For the past four years, the seats of 560 Music Center has been filled with patrons and supporters of The St. Louis Black Repertory Company as they offer up musical theater in exchange for support of its education and community programs through its annual fundraiser, “One Night Only Gala.”
Classics from the canon of Black musical theater such as “Dreamgirls” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” have been performed with the help of celebrity guests from stage, film and television.
For their fifth anniversary milestone, the show will go on – but through a different platform because of COVID-19. I Remember Harlem: A Virtual Eventwill take place on Saturday, November 14, 2020. The gala will be streamed on Vimeo and on The Black Rep website.
“The experience has been absolutely wonderful. It’s caused us to be much more creative,” said Black Rep Founder and Producing Director Ron Himes. “It has caused us to find new ways to deliver the work that we do – and I think that people are going to be quite pleased with what we hope will not be just another zoom virtual event.”
To accommodate recording of numbers to give viewers as close to a live musical theater experience as possible in these unprecedented times, The Black Rep converted their shop space into a sound stage.
“We have footage that we have shot with our young people because the gala goes to support our education and community programs,” Himes said. “We have a number of ways to feature and highlight the young people who are a part of The Black Rep.”
The gala will weave together these performances along with clips from longtime supporters and Black Rep alum.
The virtual production will feature a variety of dance, music, and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance performed by friends of The Black Rep and Black Rep alum. Austin Smith (Broadway Cast of Hamilton), Sophia Stephens (Broadway Cast of The Lion King), Melody Betts (Broadway Cast of Waitress and NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar live), Kelvin Roston Jr. (Twisted Melodies), Roz White (Mahalia, Black Nativity), J Samuel Davis (Crossin’ Over) are a few of the acts on deck.
“We’ve already taped some incredible performances and we have received some incredible performances. I think it’s going to be a nice mix,” Himes said. “There will be classical singers and people with Broadway credentials along with the local favorites.”
Kevin Short, Managing Partner and CEO of Clayton Capital Partners is the Honorary Chair of the evening. Board Member Andreal Hoosman of Haywood Hoosman Realty and KTVI news anchor Kelly Hoskins are the co-chairs for the 2020 gala.
Black Rep honors
In addition to the production will be a celebration of individuals for their contributions to the field of theater and the community at large.
Stage, film and television actor Keith David is the 2020 recipient of the Woodie King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award. Most recently seen as the patriarch of the OWN Network hit “Greenleaf,” David’s career is rooted in the stage. The Juilliard School alum started his drama career when Joseph Papp selected him to perform the role of Tullus Aufidius in William Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” at the New York Shakespeare Festival. He went on to star on Broadway in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” and “Jelly’s Last Jam” for which he garnered a Tony Award nomination for “Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.” Known by many for his booming voice, David’s film, theater and television credits have spanned four decades.
“We felt like with his body of work and with his theatre background that he is certainly worthy of the honor,” Himes said.
In addition to David’s honors, a trio of ladies making waves in the political landscape will share the Frankie Muse Freeman Spirit Award as part of the evening’s festivities.
Democratic Congress nominee Cori Bush, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones will share the distinction as this year’s recipients.
“This year – in the midst of everything that has been going on in our country – that these three women exemplify Ms. Freeman’s commitment to social justice and fighting for equality,” Himes said.
Past Frankie Muse Freeman Spirit Award honorees include Dr. Glory Van Scott and George Faison.
Along with the musical performance and the awards presentations, will be opportunities for viewers to donate throughout the program.
Like so many institutions, The Black Rep took a huge hit when live performances came to an abrupt halt as the nation – and the world – locked down.
“We suffered a hit as far as box office revenue last season and it also impacted our ability to put our tickets on sale for this season, because we have no idea when we will be able to start this season,” Himes said. “However, we are still here. We have challenges, but we are making adjustments. Every time we have met a new challenge, we have made an adjustment.”
The virtual gala is a recent adjustment that Himes and his team feels proud to present.
“I want people to know that it’s not just an event that we hope to raise money – of course we hope to raise money– but we’ve put together a really entertaining evening,” said Himes.
For more information about The Black Rep’s 5th Annual Gala, I Remember Harlem: A Virtual Event taking place on Saturday, November 14. Visit,www.theblackrep.orgor call (314) 534-3807.