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Table Talk w/James Earl Jones II of ‘Come From Away’

Powerful. Moving. Gripping. Life-changing. Funny. Spectacular.

Yes, these are all of the wonderful words (plus many, many more) we can use to describe Come From Away, Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s incredible musical that tells the true story of what transpired the week of the September 11th attacks when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland, Canada.

Now, you would think that a show retelling the events of that tragic and horrific day would be filled with sadness and sorrow, but instead it does a tremendous job filling the air with hope and human kindness…and it’s a message that we could all use more of in dealing with today’s crazy times.

With a small tightly knit and extremely talented cast, Come From Away also portrays characters based off of the actual kind patrons who took in those diverted plane passengers, which is another fabulous reason why it will get you in all of the right places. The audience gets to actually feel the human touch laced within….and it indeed has never felt or sounded better, for that matter.

So, in a word…if Come From Away is heading to your town (check this out), you might want to grab those tickets now.

James Earl Jones II (the legendary actor’s third cousin..not his son..a question he gets asked once daily) is one of the many talented actors in the cast who helps brings it all to light with his portrayal of “Bob” and a few others…you’ll see.

So, take a little time to get to know him as he was kind enough to take a seat at the table where he broke mugs about his favorite records, what doing this show means to him, and why Come From Away is just so damn important for all of us to see…right now.

Get to know James below.

First up on our little spill, what does being in this show mean to you personally as an actor? The show is a dream come true. Sometimes you do a show that pays very well. Sometimes you do a show that has a good message. Sometimes you do a show where you work with good people. And in the midst of that, you’re looking for your big break…the show that you really feel pushes your career forward. This show is all of those things.

Given the circumstances of the plot, why do you think ‘Come From Away’ just works so well with audiences? The show works so well with audiences because it gives people hope. A lot of people say that this show is very timely, due to the current political climate. I think the show will be timely, forever. It is a true event, about good people, doing good things. With so much negativity in the news and on the TVs, seeing such an uplifting and positive show, is reason enough, for it to resonate for a very long time, with people from all over the world.

This show also resonates plenty of human emotion as well. Why do you think it’s so important for people just to let it all out sometimes? A good cry allows you to sometimes heal. You purge the sadness, the emptiness, the despair; essentially, the negativity. I think it’s sad when people say they’ve never seen their *fill in the blank* cry.. A good cry, like our show, can be very cathartic.

Okay, so….you’re stuck on a deserted island…you’re only allowed to bring three of your favorite albums with you. Which ones would they be?  Sheesh!!  They would probably be India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul,Take 6’s self-titled record, and Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers).

What is one thing you personally hope audiences will take away from this truly incredible show? A renewed sense of hope in humanity. Paying it forward with simple acts of kindness. Simply being good to one another, just cuz. Becoming more tolerant, understanding and open to people who are different than you..

Lastly, define the ‘Come From Away’ experience in a couple of phrases….. Beautiful message. Beautiful people. Beautiful experience. Changed for the better.

And there you have it, kids. now, get those tickets! This is one Broadway experience no one should ever miss in a lifetime.

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Table Talk w/Marcus John of ‘RENT’

So, there’s this Tony Award owning, life changing legendary Broadway extravaganza called RENT...anyone ever hear of it?

Of course…the entire universe has as the dearly departed Jonathan Larson‘s rock musical about of a group of depleted young artists struggling to survive and create a life in Lower Manhattan’s East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS isn’t just one of the most iconic theater events that ever took over The Great White Way, but the fact that every single show for the 20th anniversary national tour takeover at the Merriam Theater this week has been completely sold out for months now..

……so, yeah, we’re all aware and more than ready for a RENT Philly takeover.

Just on a little side note…..for those of you who may not have been able to grab those tickets for this week’s round of shows, there’s some good news…it’s coming back to the Merriam this October 8th-10th and there’s still tickets left!! So, you should absolutely head to the Kimmel Center’s website and sing it out for those seats…right now. 

But wait there’s more…….so, you really, really want to revel in this legendary show and kick it with this incredible touring cast this week, right? Well, it just so happens that..you can. After you’ve picked your “Seasons of Love” lovin’ self up off of the floor, make those plans now as the incredibly talented cast—including Benny aka University of the Arts graduate Marcus John, whom you’ll delightfully get to know in just a second–will be taking part in Cabaret for a Cause at the Arts Bank Theatre at the University of Arts this Thursday night, March 7th!

Not only will you be able to revel in all of these fine actors and actresses’ talents and then some, but your ticket will get you in a raffle to win a pair of tickets to the closing night of the show this Sunday, March 10th. Also, being that these crazily talented kids are all about the “Love,” all proceeds will be donated to the incredible David Jenkins Memorial Scholarship Fund, which you can learn more about by clicking right here.

Okay, so putting the well deserved Philly spotlight back on Mr. Marcus John. Not only has he been simply crushing it with this esteemed production in the role of Benny (he’s not so bad, right?) but all-in-all, he’s just a really good guy serving out all kinds of chill, professional vibes that you should absolutely get to know…right now. 

Kicking things off at the table, and I personally thank you for taking time out of your bonkers touring schedule to chat, you and the cast have certainly been made aware that the Philly engagements of RENT this week have been sold out for quite some time! Does that add any added pressure on the cast at all? Maybe just a little?? The shows sell out quite frequently, especially in the bigger cities that we hit up. It’s really the legacy of RENT selling the tickets, we just do our thing regardless! Whether in the big cities or in a small town, we strive to give that same great performance to everybody. 

What does it mean to you personally to be a part of Jonathan Larson’s Broadway legacy? It all just definitely hits you when the show starts and when you see the crowd packing in. Having that many people [each night], it usually means that we’re going to have a responsive audience. It’s huge just to be part of something that’s so iconic and bigger than yourself. It’s just an exciting, exciting feeling just to be a part of this! 

Have you or the cast had a chance to meet any of the original Broadway cast? Actually, we have Not too long ago we met Rodney Hicks who was in the original run [as Benjamin Coffin III]. We’ve also gotten the chance to meet Jonathan Larson‘s Dad as well. 

Oh, yeah? What was that meeting like? He was really cool. He’s still good friends with our music supervisor, so anytime we’re in the area he tries to come and say hi. I’ve also spoken to Taye Diggs over the phone once, he played the original Benny (in the ’05 film version), so getting a chance to chat with him was really, really cool. 

Let’s spill some tea about those famed RENT audiences. Do you guys feel different vibes from different audiences being that at times this a heavy, heavy show? It’s definitely different. Sometimes we’re in parts of the country that don’t necessarily agree with the themes of the show, [those audiences] can be a bit more reserved. But there’s other cities where they know [the show] and sing along and get right into it. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot what kind of audience you’re going to get, but it’s mainly positive all the way no matter where we are. 

As someone who’s been doing your professional thing for quite some time now, do you ever feel nerves take over before a show..especially with RENT? Nerves aren’t really a thing anymore, honestly. As far as touring and performing, I’m going on about six years professionally and two years with this show, so it’s not so much nerves, but more focusing your energy. You know when you do something 200 plus times over the course of a year or two, you’re less worried about being nervous or whether if it’s going to go right because you know exactly what’s going to happen. You also want to make sure that regardless of what’s going on in your personal life, you can still give your best show. Just focus on being in the moment! 

From one artist to another, I’m sure you can agree that when personal mistakes are made, it takes a toll personally.. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But it’s basically up to you to get over it. Mistakes will drive you crazy, but nobody cares! Even if they do, each audience will be a brand new batch of people who won’t know anything about it. You just can’t carry self criticisms with you. 

Closing out our spill, I just want to go to Lady Gaga’s Oscar acceptance speech about keeping it all going and being brave. Have there been any times in your career that you truly had to dig deep to find that strength to keep it moving? It happens non-stop because in our career, you’re constantly looking for the next job, constantly auditioning, which can lead to always being told no. So, you never really “make it” because no matter how many times you do a big show or tour, everything has to end. I guess I feel brave every time I go into an audition room or hear back right away…like this show. I actually didn’t hear back after the audition for a year. But it came around and they wanted me to audition again, I had to check with myself if I was ready to go through the rejection again if it’s happens…how can I get confident again and not harp on that, so it’s been a little bit of a journey and the second time around paid off! 

For much more with Marcus John and the exceptional 20th anniversary touring cast of RENT, you should absolutely check this out..now. 

Are you a local or legendary entertainer who’s slaying your craft and want the whole wide world to pay attention? Well, please don’t be shy (there are never any Miranda Priestly‘s here) and slay it up with Philly Mixtape right here and here and let’s have everybody take a seat to you and your talents! 

Marcus John cover photo courtesy of Broadway World 

 

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Holiday Tea w/Philip Huffman of ‘The Grinch’

A story that truly needs no introduction as Dr. Seuss’ famed tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been making hearts grow for over fifty years!

But perhaps it’s told even better when it’s alive on stage and intertwined with incredible music and of course, tons of holiday spirit!

Luckily for the entire tri-state area, we’ll get to experience all of that stage magic and so much more as the traveling production is now calling the grand stage at the Merriam Theater home–make that Whoville–until December 29th! 

While we could spill holiday tea until well past New Year’s about what an enchanting show this is and just how little Cindy Lou Who will tug at your heartstrings (Philly Mixtape got to witness it all on opening night and you may just need a tissue or two, who), it’s best to sip a little tea with the star of it all, Mr. Philip Huffman….

……or as everyone will get to know him as….The Grinch

Mr. Huffman recently took a seat and had some tea at the holiday table where he broke mugs about his background, what it takes to play such an iconic character and what we should all take away from this beloved story.

Get to know him below, and then get those tickets because this is one show that you and the whole family do not want to miss this Philly holiday season!! 

Hey, Philip! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to spill some holiday tea! Kicking things off at the table, spill for everyone a little bit about your acting background. Well, I’ve been living in New York for the past fifteen years. I’ve also been traveling around opening shows on cruise ships and doing guest entertainer jobs. I’ve also studied with cultural theater in Australia, as well as with a lot of regional theater around the country, which includes doing The Grinch for the past three years!

So, cruise ships? That must be a lot of fun.  It is! For one, you get to travel the world and you’re exposed to a lot of different cultures, which is nice.

Any favorite places you’ve ever been to? Spain. I’ve been pretty much anywhere you want to go in the world, but Spain is just full of beautiful culture and incredible people. It’s just a very kind and happy place..it’s just a beautiful country.

Now, on to some Grinch business. What was the audition process like for this truly coveted role? I first auditioned for the show, then I had about five more call backs because [it all] needed to be approved by the artistic team, by the producers and by the creative team. It was a strenuous role to get…a lot of people wanted it! So, there was a lot of competition for it. It’s a fun role because as an actor, you already know you’re going to be beloved by the audience because the character is so beloved, well, by everyone! I don’t think there’s anyone out there who says that they don’t love The Grinch.

What were some of the things they were looking for in finding the perfect Grinch? You go in, and at first you have your own selection of music. They also look at your physical stature and if you’re entertaining in the role. When they call you back, they’ll give you music to learn and you just prepare as much as you can! And of course, give it your all. 

What would you say is the most important part in portraying this character? I would say the most important part is…that you have to love the joy of the holidays! Even though The Grinch is portrayed as someone who detests the Whos and detests Christmas, [he’s someone] who longs to participate in the community and to be accepted in the festivities. So, if you don’t have the desire of enjoying the holidays, you’re probably not going to get the full effect of The Grinch! I also think you have to stay away from the word “angry” when it comes to describing him. It’s more about his loneliness and isolation, which is something we can all relate to at some point in our lives, and I think that’s what makes him so relatable and why this story has transcended through so many generations. 

Truly, there’s so many elements to take away from this story, what do you think the most important one is?  I think it’s the beliefs that are unfounded by facts. The Whos down in Whoville understand without even going to talk to the Grinch, without knowing him and understanding where he’s from that they tell the children to be afraid of him…..to fear the unknown. It’s interesting to see how in society that can happen without even noticing it. I think the biggest message is not falling into the trap of believing something that you’re being told is true. It’s best to invest openly and to draw your own conclusions. If it’s not for Cindy Lou Who, who’s a nice embodiment of innocence in the show that takes on the crusade to go ahead and not believe that the Grinch shouldn’t be included in everything. Sometimes I like to think of him as the crotchety old man down the street that all of the kids are scared to go near his house! But as they get to know him, they realize that he’s not so crotchety! 

Almost like the mean, old neighbor in ‘Home Alone’….. Yes! Absolutely. 

So, any plans while you’re in town? I’m sure The Grinch might have a few…I’ll be popping around as [him] quite a bit. It’s always fun to check out different cities as The Grinch because they truly treat you to nothing but the best! It’s also fun to be here right now because they’ve been trying to get the show [here] for thirteen years, so Philly is going to be a lot of fun to parade through! 

For much, much more with Mr. Huffman and the rest of the talented cast of ‘The Grinch,” guide your sleigh right here

Happy holidays, Philly! 

Cover photo courtesy of the Kimmel Center