Awards (Sustained Achievement and Excellence in Theatre) and numerous Audelco Awards.

Tracy Jack (Choreographer), a New York based actor, dancer, director and choreographer, was resident choreographer of Classical Theatre of Harlem and is founding director of Triple Threat Performing Arts Academy, an intensive training program designed for teenagers who have a strong desire to work in the entertainment industry. She has collaborated with Alfred Preisser on 23 professional shows since 1999. (www.tracyjack.com)

Dameka Hayes appeared in “The Lion King” on Broadway and the first national tour of “The Color Purple.” She was also a Laker Girl and toured with Diddy. On TV, she has appeared in “Boardwalk Empire,” “Scrubs,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and Budweiser’s “Whassup!” campaign.

Jeffrey Bolding is Director of “The Inspirational Voices of Abyssinian” of The Abyssinian Baptist Church, Rev. Dr Calvin Otis Butts, III, Pastor. Abyssinian Baptist is one of the most famous churches in the world with some of the most remarkable gospel musicians and singers anywhere. Mr. Bolding is also Assistant Choir Director for Bob Telson’s and Lee Breuer’s “The Gospel at Colonus.”He received a 2004 AUDELCO Award for his performance in Great Men of Gospel. He and director Alfred Preisser first worked together in 1999 at The Harlem School of the Arts

Marvel Allen, a jazz singer, recording artist and studio musician, has recorded with Regina Belle, Will Downing, Annie Lennox and Delfeayo Marsalis, among others. She is known for her lush and multi-textured voice (the likes of which others can achieve only through an engineer’s technological wizardry). She grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and learned her chops, like Aretha Franklin, in local churches, where she was mentored by Wesley Naylor, a family friend who was later musical director of the long-running Gospel show, “Mama I Want To Sing.” (www.marvelallen.com)

Darilyn Castillo, Nathaly Lopez and Shawn Brown are students in the theater program at CCNY.

Aaron Davis Hall is a first class facility, with two main theaters, generous dressing rooms, a costume and scenic shop on the premises, an excellent permanent staff and a long history of presenting cutting edge performance events in central Harlem.

NHAT is probably the only theater in New York City to offer free parking. Theatergoers can take advantage of on-site parking free in the South Campus Parking Lot, located next to Aaron Davis Hall with entrance on 133rd Street and Convent Ave.

Preceding “It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues” will be the debut production of NHAT, “Blues for Mister Charlie” by James Baldwin, directed by Eugene Nesmith, June 23 to July 17, 2011. For more info visit NHAT’s website, www.newhaarlemartstheatre.org.

“It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” will be presented from July 28 to August 21, 2011 at Aaron Davis Hall, 160 Convent Ave. (at W. 135th St.), in Theatre B. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets $25 general admission, $15 students and seniors and $10 with CUNY ID. To buy tickets, visit www.newhaarlemartstheatre.org, www.smarttix.com, or call SMARTTIX, (212) 868-4444.