Broadway Legend Baayork Lee Comes to Reston CenterStage February 9

An evening of conversation with Broadway legend Baayork Lee is coming to Reston’s CenterStage. Baayork Lee has performed in some of the most far-reaching musical theatre events of the past decades. She made her Broadway debut in The King and I with the one and only Yul Brynner. She was in the original company of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker and in Flower Drum Song. She was featured as Connie in the original Tony Award-winning production of A Chorus Line.

Baayork Lee. Photo courtesy of Reston Community Center, CenterStage.
Baayork Lee. Photo courtesy of Reston Community Center, CenterStage.

In the DC area, Ms. Lee directed Carmen Jones at the Kennedy Center, was the resident choreographer for the Washington National Opera, and has choreographed for Arena Stage.

A recipient of the 2014 Paul Robeson Award from Actors’ Equity Association and the Asian Woman Warrior Award for Lifetime Achievement from Columbia College, Ms. Lee also received the 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Award, given by the Tony Awards for community service for turning a bright spotlight on the Asian-American performing community. Ms. Lee is currently the Executive Artistic Director, National Asian Artists Project.

On February 9, Baayork Lee will be appearing at Reston’s CenterStage for an intimate evening to chat about her creative career, the State of Broadway today and her very personal intergenerational work with the National Asian Artists Project (NAAP).

“Audiences will hopefully get to know me and my journey from being a kid with ambitions to where I am today,” said Lee in a recent interview. “I enjoy chatting about the theatre because it is still an intricate part of my life. The passion that I have for it I hope to continue to share with those who are interested.”

David Siegel:  How has theater changed over the past decades? Why is change important for theater and its continuing survival?

Baayork Lee: When I was starting, shows like The King and I, South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story were on a larger scale and expensive to produce, but due to the very high cost, producers realized they could no longer support them. A Chorus Line changed all of that, and we enabled producers to afford productions through workshops (instead of going out of town) giving a smaller, but high-quality production. Shows like The Normal Heart, Dear Evan Hansen, and Spring Awakening are great examples of this currently.

Change is important because as generations get introduced to the theatre, we need them to be able to identify with the subject matter. Hamilton, SpongeBob, Frozen, and Beauty and the Beast are productions where young people can be introduced to the theatre for the first time.

Why is diversity in theater critical?  Why do you think it has taken so long?

When people are able to see diversity on stage, they will be able to relate to the characters more and the experience becomes more personal to them. I believe it has taken so long because it takes a village to make a show, so we have to change the minds of the villagers–producers, directors, choreographers, casting agents, writers, composers, and so forth.

You have choreographed a number of Arena Stage and Washington Opera productions. What would you say about the DC performing arts community? 

I loved my experience for 18 years at the Washington Opera. It enabled me to work with the famous Three Tenors, and introduced me to a whole new world of composers. One of the most rewarding experiences in my life was working with Molly Smith at Arena Stage. Her leadership and mentoring me enabled my growth as a director and choreographer, and inspired and encouraged me to form the National Asian Artists Project – a company that enables the Asian-American theatre community to have platforms to show their talent.

You recently directed A Chorus Line in Shanghai, China. Why does this play still resonate and how has it changed your life?

It resonates now because people can relate to all of these characters today. It changed my life because I was given the baton by Michael Bennett to carry on his legacy, to have people embrace his concept of what the show represents. Going around the world I saw that this show, in forty-three years, still continues to move and inspire those who come in contact with it.

One final question. What would you say to those contemplating a career in the theatre?

The most important thing is to be focused on what you want, follow your dreams, and never give up.

An Evening with Broadway Legend Baayork Lee will be held on Saturday, February 9, 2019, at 8 PM at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA. For tickets call (703) 476-4500, or purchase them online.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.

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