- Created on 13 February 2013
The critically acclaimed Broadway musical, Fela!, makes its return to Chicago for six performances at the Arie Crown Theatre this month.
After debuting in 2008, the theatrical production has won three Tony Awards and been seen by huge audiences including First Lady Michelle Obama. It remerges with former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams as activist and former love interest to Fela Kuti, Sandra Izsadore. It runs here February 19-23.
Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, Fela! takes place at the height of revolutionary artist and creator of Afro-Beat, Fela Kuti’s, career. Mixing exotic rhythms, intoxicating dancing and a strong message of social justice, the play, also produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett- Smith is running until the end of June in the states before heading overseas.
“This cast and the producers have been really respectful,” Michelle Williams told the Defender about her new venture. “I saw an interview with Femi Kuti and he said he wanted to cry because he couldn’t believe how exact the play was to his dad’s life.”
Williams, who is originally from Rockford, Ill. was cast to play Sandra Izsadore, who Fela credited as one of the most influential people in his life.
“I play the role of Sandra who comes on about 15 minutes into the show,” said Williams, who turned to gospel singing after Destiny’s Child disbanded. “And it’s just been amazing! It’s almost like you are in church. That type of dancing brings in the spirit. I felt like God was there and the spirit was sweet and calming yet powerful enough to knock me out but I couldn’t cry because I wasn’t’ sure if the makeup artist put on waterproof mascara!”
In her preparation for the role, Williams got some inside information from Sandra herself. She also revealed that Sandra, who will be in Chicago when the play returns, provided insight into the cast.
“I talked to Sandra and she told me to make sure I stay strong,” said Williams. “She comes to the shows and she’ll pull people to the side and tell them what they can do to be better because she was there so I’m like, I gotta be on my toes!”
Although her name is on the marquee, Williams said there is only one star of the show.
“This show has no stars except for Fela. We are all supporting (cast). My name might be on the bill but my role is no bigger than the dancers,” she explained.
Williams also divulged that her mission is to introduce more people to Fela.
“Two of my long time supporters came to the show and they loved how the story was seamlessly told through music. I’m hoping I can get more young people to hear his story and what he was so passionate about,” she said.
Coming off her performance at the Super Bowl, Williams also spoke about reuniting with her band mates.
“It was great to perform with my sisters during Super Bowl. We are blessed for the opportunity to perform before millions of viewers around the world!” said the petite diva who joined the group in 2000.
In addition to her Fela performance, Williams has a new album in the works. She’s recruited producer Harmony Samuels, who has worked with Chris Brown and Kelly Rowland. Although she doesn’t have a set date, she has about 11-12 songs completed and described it as a gospel album that will have some unexpected guest appearances
“I’m so excited about this album. The good and bad times I went through made for an amazing project,” she said. “I was introduced to (Brown) through Kelly. She thought we’d be amazing together and before I knew it, he had four songs and I thought they were dope. … God laid it on my heart to work with people outside of gospel because there are people in R&B that grew up in church like I did. And sometimes when its gospel, people might give you some dated music. We don’t have to sound like we are from the 1920s! Let’s sound fresh and hip!”
She’s also looking forward to performing here and inspiring another girl from her hometown.
“A lot of people don’t even know I’m from this area so I want people to know this is where I come from. And if a young girl from Rockford made it - who who was bullied, teased, and underdeveloped until high school - you can make it too!
- Created on 12 February 2013
Recording artist Jennifer Hudson and music producer Clive Davis arrive at the Clive Davis Pre-GRAMMY Gala Feb. 9, 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A year after Whitney Houston's death, music executive Clive Davis remembered her in words — and video.
Houston died last year just hours before the annual Clive Davis Gala was to start. On Saturday, Davis said his world continues "to be so shattered by her passing" and that Houston's death still feels "unreal."
Then Davis played what he called a rare performance of Houston belting "All The Man That I Need" at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Houston's brother and sister-in-law, Gary and Pat Houston, attended the gala, where Davis thanked them "for being here tonight." He also called Houston the "greatest, greatest singer of our lifetime."
Dutch electronic artist Afrojack kicked off the performances with a DJ set, but it was Gladys Knight who got the crowd up out of their seats with a closing number.
Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Knight and performed with the singing veteran.
Knight’s voice — still crisp and loud — felt at ease on "Neither One of Us" and "Midnight Train to Georgia."
"You've been waiting here for a while and we all have to go, and I'm catching a train," the 68-year-old singer said before going into her popular hit that had Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire dancing around his chair.
And Knight wasn't the only performer to leave an impression during Davis' nearly four-hour event.
Scottish singer Emeli Sande was well-received when hitting the right notes on "Heaven." Miguel, who is nominated for five awards at Sunday's Grammys, was energetic when he performed his R&B hit "Adorn." He danced in the middle of the tables in the audience, and at one point sang to Taylor Hawkins' wife Alison — as the Foo Fighters drummer watched on.
Usher, too, brought R&B flavor to the stage when he performed in honor of music executive Antonio "L.A." Reid, who received the president's merit award. Usher sang some of "Burn" and "Climax," which featured the acoustic guitar.
The event was full of A-listers there to enjoy the live music: Johnny Depp, Quincy Jones, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Diddy, Miley Cyrus, Frank Ocean, Dave Grohl, Magic Johnson and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick were in the crowd.
"I've read the papers and I know who you've been spending time with," Davis said when announcing that Katy Perry and John Mayer were in the audience.
Usher also drew laughs when he told an old story about Reid signing the then teen to his record label.
"If I never can thank you for anything, it would be for not letting me go with the name Cha Cha," Usher said of his previous stage name.
Ne-Yo, Carly Rae Jepsen, Brandy, David Guetta, Babyface, Wiz Khalifa, Jordin Sparks, Tyra Banks and dozens of others attended Davis' gala.
- Created on 08 February 2013
NEW YORK — Toni Braxton's autistic son makes his acting debut in her new Lifetime movie, "Twist of Faith," and could have had a bigger role, but the singer didn't want to put too much pressure on him.
"He was supposed to play my son initially but by the time we worked out the shooting schedule, school had started," Braxton said of 9-year-old Diezel. (She also has an 11-year-old named Denim.)
"Even though he's considered high functioning right now, he wasn't in the past, and that's why I thought him carrying the movie and trying to do the movie and tutoring would have been too much for him," the 45-year-old singer said.
Braxton decided he should take a smaller role.
"He was a little disappointed at first, but I think in the end, he's happy about the turnout," she said.
Braxton understands the pressure. Although she has had small acting roles and stars in the WE reality TV series, "Braxton Family Values," which has its season premiere March 14, she is the main star of "Twist of Faith" — and that makes her nervous.
"I never had to carry anything before. It's a lot of work," she said of her role in the film, which debuts Saturday on Lifetime (8 p.m. EST).
"Singing is indigenous for me, but acting is not. I've had to work to prepare for it," said Braxton, adding later: "Be nice to me, guys! This is my first real acting debut! There are a few boo-boos. ... It's a lot more technical than I thought."
Braxton is better known for her Grammy-winning, multiplatinum singing career, which has netted classics like "Un-break My Heart" and "Breathe Again." She said she's working on an album with longtime collaborator Babyface called "Love, Marriage, Divorce." She's also doing a few shows here and there, but she suffers from lupus, an autoimmune disease, which prevents her from doing more. Recently, she was hospitalized for blood clots, but Braxton considers herself one of the "lucky ones" and is grateful she can still have a career.
"My doctors told me I would never be able to perform again," she said. "I'm very lucky that I'm still able to dabble in it a little bit."
- Created on 11 February 2013
Pictured from left: Zac Brown, Mavis Staples and Elton John perform at the 55th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles. Another Chicagoan, Kanye West, picked up a Grammy for rap collaboration for his work with Jay-Z. Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP
LOS ANGELES — List of awards presented during Sunday's telecast of the 55th annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles:
— Album of the year: "Babel," Mumford & Sons.
— Record of the year: "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye featuring Kimbra.
— Song of the year: "We Are Young," fun.
— New artist: fun.
— Pop solo performance: "Set Fire to the Rain (Live)," Adele.
— Pop vocal album: "Stronger," Kelly Clarkson.
— Rock performance: "Lonely Boy," The Black Keys.
— Urban contemporary album: "Channel Orange," Frank Ocean.
— Rap/sung collaboration: "No Church in the Wild," Jay-Z, Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean, The-Dream.
— Country solo performance: "Blown Away," Carrie Underwood.
— Country album: "Uncaged," Zac Brown Band.
- Created on 07 February 2013
Los Angeles (CNN) -- Rihanna left no doubt about how she feels about Chris Brown and the probation he's serving for beating her up four years ago.
The pop star sat behind Brown in court Wednesday while a prosecutor asked a judge to order the singer to restart the community labor that is his punishment for the felony assault conviction.
It was Rihanna's second time in a courtroom with Brown. The first was the day in August 2009 when Brown was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to stay away from her. Then, she was a witness for the prosecution.
"She thinks it's utterly ridiculous what they're doing to him," Brown lawyer Mark Geragos said when a reporter asked why his assault victim was in court.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has "tortured" Brown during his probation worse than any client he's ever had, Geragos said.
In a court filing this week, prosecutors accused Brown of not completing the 180 days of community labor ordered when he pleaded guilty to the felony assault charge.
The paperwork Brown submitted to show he had completed community labor is "at best sloppy documentation and at worst fraudulent reporting," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. Brown wasn't in town on some of the dates reported, the motion said.
Geragos, however, angrily disputed the charges, calling them "absolutely false."
"And I don't mean just false, it is fraudulent," Geragos said after the hearing.
Brown's attorney said the prosecutor's filing was so fraudulent that he would ask the judge to punish the deputy district attorneys involved and call for a contempt of court hearing for filing false documents with the court.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Brandlin set a hearing for April 5 for Brown to return to court, but a full hearing on the allegations will be held later.
Brandlin ordered Brown to report to his probation officer within the next two days to be interviewed for a report that will be used at the hearing.
Despite the serious allegations outlined in the court filing, the prosecutor is not asking for Brown's probation to be revoked and the singer sent to jail. She is asking the judge to order him to restart his 1,400 hours of community service under the supervision of a Los Angeles probation officer.
Brown got an unusual deal when he pleaded guilty that allowed him to complete his court-ordered community service in Virginia, under the personal supervision of Richmond Police Chief Bryan Norwood. Normally, community service must be supervised by a probation office.
The district attorney alleged that investigators he sent to Virginia discovered that Brown's mother supervised most of it, and they found evidence it was never done.
In response, Geragos said he's received 10 e-mails in the past day from Richmond police officers and firefighters "who observed Chris doing his community service."
"I've got pictures, I've got witnesses," Geragos said. "I've got what they don't have. We have evidence that he did it."
The motion also accused Brown of violating probation by punching singer Frank Ocean at a Hollywood recording studio last month, threatening to "bust" -- or shoot -- the singer. It also notes a Miami incident during which Brown allegedly stole a fan's cell phone and a chair-throwing incident after a "Good Morning America" interview.
Also, Brown's claim to have medical marijuana license, which used to defend against a drug test result, was invalid because the acupuncturist who wrote it was not licensed to prescribe drugs, the motion said.
This Friday marks the fourth anniversary of the night Brown punched Rihanna inside a rented Lamborghini on a Hollywood street, leaving her face bruised and bloody.
Rihanna and Brown broke up after he was arrested for assaulting her, but they've made no secret in recent months that they are a couple again.