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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 08
From Dragon to Fairy Godmother: Kecia Lewis lives the fairy tales
Arts & Entertainment
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From Dragon to Fairy Godmother: Kecia Lewis lives the fairy tales

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S
CINDERELLA
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
February 24-March 1


Kecia Lewis is no stranger to Seattle. She's appeared on stage and has friends that live in the Emerald City. Her work on stage includes the controversial as well as award-nominated performances in several highly acclaimed shows. Appearing as Marie, the Fairy Godmother in the updated version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, Ms. Lewis tells it like it is, from workshops in Seattle to being on the Broadway stage.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Thank you for taking the time for our interview. Seattle is very much looking forward to your reappearance.

Kecia Lewis: Thank you. I'm looking forward to being back in Seattle. I have a dear friend who lives here and her daughter has become a budding actress and theatre geek. I'm looking forward to spending time with them as well as working on stage.

Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Lewis: I would say the great comedians like Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball. As far as African-American women, there weren't a whole lot of them doing musicals and sketch comedy stuff. It was more of the straight dramatic actresses that were on film. The first one that comes to mind is Pam Greer; not that she's any kind of major actress as much as she was a black woman on the big screen and therefore influential.

Andrews-Katz: What was your appearance on Broadway?

Lewis: Actually, I was the last and the youngest 'Effie White' of the original cast on Broadway. I was cast by and hired by Michael Bennett. Then in the year 2000, I did Dreamgirls in LA and won an Ovation Award for the same role.

Andrews-Katz: Your next Broadway appearance was in Big River. What was your audition like?

Lewis: I wasn't that familiar with the show and the role called for Gospel singing, so I did a hymnal that I knew from growing up in church. I was supposed to be in the first national tour directed by Cameron McIntosh. We went out on the road in January 1986, and the tour ended by May or June that year. Then I went into the Broadway Company and continued.

Andrews-Katz: Once On This Island has been called The Little Musical That Could. What is the appeal of such a small delightful show?

Lewis: I think the simplicity of it, quite frankly. The simplicity of the story, which is Love vs. Hate, is a universal theme. Then there are the other themes such as a child being rescued by loving parents, parents that don't want their child to grow up, but have to, her [the child's] discovery of love in a place where she isn't appreciated but prevails& Those themes rang true with people, whether they are gay or straight, black or white, people can share that experience.

Andrews-Katz: In Once On This Island you play the Earth Mother Asaka. Where do you channel the energy from for such a larger-than-life persona?

Lewis: I have no idea! I think for me, personally, it comes from me having a 'Mom' kind of aura. I've had it as long as I can remember. I was always the kid that others came to for advice or protection. I think that the thing that is in me, that is a 'Mom' thing, is something I've had since birth. Having the opportunity to do that role is for me, pulling all those experiences all through my life, and protecting the child [Ti Moune] in the story. La Chanze [who played Ti Moune] and I knew each other from the business for several years but weren't really friends until we started doing the workshop. We became best friends, lifelong friends, and we speak every few weeks - more so when we're in the same city. That connection started early and most people saw it when we were on stage together in that show.

Andrews-Katz: You were reunited with your (Once On This Island) co-star La Chanze for the musical 'Dessa Rose.' With a heartbreaking story, a great cast (and CD), why do you think the show didn't become bigger than it was?

Lewis: I think that people were not ready for that show. I still don't know if they are. I think that, quite honestly, the story of a group of runaway slaves, being aided by a white woman who subsequently falls in love with one of them, and the theme of a young, black, slave girl violently taking control of her destiny, all those themes were so politically incorrect.

Before the reviews came out, the show was Sold Out! People were very interested in it because it was a new kind of story. One of the main reasons I did Dessa Rose after doing Big River was that [in Big River] I played a slave and it wasn't the best experience. As an African-American actress I thought that I needed to do it, and I did. I did Dessa Rose because it was a different kind of slave story. Not a victim. Dessa Rose is real, the story really happened, and it hadn't been told before. People just weren't ready for it. Once the reviews came out they [the reviews] were absolutely hostile towards the story line. Not the actors or their work, but the story line itself. We knew from the beginning people were either going to love it or hate - nothing in between. I'm glad that Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty [lyricist and composer] were able to record the entire show on the cast album. This way people can continue to discover it.

Andrews-Katz: The Drowsy Chaperone was a throwback musical homage to more simplistic (as well as highly entertaining) past musicals. Do you prefer old-fashioned or more modern musicals?

Lewis: I've done both so it's hard to say. I think I prefer more of the Old Fashioned types actually. I think that going back to a simpler time of entertainment. I think I have the skill set for that. Nowadays people are looking for modulations and 'dropping it-like-it's-hot' and that's great for this generation, but for me, it does not equal the skill set to be a [more] well-rounded performer. With the old fashioned types, you have to learn to pull on that and do it well.

Andrews-Katz: You created the role of Dragon in Shrek the Musical when it premiered at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. The show was changed before it got to Broadway. What happened with the character?

Lewis: I've never discussed this publicly before. What happened was I got caught in the middle of a fight between the Creative and the Corporate offices [of the show]. In a nutshell, Corporate (DreamWorks) had one vision of what Dragon was supposed to be, and the Creative team had a different vision. I was hired and I did the workshop [here at Seattle's 5th Avenue]. They realized at that time that what I brought to the table was not as an Ensemble member; it was more of a step out to play the Dragon. What I did was have the ability to flesh out the character of Dragon. The lighting and direction went that way. Once we were in Seattle, Corporate realized that their vision was going to get lost by the way side. I found out inadvertently that they were having meetings about a change for Broadway. I approached them and asked about the character and they said that I could stay on in the Ensemble, and the character would be cut back. Or, we could have an amicable parting. I chose the latter. They wanted to cut the B story line of Donkey and Dragon's romance. I signed on originally, because of what was in the film and I thought that was brilliant in the workshop. Over time, I became more dissatisfied.

Andrews-Katz: What does the musical Cinderella present to the modern generations that it hasn't presented to those past?

Lewis: The book has been completely updated by Douglas Carter Beane, and he is a brilliant writer. He wrote the musicals Xanadu and Sister Act, as well as the play The Nance. He takes elements of the classic tale, of what people know, and adds a modern sensibility to it. This version offers a Cinderella who not only wins the prince's heart, not because of the makeover she's given, but because of her generosity and kindness. That is the reason she wins his heart. The Fairy Godmother in this version empowers her to recognize those qualities in herself and let them out. She helps Cinderella to recognize her own importance.

Andrews-Katz: How do the characters of Cinderella and (Marie) the Fairy Godmother offer role models to young girls of today?

Lewis: I think - in particular - with Cinderella, those themes of love, generosity and kindness are themes that young ladies today would want to emulate. I think that in terms of the Fairy Godmother (Marie), she is empowering the young woman, as opposed to being jealous or knocking her down for not paying attention to outside things. She helps Cinderella transform, but it's not the essential point of the story. I think that young girls can learn from that.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of all limitations - what would it and why?

Lewis: I don't think it's been written yet. I would love to play a role where I could utilize my entire skill set of abilities, as a performer, with movement and music, and in various genres of music - classical, gospel, rap, rock& That would use all of my acting abilities. I've never been cast in a Shakespeare play either. To use all of that at once would be the Ultimate role. If I write it, maybe it'll get produced. I'd like to explore the story between my father and myself. Stories like that, between Dads and Daughters, don't get told very often - especially African-American ones.

Kecia Lewis has appeared on Broadway in over six shows, and several more Off-Broadway. Her last two appearances in Seattle were at the 5th Avenue for The Drowsy Chaperone and the premier of Shrek the Musical.

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