February 20, 2009

York Co. native will be in Charlotte for play's local debut

CHARLOTTE -- His skin is brown.

His play is "Blue."

He'll always have York County's red clay on his heels, though he just jetted back from the Gold Coast of Brazil, where he picked up some silver directing a Broadway musical.

Writer-director-lyricist Charles Randolph-Wright is a rainbow.

He's in Charlotte this week to see the local debut of "Blue," which premiered in Washington, D.C., in 2000 with Phylicia Rashad. Then he'll make the second half of a round-trip flight to finish in Brazil; as he said, "that shows how grateful I am that Actor's Theatre of Charlotte is doing my play!"

The last time he came, the Duke University grad talked about everything under the sun at a three-hour dinner. He had recently directed "Preaching to the Choir," the gospel comedy then hitting movie screens.

This time, we corresponded via e-mail while he was in Brazil. Here's an edited version of what he shared:

Catch me up on what's been happening since that marathon dinner in spring 2006.

I am in Rio de Janeiro directing "They're Playing Our Song" -- in Portuguese! The show has been performed all over the world, but never in Brazil, and this is its 30th anniversary. Ironically, I saw this show when I first moved to New York. It was in the Imperial Theatre, and the show that followed it was "Dreamgirls," in which I performed.

Brazil is my escape place. It has become my second home, but I never expected to be directing shows here. I am having a glorious experience, even though my head is exploding going back and forth between English and Portuguese.

I went to President Obama's inaugural, and even though it was freezing, it was one of the greatest events I ever have witnessed. I returned home, replaced all my layers of winter clothes with shorts and T-shirts and flew to the heat of Rio. This perfectly describes my life -- hot and cold, highs and lows. ...

(Last year) was very difficult. My mother had a stroke, (and) several friends died, including a man who was like my big brother -- Don LaFontaine, who was called the Godfather of Voiceovers and (virtually) created the sound of the modern movie trailer.

(LaFontaine was famous for saying "In a world where....")

A highlight was working with one of my music idols: I directed Athol Fugard's play "Blood Knot" in San Francisco, and Tracy Chapman created music for it.

I did my best not to be a drooling fan.

You've written and directed the film of "Mama, I Want to Sing." Are you carving out a religious niche, the way T.D. Jakes and Tyler Perry have done?

I had not planned to follow "Preaching to the Choir" with a religiously-themed movie. But "Mama, I Want to Sing" was such a seminal show that I could not resist. There always is some spiritual theme to the work I do. I don't want to be identified with just one genre.

However, there have been so few opportunities for directors of color that I am grateful. I've wanted to make films for years, and now I am getting some chances.

Want to go?

York County, S.C., native Charles Randolph-Wright wrote this 2000 play about a creative young man who unearths his destiny with difficulty. The author and Nona Hendryx collaborated on the songs.

When: Various times through March 7.

Where: Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, 650 E. Stonewall St.

Tickets: $24-$29.

Info: 704-342-2251, www.actorstheatrecharlotte.org

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