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Beate Hein Bennett

A Lovin’ Kind of Woman
“The World According to Micki Grant”

May 31 – June 29, 2024
WP Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, NYC, NY 10024
Presented by Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theater, Elizabeth Van Dyke, Producing Artistic Director.
Tues. 7PM; Wed. 2 PM; Thurs. and Fr. 7 PM; Sat. 2 PM and 7 PM; Sun. 3 PM.
Added evening show: Wed. June 26, 7 PM; no show on Sat. June 29, 7 PM.
Gen. adm.: $39; stud./sen.$20 (with discount code nft24); Tuesdays all tickets $18
For tickets: www.newfederaltheatre.com, 212-353-1176
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett, June 2, 2024.

Clockwise from left: Matelyn Alicia, Brian Davis, Patrice Bell, April Amstrong. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

It takes dedication, persistence, and enduring quality to give a thoroughly enjoyable and valuable history lesson to a New York audience that tends to look for the new original talent in the perennially ephemeral art of theater. Leave it to Woodie King Jr. and Elizabeth Van Dyke to unearth the generally forgotten but once celebrated black theater artists of past generations. Woodie King Jr. also discovered new talents for his New Federal Theatre and brought Ntozake Shange to prominence in 1971. Elizabeth Van Dyke familiarized audiences with the superb wit of Zora Neale Hurston with her theatrical re-incarnations of Zora over the past decades. With “The World According to Micki Grant” they have resurrected Micki Grant, an irrepressible personality, poet/ lyricist, and performer who succeeded to break through the white walls of Broadway, the “Great White Way” in the early 70s into the 80s after which the Broadway curtains tended to remain once again closed to much black theater. For that matter, the diverse strands of the American population have been underrepresented in the commercial theater venues, but not for lack of talent. The audience has to look into the many real estate nooks and crannies of NYC’s five boroughs to find the hidden gems.

Micki Grant. Photo by Lia Chang.

Micki Grant (1929-2021) was born in Chicago to a middle-class black family. As an extrovert child she enjoyed writing rhyming poetry and singing, and she relished the accolades of her audiences. After her move to L.A. under the tutelage of her cousin Jeni LeGon, a Hollywood tap dancer and performer, she was cast in “Fly Blackbird” by James V. Hatch and C. Bernard Jackson. The show moved to New York and so did Micki, but as a member of the chorus. She eventually earned her B.A. degree, summa cum laude, in English and theater at CUNY’s Lehman College. While still in L.A., in 1959, she wrote “Pink Shoelaces” which rose to #3 on the pop charts. That brought her attention, more economic security, and introduced her to later collaborators.

L-R: Patrice Bell, April Armstrong, Matelyn Alicia.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

In New York, in the early 60s, her acting talents were nurtured as she studied with Lloyd Richards and Herbert Berghoff. She was cast in Jean Genet’s Negro Ensemble Company’s production of “The Blacks” (with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson). She appeared off-Broadway in “Brecht on Brecht” in which she sang the ballad of “Pirate Jenny”. She was cast in “The Gingham Dog” by Lanford Wilson, and played Ella Hammer in Howard da Silva’s 1964 Off-Broadway revival of Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock”. After many leading roles in several TV soap operas, beginning in 1966, she became the first Black contract player on a soap opera, playing the lawyer Peggy Nolan on NBC’s “Another World.” However, the most important theatrical collaboration was first with Vinette Carroll when they created in 1972 the musical “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” (1972)—Ms. Carroll was the first female African-American to direct the show on Broadway. This success was followed by “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God” (1976), “Working” (1978) based on Studs Terkel’s book to which Micki Grant added the eponymous Cleaning Woman character.

Brian Davis. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

In 1974, New Federal Theatre (NFT) presented “The Prodigal Sister” by Micki Grant and J.E. Franklin at Theatre de Lys, and in 1994 NFT produced “Looking Back," a retrospective of her songs, at the Henry Street Playhouse. Her poignant lyrics enriched many musicals, her acting talent shaped many roles, including her part in Emily Mann’s “Having our Say” (1996/97), a two-character play about two centenarian sisters, that toured nationally and to South Africa. With her indefatigable positive strength as the national chairperson of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee of AFTRA, Micki Grant worked to promote the employment of minorities in television.

Nora Cole, herself a veteran performing artist, director, writer, and teacher adapted and directed the present NFT production. She knew Micki Grant through Vinette Carroll having worked with both as an actor on several of their shows. Together with an ensemble of four superb performers, Matelyn Alicia, April Armstrong, Patrice Bell, and Brian Davis (the only man!), she brings to life this remarkable artist in all her shimmering qualities of sharp wit and insight, her sensibilities and resilience in adversity. The mercurial flow of her personality is embodied alternately by the three women performers each of whose individuality ultimately adds up to the complex Micki Grant. Their joy in performing, whether through their singing, dancing, or narrating is infectious. Brian Davis holds his own in his portrayals of the male characters she created or knew—unforgettable his preacher, or the tap dance of the old humiliated Black man.

NFT’s productions are always elegant and superbly honed in detail. Ali Turns costume designs are impeccable in style; LaKai Worrell’s choreography uses the actors’ individual qualities while also supporting a sense of ensemble. The simple stage space design by Davidson Designs, LLC allows for movement variety while the historical projections, designed by Michele Baldwin, underscore the biographical aspects of Micki Grant’s life. Tom Spahn is the Musical Director—the music is off-stage with sound design by Aalics Bronson. The production is a joyous journey through the creative life and times of a great artist whose work should be celebrated and revived—there is much to be found that resonates in our times of confusion.


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