On Stage: ‘Thurgood’ comes to People’s Light

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Over the last few weeks, there have been two shows at area theaters with a focus on civil rights leaders. The first was “The Mountaintop,” a show about Martin Luther King, Jr. that just finished a run at the Uptown Knauer in West Chester.

Now through March 19, People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org) is presenting a riveting play called “Thurgood.”

Ask most people under 50 living in this area if they recognize the name Thurgood and they’ll respond – yeah, he’s the guy who sang “Bad to the Bone.”

Sorry folks, wrong Thurgood/Thorogood.

George Thorogood is a rock singer from Wilmington, Delaware who had a huge hit in the 1980s with the song, “Bad to the Bone.”

The play in Malvern is about Thurgood Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall was an American civil rights lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967-1991. He was the Supreme Court’s first African American justice.

Prior to his judicial service, he was an attorney who fought for civil rights, leading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall was a prominent figure in the movement to end racial segregation in schools.

Marshall won 29 of the 32 civil rights cases he argued before the Supreme Court, culminating in the Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the separate but equal doctrine and held segregation in public education to be unconstitutional.

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967. A staunch liberal, he frequently dissented as the Court became increasingly conservative.

Marshall has a strong connection to Chester County. He was a graduate of Lincoln University.

Lincoln University is a public state-related historically black university (HBCU) near Oxford. Founded as the Ashmun Institute in 1854, it has been a public institution since 1972 and is the second oldest HBCU in the state after Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall attended Lincoln University and the Howard University School of Law. At Howard, he was mentored by Charles Hamilton Houston, who taught his students to be “social engineers” willing to use the law to fight for civil rights. Marshall opened a law practice in Baltimore but soon joined Houston at the NAACP in New York.

“Thurgood” was written by playwright George Stevens, Jr. The play is directed by People’s Light Associate Artistic Director Steve H. Broadnax III. and the title role is played by Brian Marable. In this one-act play, Marable captures Marshall’s signature poise, wit and storytelling skill.

First appearing on Broadway in 2008, “Thurgood” explores the historic life of Justice Marshall. From watching trials at the Baltimore courthouse with his father as a child, to winning all but three of 32 civil rights cases he argued in the Supreme Court as an NAACP lawyer, Justice Marshall is credited with paving the way for young African American leaders. The play is a testament to the hard work and dedication that earned Marshall his Supreme Court nomination in 1967 and how his legacy still resonates today.

According to Zak Berkman, Producing Artistic Director at People’s Light, “Justice Marshall’s perspectives on justice, equality, and freedom are essential to our nation’s understanding of who we are and who we might become. I am thrilled audiences of many generations will have an opportunity to witness this towering figure portrayed in this powerful production.”

This will be Marable’s third appearance as Justice Marshall. It is also his third time working the show with Broadnax.

“Brian and I have done this show two times before – at Chautauqua Theater Company and Detroit Public Theater,” said Broadnax, during a recent phone interview. “When we were putting the season together here about a year ago, we decided to do this show.

“We were just planning. It’s a one-man show and because of COVID, we were looking for a safe show. Both times when we did it before were outdoors. We couldn’t do full a full production with lights and costumes.”

Despite the age of its setting, the play remains timely and relevant.

“This was more than 50 years ago and, if you listen to the play, it’s like what is going on today,” said Broadnax.

Broadnax majored in musical theater at Webster University in St. Louis and then earned a M.F.A. in acting at Penn State University. In addition to being the Resident Director at People’s Light Theatre, he is also Professor of Theatre at Penn State University and Co-Head of MFA Directing at PSU.

“A lot of the same issues are there today – voters’ rights, the First Amendment, gun control. I watch the play and I feel like this is today. The play is examining how law is a weapon for change.

“Thurgood talked about protests and change. But his main message was that the law was a weapon for real change – law is a weapon for change if you know how to use it. He talks about ‘Sundown Towns.’

“Thurgood was the godfather of civil rights. This is his story from his birth to his resignation from the Supreme Court.”

Joining Broadnax on the creative team, Company Member Marla J. Jurglanis (The Vinegar Tree, A Christmas Carol) is Costume Designer for Thurgood, alongside returning guest artists Set Designer Tony Cisek (For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday, Skeleton Crew) and Sound Designer Curtis Craig (Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland, Mud Row). Lighting Designer Nic Vincent and Projections Designer Patrick W. Lord make their People’s Light debuts, with Hailey LaRoe assisting on projections design.

As the first Graham Smith Acting Fellow at People’s Light, Bryanna Martinez-Jimenez has been involved in recent productions both on and offstage and returns for Thurgood as Assistant to the Director. Longtime People’s Light collaborator Deborah Teller (Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland, The Children) rounds out the team as Stage Manager.

Before the show, attendees can also enjoy scratch cooking and theatrical sensibilities in the laid-back atmosphere of the Theatre’s newly renovated on-site restaurant, The Fern & Fable. Located just steps away from the Leonard C. Haas Stage, the restaurant occupies three rooms of a 1700s farmhouse, complete with two working fireplaces and plenty of historic quirks.

“Thurgood” is running now through March 19. Ticket prices start at $47, including fees.

As always, Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will be a mecca for music lovers this weekend featuring shows by Katie Henry on March 3 and Andrea Carlson on March 4.

Katie Henry

Prior to touring Europe last fall, Henry brought her blues music to the areain September for a return appearance at Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com).

Now, Henry, who is one of the bright new prospects in America’s flourishing blues scene, is bringing her show back to Delaware County for another roof-raising show at Jamey’s.

Henry is a talented and versatile blues guitar player. Ironically, neither blues nor guitar were her starting points.

“I grew up playing piano,” said Henry, during a phone interview. “I also played clarinet in middle school.”

Henry’s musical journey began when she was six and started taking piano lessons. She quickly became the “house” piano player for all night family singalongs and very soon began crafting her own songs in the back of her school notebooks. Heavily involved in school band, her passion for music continued to grow in college, where she also picked up the guitar.

“I loved being in bands,” said Henry, who grew up and attended high school in Vernon, New Jersey. “I also loved playing for family and other gatherings. It was the best way to bond with other people.

“I went to Manhattan College in the Bronx. I graduated in 2014 with a degree in education. I was a teacher for three years in Riverdale in the Bronx.

“I joined a jazz band in college playing piano and also went to open mics. It was just a way for me to continue playing.

“One night, I was at an open mic at the Bitter End and met Antar Goodwin. We had similar interests, so we started a blues band. I was playing piano at the time. He put a guitar in my hand, and I started playing chords. He opened the door, and I stepped through. That was six years ago.

“My first guitar was a Strat and then I got an SG. Now, the Atele Guitar is my favorite.”

Henry’s musical world had expanded.

“When I started playing guitar, I was listening with new ears,” said Henry. “I had listened to the Allman Brothers Band. Now, I was tuning in to Dickie Betts. I like simple melody lines – like the playing of Robbie Robertson. I consider myself a melodic guitarist. Some of my biggest influences have been Freddie King and Susan Tedeschi.”

Henry’s debut album, “High Road,” debuted at Number 12 on the Roots Music Reports Top 50 Contemporary Blues Albums chart in January 2019 and has continued to receive consistent airplay on radio stations throughout the country.

“I made ‘High Road’ in 2018 at Showplace Studio in Rockaway, New Jersey with a great engineer — Ben Elliott,” said Henry. “He recently passed away and his studio closed.

“I was lucky to record there before it closed down. It had a lot of great gear including a lot of analog recording equipment. I was there for two sessions – about a week total – and did a lot of recording analog.”

Henry recorded her recently released sophomore album, “On My Way,” in May 2021 at Degraw Sound in Brooklyn. Ben Rice produced the album and played guitar on it.

According to Henry, “There’s a great range of songs on this album. You get a sense of the things I’ve been going through, the fights I’ve won, the fights I’ve lost, and the determination needed to continue. All wrapped in a rock and roots package.”

Video link for Katie Henry — https://youtu.be/Br9hoDnQrjY.

The show on March 3 at Jamey’s will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

On March 4, Jamey’s will host a concert by Andrea Carlson.

Carlson is a talented singer/guitar player who has lived in many locations and whose music spans a variety of styles.

Carlson has loved singing since she was a child – and the sunshine in her voice proves it. She endears herself to listeners with her own brand of retro jazz, swing, blues, and roots music – in English and in French. Touring her music, she has performed in 17 states and 10 foreign countries — including six seasons at the Edinburgh (Scotland) Fringe Festival.

Carlson hails from Tennessee, California, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. For the last 15 years, she has lived in Upper Bucks County.

“I was born in Tennessee,” said Carlson, during a phone interview Tuesday from her home just outside of Doylestown. “I moved to California when I was five, Austin, Texas when I was 10, and Chicago when I was a teen.

“I went to college in Chicago. I started off as an art major at Columbia College Chicago and then switched from art to music. I majored in classical guitar.

“I was in an older Manhattan Transfer type group in college called Air Flow Deluxe. We played music from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Then, I was in another group doing Andrews Sisters music.

“After that, I moved to Milwaukee and then was in Memphis for 14 years. From there, we moved to Ohio, Virginia and ended up in Doylestown 15 years ago.”

While a student in Chicago, she began her career in small groups, and then with a big band. She earned her degree in Classical Guitar at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and is now on the faculty of Philadelphia’s prestigious Settlement Music School.

Her vibrant fingerstyle guitar reveals this depth of study, with modern influences like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Byrd. The result is all her own, spiced with New Orleans Jazz, 1930s Swing, Bebop, Cool and Brazilian jazz too – spanning soft to bold, delicate to sultry, and blue to bright – always warm and inviting.

“I started writing songs when I moved to Doylestown,” said Carlson. “I was always singing jazz stuff, so I started writing. I was a winner in 2009 in the Philadelphia Songwriting Project.”

Following her first award-winning composition, “Cryin’,”, Carlson released a completely original CD, “Drivin’ Myself Wild For You,” which featured another prize winning song – “Mysterious Moon.”

“My first CD, which came out in 2010, was all originals,” said Carlson. “I write jazz and have top musicians from Philadelphia joining me.

“I’ve toured all around Europe including France, Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Belgium. I’ve also performed 13 years at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

“I started singing in French in 2013 on my first European tour. The French language is so musical. I have an all-French CD coming out soon.

“I’m now very tied to Doylestown. I got into Rodgers and Hammerstein and did an album to support Highland Farm.”

Highland Farm (70 East Road, Doylestown) was the principal residence of Oscar Hammerstein II from 1940 until his death in 1960. It was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Carlson’s most recent album, “Out of My Dreams” is a tribute – all songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein – to support the Oscar Hammerstein Home & Theater Education Center in Doylestown.

“I record all my albums at Morningstar Studios in Montgomery County with producer Glenn Barratt,” said Carlson. “I focus a lot on my original music. My original songs are tricky. I don’t like to be predictable when I write.”

Carlson will be performing at Jamey’s with her band – The Love Police. The group features her long-time musical partners Rev. Chris (piano) and David Bopdrummer (percussion) along with Eleazar Ruiz Spreafico (bass) – and Carlson on guitar and vocals.

Video link for Andrea Carlson – https://youtu.be/4mvFffGZHTs.

The show at Jamey’s on Saturday night will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Shemekia Copeland, who will headline a show on March 5 at Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, www.ardmoremusic.com), has been staying busy – before, during and after the pandemic.

Prior to the arrival of COVID, she released the first two of three related albums – “America’s Child” in 2018 and “Uncivil War” in 2020.

During the pandemic, she recorded a new album – “Done Come Too Far” – and moved with her husband and young son (Johnny Lee Copeland, named after her later father – blues music legend Johnny Copeland) to Southern California. She also started doing her own podcast.

“It’s been insane with the weather here in California recently,” said Copeland, during a phone interview Wednesdat afternoon from her home in Oceanside, California. “There is snow on the mountaintops.”

Copeland, an award-winning blues, soul and Americana singer, Copeland possesses a deeply soulful roots music voice and is known for the fearlessness, honesty and humor of her music.

On “Done Come Too Far,” Copeland continues the story she began telling on “America’s Child” and Grammy-nominated “Uncivil War” — reflecting her vision of America’s past, present and future. On “Done Come Too Far,” she delivers her hard-hitting musical truths through her eyes, those of a young American Black woman, a mother, and a wife.

“It’s been two years since I made ‘Done Come Too Far,’” said Copeland, winner of the 2021 Blues Music Award for B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year.

“It was recorded with Will Kimbrough. We made it all over the place – Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans but mostly in Nashville.

“It seems to be a trilogy with ‘America’s Child’ and ‘Uncivil War’ but it didn’t start out that way. It didn’t happen until the third album was done. The albums all dealt with topics like social injustice and domestic violence.

“After ‘America’s Child,’ I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I never like to conform. I like the business to conform to me. I have a young son and I just want to make the world a better place for him. That’s where my sing ‘Ain’t Got Time for Hate’ came from.

The new album features Copeland at her charismatic, passionate, confrontational best with history-fueled tracks such as “Too Far To Be Gone” (featuring Sonny Landreth on scorching slide guitar) and “Done Come Too Far” (with Grammy-winner Cedric Burnside duetting and playing Mississippi Hill Country blues guitar).

Copeland was born in Harlem, New York on April 10, 1979, and came to her singing career naturally. Her bluesman father (the late Johnny Clyde Copeland) recognized his daughter’s talent early on.

He always encouraged her to sing at home and even brought her on stage to sing at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club when she was just eight. At that time Copeland’s embarrassment outweighed her desire to sing.

But when she was 15, and her father’s health began to slow him down, she received the calling. At 16, Copeland joined her father on his tours after he was diagnosed with a degenerative heart condition. Soon enough Copeland was opening, and sometimes even stealing her father’s shows.

Copeland stepped out of her father’s shadow in 1998 with her groundbreaking debut CD “Turn The Heat Up,” which was recorded when she was only 18.

“It’s been 25 years since my first album,” said Copeland. “That’s insane. It’s hard to wrap my head around that.”

From her debut through 2005’s “The Soul Truth,” Copeland earned eight Blues Music Awards and a host of Living Blues Awards. 2000’s “Wicked” received the first of her four Grammy nominations.

After two successful releases on Telarc (including 2012’s Grammy-nominated “33 1/3”), Copeland returned to Alligator Records in 2015 with the Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award-winning “Outskirts Of Love,” which melded blues with more rootsy, Americana sounds.

MOJO magazine named “America’s Child” the #1 blues release of 2018. It won both the Blues Music Award and the Living Blues Award for Album Of The Year. Copeland’s groundbreaking 2020 release “Uncivil War” was named the 2020 Blues Album Of The Year by DownBeat, MOJO and Living Blues magazines.

Copeland has performed thousands of gigs at clubs, festivals and concert halls all over the world, and has appeared in films, on national television, NPR, and has been the subject of major feature stories in hundreds of magazines, newspapers and internet publications. She’s sung with Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Dr. John, James Cotton and many others, and has shared a bill with The Rolling Stones. She entertained U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait in 2008.

In 2012, she performed with B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, Trombone Shorty, Gary Clark, Jr. and others at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. She has showcased on PBS’s Austin City Limits and was the subject of a six-minute feature on the PBS News Hour.

“I’m an idea person – not so much a songwriter,”: said Copeland. “Writing really happens organically with what goes on in the world and what I’m going through. I work with great songwriters. It’s almost like having songs tailor-made for me. For us, it is not political at all — it’s just about what is happening.”

In her show at Ardmore, Copeland will be joined by her long-time band of stellar musicians.

“Our guitarist Arthur Nielsen is in his 23rd year,” said Copeland. “Our bassist Kevin Jenkins is in his 17th year and guitarist Willie Scanlon is in his 12th year. Our drummer Robin Gould is the new guy at eight years.

“We still do songs from ‘Turn Up the Heat.’ We do at least one song from every album. I’ll still always do the most songs from whatever the current album is.”

Video link for Shemekia Copeland – https://youtu.be/G_Bp20tSg8I.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, www.ardmoremusic.com)

Ardmore Music Hall will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Other upcoming shows at Ardmore Music Hall are Splintered Sunlight on March 2, Tauk Moore on March 3, Os Mutantes on March 4, Kings of Thrash on March 7 and Aunt Mary Pat on March 8.

Two other area theater productions are having their final performances weekend.

Inis Nua Theatre Company (inisnuatheatre.org) is presenting the first Mainstage production of its 19th season with the American premiere of “Meet Me at Dawn,” which runs now through March 5 and stars Philadelphia actors Hannah Gold and Jackie Soro.

The show is a queer love story of two women in their thirties that is filled with tenderness, humor and unanswered questions — with a supernatural twist.

From award-winning Scottish writer Zinnie Harris, “Meet Me at Dawn” is a tender, lyrical fable exploring the mystery of grief and the triumph of everyday love. For those new to the Scottish playwright, Harris is an award-winning and very well-known playwright in the U.K., but who is new to many American audiences.

The Inis Nua production is directed by acclaimed Philadelphia director Sam Tower, who has worked in in the area as a freelance director, arts administrator, and consultant for the performing arts since 2010.

“Meet Me at Dawn” was first presented at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2017.

For the set, the play takes place on a mysterious island, following a boating accident. Two women wash up on a distant shore following a violent boating accident. Dazed by their experience, they look for a path home. But they discover that this unfamiliar land is not what it seems – and that, though they may be together, they have never been further apart.

“This show can transcend genres,” said Tower. “It’s a contemporary story – with contemporary clothing and language. It premiered in 2017. This show is a play about a close loss – the loss of a partner. It’s a play about death.

“What I like is that the actors are queer but that is not the main focus. The main focus is their relationship and the madness of grief and loss. It would function pretty much the same if it were hetero. It is an exploration of grief and the way we cope with it.”

“Meet Me at Dawn” is running now through March 5 at the Louis Bluver Theatre at The Theatres at the Drake (302 South Hicks Street, Philadelphia). Tickets are $30 for general admission and $15 for seniors, students, and theatre industry professionals.

Philadelphia Theatre Company (www.philatheatreco.org) continues its season with a Philadelphia premiere of “Empathitrax,” an eerie and comical exploration of the consequences of one pharmacological breakthrough in the romantic life of one couple. The play is written by East Falls native Ana Nogueria, whose play “Which Way to the Stage” recently opened to critical acclaim Off-Broadway and has also appeared as an actress on The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.”

“Empathitrax,” which is being presented at PTC’s home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre (480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia), marks Nogueria’s Philadelphia debut and is brought to life by a team of Philadelphia artists and creatives.

The production is directed by Nell Bang-Jensen, the Artistic Director of Theatre Horizon, who previously directed PTC’s well-received virtual production of “The Wolves.” It is running now through March 5.

“Empathitrax” is a fascinating, funny, and deeply human play that asks universal questions about romance and companionship,
The futuristic play is a searing, darkly funny sci-fi story of a young couple who turn to a breakthrough in pharmacology to save their fractured relationship.

The couple at the center of the story, known as Her and Him, are played by Claire Inie-Richards and Makoto Hirano. They are joined by Matteo Scammell as pharmaceutical sales rep Joe and Him’s bro-ish friend Matty D.

“Empathitrax” will run now through March 5. Ticket prices start at $25.

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