Nominees Michael J. Bobbitt, Rena Cherry Brown, Jobari Parker-Namdar, and Christopher Youstra.
Joel: Where were you when you found out that you had been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, and what was your first reaction?
Michael: At the nomination ceremony. I was overwhelmed and unable to really process the number of nominations Adventure Theatre received.
Rena: I was by myself waiting for my husband to get home from work. My dog and I were sharing a chair, and a bowl of ice cream. I called the representative from our theatre Janet Luby, the Artistic Director of Bay Theatre and told her I had been nominated. Janet called me and screamed into the phone, “You’re nominated!” I gave the rest of my ice cream to my dog Hunter. He is very happy about my nomination.
Jobari: I was in my friend Jillian’s apartment in NYC when Michael Bobbitt called me. I was completely stunned I kept saying “You’re joking” and “are you serious?” I really thought Bobbitt was just teasing me.
Christopher: Pleasantly surprised! I was running my choir rehearsal and got texted about the shows. Then, I looked at the list later that evening and saw that my daughter was nominated as part of The Sound of Music ensemble, so that was an even further surprise.
Joel: What were you nominated for and why did you want to play that role, or direct, or musical direct [for] this production?
Michael: I was nominated for choreography for Mirandy and Brother Wind. This show highlights the cakewalk, a dance that I have been fascinated with for many many years. It’s historical significance to African American history was something that I had to bring to Adventure Theatre.
Rena: I was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress for playing Vivian Bearing in Wit at The Bay Theatre. I was so grateful for being offered this role, as so many extreme challenges are rolled into this play. Also, I was very excited about being directed by Richard Pilcher, and I love working at The Bay Theatre.
Jobari: I was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical for playing Bird, Snail and others for A Year with Frog and Toad at Adventure Theatre. I was interested in this piece because it just seemed like it would be a lot of fun. I had also gotten a chance to sing some of the music at some Adventure theatre events that year leading up to the show and I really enjoyed it.
Christopher: I was nominated for Pop! at Studio Theater and Joseph…. at Olney Theater. I wanted to do Pop! because I thought it would be very interesting and different as a theater piece — then, when I found out that it involved trying to recreate The Factory (Andy Warhol’s hang-out) visually and musically, it got even more interesting and I knew it would be a fun challenge.
I wanted to do Joseph... because I have always thought that it is a very fun and charming show (and short!) with a lovely sentiment in the middle of it. I enjoy all of the different styles of the show and playing the accordion was the icing on whatever it is you put icing on.
Joel: What were some of the challenges performing/directing/or musical directing this production?
Michael: The research. The cakewalk started in the mid-1800’s and lasted until about 1910. Not a lot of youtube clips to look at.
Rena: Having to shave my head (the salon plied me with wine); having to appear naked (at my age, most things are a challenge, but this seemed like a challenge for the audience, as well!); and most difficult was playing a character who is brilliant, never stops talking, and is on stage for almost two hours with no intermission and no exits. Also, it is so unglamorous – costumed bare-footed, in a hospital gown and baseball cap.
Jobari: The most challenging part of this role was portraying so many different characters in such a short amount of time. I did enjoy trying to create interesting ways to personify the different creatures. The costumes were so well streamlined that it really took a load off my shoulders when it came time to do a quick change though.
Christopher: For Pop!, the piece was fairly new and still in it’s early stages so we had to try some moments many different ways and even ask the writers for possible changes. Plus, trying to bring the atmosphere of Andy Warhol’s to an audience in a small room with a small cast was no easy feat, but I think the design and artistic team did it well. As for Joseph…, the biggest challenge for me was trying some new things; I had been involved with 5 or so other productions of Joseph…before this one from summer camps to national tours and so it is easy to go to the familiar
Joel: What are some of the fondest memories you have about appearing in this production?
Michael: Working with an amazing cast. Watching Jennifer Nelson’s beautiful leadership come into fruition.
Rena: Fondest memories: fan mail from strangers who saw the play, saying that it changed their lives; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright writing to me and sending me an inscribed script of the play.
Jobari: I always particularly enjoyed doing the fish-bubble party segment where I basically got to play catch with the entire audience, and wearing the giant “Large and Terrible Frog” puppet was always good for a laugh too.
Christopher: For Pop!, there were a bunch; the pre-show was pretty great where the band would play classic rock tunes while watching the audience come in and absorb the environment. Also, the 3 ladies (MaryLee Adams, Deborah Lubega and Rachel Zampelli) sang a trio called “Superstar” – it’s a great song and the three of them tore the roof off each night with it. Matthew DeLorenzo, who played Candy Darling, has a rare and amazing voice that ranges as high as many sopranos, but with a pure tone that is remarkable – his Candy’s Lament was just remarkably strong, and yet fragile at the same time. Tom Story was just hysterical so that his final song became a really moving moment, so that was fun to watch. Plus, some of the cast would just jam out with the band before shows, and that was liberating.For Joseph... the highlight was playing accordion while Stephawn Stephens sang “Canaan Days” – he and I had a lot of fun with that. I also am very fond of “A Pharoah’s Story,” and it was great hearing Eleasha Gamble sing that every night, especially since it was in between her stints as Laurie in Oklahoma!
Joel: What’s next for you on the stage?
Michael: 1776 at Ford’s is running for a while. My next choreography gig is the actual Helen Hayes Awards show and my next show is BIG, the musical at Adventure Theatre MTC. Fun and big – no pun intended.
Rena: I will be playing Violet in August: Osage County with The Keegan Theatre on Church Street, July and August.
Jobari: I have some concerts coming up in the end of April and May. The first being a concert on the music from Tin Pan Alley at Strathmore on April 27th.
Christopher: I just closed Charlie Brown at Olney and opened Rapunzel at Imagination Stage, so next up is Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Studio Theatre, The Color Purple at Toby’s, and back to Olney for Cinderella. Something really cool that I am doing is on May 4th and 5th at Olney, I am putting together a concert of the music of the great piano songwriters called Ebony, Ivory and Ink. It features a 6 piece band and 4 amazing singers: George Dvorsky, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Felicia Curry and JJ Kaczynski. It’s going to be a great evening!
Here are the 28th Helen Hayes Awards nominations.
Congratulations to this year’s nominees!