Grace is a heartfelt and hopeful celebration of African American food, family and tradition, by composer Nolan Williams Jr.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
By Chloe Rabinowitz | BroadwayWorld.com
Grace, an electrifying musical celebrating the perseverance of family and the power of tradition by American composer Nolan Williams Jr., will make its world premiere at Ford's Theatre in Washington in spring 2022, directed and choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming. Ticket on-sale dates will be announced by Ford's Theatre at a future date.
Packed with an eclectic mix of styles including Jazz, R&B, rousing up-tempos and raise-the-roof ballads, Grace is a musical feast examining the little-told history of African-American culinary tradition and the challenges faced by Black-owned businesses. The musical focuses on the experience of the Mintons, a Philadelphia family who gather to mourn the loss of their matriarch and deal with the future of their family restaurant in a changing neighborhood.
With memorable titles such as "Three Okra Seeds" and "Potlikker," every song holds a story to savor. The show's finale, "When Gran'Me Cooked," the first song from the musical to be released, honors the historic role women have in gathering families and communities alike.
Grace is produced by special arrangement with Dale A. Mott and his company, Edgewood, which co-produced for Broadway Lifespan of a Fact and the upcoming Thoughts of a Colored Man.
"This is truly the fulfillment of a dream, to craft this American musical and to have it performed in my hometown on one of America's great stages," said Williams, who grew up attending shows and performing at D.C.'s regional theatres. "Ford's Theatre has a history of launching momentous shows to Broadway, and we hope someday to be among them. We are thrilled to partner with Ford's to welcome everyone to a seat at our table to experience Grace."
"We are delighted to present this exciting musical by D.C.-based composer Nolan Williams Jr. and a creative team of Black artists in the spring of 2022," said Ford's Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault. "Ford's Theatre has been the birthplace of more than 35 world-premiere plays and musicals since our 1968 reopening. We're especially eager for audiences to come together and experience this joyful music and story of resilience, remembrance and the food that ties us to community."
The announcement of a world-premiere production for Grace marks the culmination of a years-long journey that was briefly curtailed by the COVID pandemic. The musical was originally performed in 2016 during the 53rd Grand Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the nation's largest Greek-letter fraternity founded by African American men. It followed with workshop residencies at Cleveland Play House's New Ground Theatre Festival in 2017 and 2018 and Actor's Theatre of Louisville, Ky., in 2020. Grace was an official selection for the 44th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays but was canceled just before the scheduled opening because of COVID.
Williams drew inspiration for Grace after conducting extensive research on African American culinary history, including the pioneers chronicled in W.E.B. DuBois' seminal work "The Philadelphia Negro."
"The rich imagery of food born of our hardship and turned into culinary genius by pioneering Black chefs and caterers such as Bogle, Augustin, Prosser, Dorsey, Jones and Minton spoke to me. I heard these giants' voices and was inspired to imbue their legacies into Grace," Williams said.
Williams, a Cultural Curator has dedicated his professional career to the curation of works that illuminate issues of civil rights, social justice and cultural curiosities. His extensive body of creative work includes directing and producing the television special "Becoming Douglass Commonwealth," and musical stage productions including Stirring the Waters Across America at The Kennedy Center, Go, Tell It! at Lincoln Theatre, and Devine Hamer Gray (in development).
Williams' choral and orchestral works have been premiered by major American orchestras, and he has garnered songwriting credits on two Grammy-nominated projects. Williams also has produced arts and educational programming through his NEWorks Productions in partnership with The Kennedy Center and Philadelphia's Mann Center; and developed cultural programming with the Smithsonian, U.S. State Department and the Embassies of India, France and South Africa. He is one of The Kennedy Center's inaugural Social Practice Residents.
Hospitality and entertainment mogul Sheila C. Johnson, a Ford's Theatre Lincoln Medalist, and celebrated chef and TV personality Carla Hall have joined Grace as hospitality and culinary ambassadors, respectively, as the themes Williams visits in the musical resonate with them personally and professionally.
"I've been taken in not only by Williams' gorgeous music but by the story of the food pioneers and entrepreneurs-especially the women-at the center of Grace," Johnson said. "As an African American businesswoman in the hospitality field, I understand the challenges women of color face, not only in the past, but today. It is my pleasure to serve as an ambassador for this new American masterpiece, which explores the powerful legacy of African American cooking in changing times."
"I have always felt a deep responsibility to teach and inspire people who look to me for recipes and culinary knowledge," Hall said. "Being an ambassador for Grace allows me to fulfill my duty to honor our food culture and history while moving our community forward through the power of storytelling."