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Queenie Pie

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There was a time when the idea of Duke Ellington composing an opera might have seemed incongruous. But, particularly today, when Golden Age musicals written for the unamplified voice receive more musically respectful revivals in opera houses than on Broadway, the concept is more than intriguing.

Apparently Ellington considered writing an opera for thirty years before starting serious work on Queenie Pie in the early 70’s. Unfortunately, the funding fell through and the opera remained unfinished at his death. Since then there have been several attempts to create a cohesive work out of Ellington’s sketches for the show. Ever on the lookout for inventive works which deserve a higher profile, Long Beach Opera hired Director/Choreographer, Ken Roht, to create a new version of Queenie Pie.

The character of Queenie Pie is inspired by real-life cosmetics queen, Madame C.J. Walker, though nothing in the storyline echoes events in her life. The Long Beach version is a broadly satiric swipe at the cultural importance of beauty. The somewhat ramshackle plot introduces Queenie Pie, a Harlem beautician at the top of her trade, and Café O’Lay, the upstart Creole beauty who arrives in town and tries to steal Queenie Pie’s status as well as her man, Holt Faye. Petty jealousies escalate until an out of control Café shoots and kills Holt. Café is sent to prison and Queenie Pie journeys on an unlikely mission to retrieve a healing plant on a magical Caribbean island.

Not surprisingly the music is the strongest element in the production, and the sound, played by the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited under the direction of Jeffrey Lindberg, is undeniably Ellington at his big band best (a couple of standards have been interpolated into the score). The end result is closer to musical theatre than opera. The first act has echoes of Chicago with its dueling divas involved in a murder, while the island setting of the second act conjures another troubled book, House of Flowers, with an admirable score and two female antagonists.

Karen Marie Richardson is a powerful and stylishly sung Queenie who reveals a wicked sense of humor. Her telephone conversation scatting is a highlight. Anna Bowen’s slinky, insistently sung Café O’Lay is a woman who is only too aware of her charms. She proves a worthy adversary to Queenie. Keithon Gipson sings with an easy grace and makes the most of his turn as the unlucky Holt. He then makes a welcome return in the second act as the sensual King of the Island. Jeffrey Polk adds energy and a touch of mystery to his first act turn as Lil’Daddy, though his second act Witch Doctor is gratingly over the top.

Roht’s direction and choreography suit the style and keep the action moving, while Danila Korogodsky’s sets, Dabney Ross Jones’ costumes, and Brandon Baruch’s lighting make inventive choices.

While QUEENIE PIE is far from a forgotten masterpiece, it is an interesting glimpse into what might have been. As LBO’s Artistic Director, Andreas Mitisek shares that duty with Chicago Opera Theater, and this production will play there later this year.

Warner Grand Theatre   January 26 – February 2, 2014



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.