Theater: “The Great Divas of Gospel” And All-Star Reading of “The People of Clarendon County”

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Woodie King Jr’s National Black Touring Circuit. 2014 Black History Month Play Festival on February 22 – 23 in Harlem

S. Epatha Merkerson, Geoffrey Owens and Roscoe Orman

Woodie King Jr’s National Black Touring Circuit’s 2014 Black History Month Play Festival, in conjunction with Voza Rivers/New Heritage Theatre Group, will present “The Great Divas of Gospel” on Saturday, February 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday, February 23 at 3:00pm at the New York Academy of Medicine, 103rd St. & Fifth Avenue.

On Sunday, February 23 at 3:00pm, there will also be an all-star reading of Ossie Davis’ classic drama “The People of Clarendon County.”

“The Great Divas of Gospel” stars Lady Peachena, Debbie Malone Sargeant, Betty Cook and Dolores Morales, who have gained national acclaim as the CBS “Late Show's Gospel Choir,” which has been singing on “Late Night with David Letterman” since 1995. Through drama and song, "The Great Divas of Gospel” salutes the female pioneers of Gospel music including: The Clara Ward Singers, The Sallie Martin Singers, Marion Williams & the Stars of Faith and Mahalia Jackson. This inspirational show journeys through these legendary ladies’ lives. How they faced segregation, discrimination, and tough Jim Crow laws but they were undeterred and totally committed to winning lost souls for the Kingdom. The Great Divas of Gospel” is a powerful celebration of traditional gospel music boldly told through glorious singing and comical drama. “These brave ladies looked in the eye of the dragon and dared to sing Gospel on the streets, in storefront churches, in nightclubs, and wherever they could make a joyful noise. It's because of their unselfish sacrifices that have made Gospel music popular all over the world,” explained Lady Peachena. “Many of today's superstars in rock & roll, in R &B, and jazz now admit that they learned much watching these legendary ladies perform.”

Opening for “The Great Divas of Gospel” on Sunday, February 23 at 3:00pm will be a special reading “The People of Clarendon County” starring S. Epatha Merkerson, Geoffrey Owens and Roscoe Orman and directed by Allie Woods, Jr. “The People of Clarendon County” was first performed in 1955 by Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.  Clarendon County, a rural community in South Carolina, was the battleground of black sharecroppers, domestic workers, laborers and clergymen who joined with the NAACP to fight for better schools for Black children. This small but mighty group of brave visionaries filed their lawsuit, Briggs v Elliott, in 1951. This was the first of five cases that led to the breakthrough 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education.

S. Epatha Merkerson, who has won critical acclaim in theatre, television and film, is best known for her 17-season, NAACP Image Award winning role of Lt. Anita Van Buren on NBC’s “Law and Order.” Her many credits included the Emmy and Golden Globe winning performance in the HBO film “Lackawanna Blues.” In theatre, she holds Tony nominated roles in “Come Back Little Sheba” and “The Piano Lesson. She’s earned an Obie for “I’m Not Stupid “ and “Birdie Blue.”  Audiences know Geoffrey Owens as son-in-law Elvin on “The Cosby Show. As a Broadway actor, he’s performed in “Salome” (with Al Pacino); “Romeo and Juliet” (with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad) and “Race”. Film credits include “The Paper” (directed by Ron Howard) and “Play the Game” (with Andy Griffith). “Roscoe Orman has played Gordon on the PBS series “Sesame Street” for 40 years. He’s a founding member of Harlem's New Lafayette Theatre and a five-time Audelco Theatre Award nominee and a recipient for “Do Lord Remember Me.”  Feature film credits include: “Willie Dynamite,” “Follow That Bird,” “FX,” “New Jersey Drive,” “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland” and “The Meaning of Life.”

The Black History Month Play Festival performance tickets are $25. For tickets call (212) 279-4200. For group rates call 917-723-3769.

Woodie King, Jr., the producer/director of the National Black Touring Circuit and Kim Weston Moran, associate producer, produce the Black History Month Play Festival. The National Black Touring Circuit was founded in 1974, by King, to make existing Black theatre productions available to a larger audience by presenting to the Black communities at large, to colleges, to Black art centers, and to resident professional theatres. This program is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, Time Warner, Inc., West Harlem Development Corporation and individual contributions. 


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