Philadelphia native and theater cheerleader, brings Broadway pandemic reopening to PBS

When Frank DiLella, the three-time Emmy Award-winning theater journalist who hosts the popular On the scene program on New York’s top-rated NY1 television station, was a 4-year-old Philadelphian, his mother took him to the Forrest Theater to see Cats.

“When I entered this building, it was the church for me. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I was changed,” he said. “There was a moment of communion when I entered the theatre. I didn’t want to leave.

As a journalist and, yes, a cheerleader, for New York’s theater community, DiLella was devastated when the pandemic shut down Broadway on March 12, 2020.

“I made a commitment to the community,” he said. “I promised we would follow this story until the lights shine on Broadway again.” And he did, with stories of survival and courage. (Lead Ballet Dancer Robbie Fairchild sold flowers from her apartment, hiring other dancers to deliver, for example.)

Now DiLella has turned that story and others into a PBS documentary, Great performances, reopening: The Broadway Revival, which will air on Tuesday, January 18 at 9 p.m. and rebroadcast on Friday, January 21 at 10 p.m. DiLella is the documentary’s host and executive producer.

DiLella grew up in the Andorra neighborhood of Philadelphia with parents from Northeast and South Philadelphia. He attended Waldron Mercy Academy and La Salle College High School, attracted by the two theater programs; participated in theater programs offered by the Philadelphia School District, Villanova University and the Annenberg Center; and performed in community theater troupes, including the Swarthmore Players Club. He dreamed of acting professionally until reality hit when he enrolled in Fordham University’s acting program and saw incredible talent among his classmates.

“If I want to continue being part of this community, I have to think about plan B,” he thought. Plan B was journalism. DiLella landed an internship with NY1 as a sophomore and has been there ever since. Although he has done almost all the jobs at the station, there is nothing that excites him more than interviewing his idols on his TV show.

These contacts came in handy when PBS asked DiLella to shoot her documentary in less than three months.

Great performances, reopening: The Broadway Revival, includes interviews with Andrew Lloyd Webber (Remember how much DiLella loved Cats?), Adrian Warren, Sara Bareilles, and a host of others, many of which DiLella has on speed dial. There are behind-the-scenes looks from the emotional first rehearsals and the documentary captures the grand reopening of Broadway on September 14, 2021, when the curtains went up on Lion King, Bad, and Chicago.

“The takeaway is that the strength and resilience of this community is unlike anything else,” DiLella said. “Ninety-seven thousand people were out of work and that work didn’t come back until a year and a half later.

“There are no people like show business people and that’s so true. Broadway is essential. Artists are essential workers too,” he said. “Cut their wings and they’ll always find a way to perform.”

Premiering Tuesday, January 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS, rebroadcasting on PBS Friday, January 21 at 10 p.m. Streaming available January 18 through February 15 via and the PBS video app and then via PBS Passport,

Born in Charleston, SC, in 1912, Alice Childress became one of the most celebrated black playwrights and novelists of her time with her work particularly focused on the urban black experience.

AT EgoPo Classical Theater, Kim Wilson, Ontario plays Tommy, the main character of Childress’s wine in the desert. Written in 1969, Childress’ play is set against the backdrop of the 1964 riots in Harlem.

The plot revolves around “Tommy, who is an ordinary black woman who works in a clothing factory. She doesn’t have a lot of education,” Wilson said. [Blacks] who are educated. It’s a class battle until she shows them that she’s human, just like them.

Bourgeois blacks, Wilson said, “are interested in revolution in a textbook sense.” But it’s hardly a manual for Tommy, whose real name is Tomorrow Marie. The revolution cost Tommy her home as she lived in an apartment above a grocery store destroyed during the conflict.

Wilson admires Tommy because “I’m all about people walking in their power. She doesn’t apologize for who she is. She experienced trauma. She lost everything except a brown paper bag and the clothes she was carrying on her back. Yet she still fidgets and shakes and tries not to miss a beat.

The revolutionaries, Wilson explained, had recruited Tommy to play the poorest of the poor, someone to be pitied, a victim. “She turns out to be the sun. She turned out to be the leader,” Wilson said. “She becomes the voice of the people.

Wilson, who grew up in Philadelphia and will graduate from Temple University in May with a bachelor’s degree in theater, thinks EgoPo’s timeline for wine in the desert is significant in light of the protests that erupted across the country following the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

“As a black woman, seeing our men disappear for no reason on a daily basis is traumatic, and as a people, it’s enough to bring you up in arms,” ​​Wilson said. “There is a current that has been running for decades. After a while, this quiet storm will emerge. and it will be a storm that no one can control.

However, theater can perhaps make a difference by illuminating the experiences of others. “We’re so divided now,” Wilson said. “I think all theater is built for change and for changing one person at a time.”

Directed by Damien J. Wallace, wine in the desert also includes André G. Brown, with Harlem painter Bill Jamerson.

Jan. 19-30 at the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St., Phila. For tickets, information, or 215-273-1414. Masks and proof of vaccination required. Also available virtually from January 25 to 30.

With You and me opening next week, the timing seems right, but Bristol Riverside Theater artistic director producer Amy Kaissar swear it’s strictly a coincidence. Playwright by Lauren Gunderson the job was chosen long before the pandemic hit, Kaissar said. The plot involves an immunocompromised teenager who must attend high school remotely and the relationship she builds with a high school athlete who drops an English assignment. It’s about youth, love, life and connection.

“At the time, we picked it because it was a great ride with a big juicy twist at the end that made us all immediately jump back to the beginning to re-read it,” Kaissar said in a statement, adding that The isolation that many are suffering during the pandemic will make “the experience even richer for the public”.

Gia Forakis directed Silvia Dionicio and JJ Wilks in their roles as Caroline and Anthony.

January 25-February 13 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliff St., Bristol, PA. For tickets and information, or 215-785-0100. Proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test required, as well as masks.

If you missed Production of 1812 quarantine offer – three teams of Philadelphia theater makers each producing a miniature version of Shakespeare King Lear, you have a second chance. The whole series of Define the model theater, in which the teams discuss their creative processes, can be streamed for free on demand. Lantern Theater Co. is also rebroadcasting its digital production of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord written by Scott Carter. Still streaming via Lantern is his production of me and the devil through Steve H. Broadnax 3d and Charles Dumas.

“Set Model Theatre” on demand, free, until February 7. For more information and to broadcast, or 215-592-9560. “The Gospel” and “Me and the Devil” on demand until February 27. For tickets, information, or 215-829-0395.

In these turbulent times, theater professionals are going through their own series of soul-searching on issues of justice, diversity and inclusion. the New Jersey Theater Alliance, a statewide organization for nonprofit theater companies, offers, through its Create a series of roundtables on the network of change a free session titled Avoiding Burnout and Promoting Healing While Working for Justice in the Arts. Held virtually, the session runs from 10 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. on Thursday, January 20. Next month’s session — same time Feb. 24 — focuses on fair human resource practices for pay equity, hiring, retention and more.

Interested artists and arts administrators can register at:

[email protected]

About Michael Brafford

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