Sheldon Brown remembers reading Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play” when he was in high school. He never got to see a live production of the drama, but as an adult actor he’s now part of the Broadway in Atlanta touring version.
The 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner returned to Broadway in 2020 for a highly acclaimed production, directed by Atlantan Kenny Leon and taking home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. The touring version hits the ATL March 28. “A Soldier’s Play” is the story of a Black sergeant who is murdered on a Louisiana Army base in 1944 and the investigation that follows. Out actor Brown plays the role of Private C.J. Memphis.
The role, he says, is the heartbeat of the show.
“A lot of people have said that,” Brown told Georgia Voice. “C.J. is a very profound soul and has a way of knowing in ways that others don’t in the show. I think he is misunderstood in the way of being unapologetically who he is and proud of who he is. His ability to speak truth is something audiences [like]. He is Southern and soulful and giving and loving, full of life and sensitive.”
“A Soldier’s Play” is a relevant show that will appeal to LGBTQ audiences.
“I believe what we are dealing with today and are continuing to deal with as people in this country, this play sheds a light on,” Brown said. “Actor Eugene Lee has a beautiful way of describing this show. He says it tells the truth and does so with clarity, and the play is not only a murder mystery, a whodunit and exciting entertainment, but [it] will allow audiences to leave with something they did not have when they walked into the theater. It’s a way to take a look at each other; this play is about what it means to be a human being living in America.”
Brown said working with Leon was a tremendous experience.
“He is brilliant,” he said. “He is a giving director in the sense that he has already directed the show on Broadway, and he came to the rehearsal room with even more ideas and ways of utilizing the people who are part of this team. For me, he has allowed me to touch on things I didn’t think I could do.”
Brown said being openly gay has affected his work, but in other ways it also frees him up.
“I think I know that I do my best and I am my best when I can be my authentic self,” he said. “The time it took to accept myself and live my truth and be who I am has allowed me to dig into each of my characters and find [the truth].”
This gig will be Brown’s first time in Atlanta, and he’s looking forward to performing in the Fox Theatre. The touring version has some subtle differences with the Broadway remount, mostly because of the new team involved, including Norm Lewis as Captain Richard Davenport. Nonetheless, Brown said it will be as fresh as when it landed on the Broadway stage.
A frequent director all over Atlanta stages, Patdro Harris is now directing and choreographing the jukebox musical, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” at Aurora Theatre. With a book by Emmy winner Colman Domingo, Robert Cray and Des McAnuff, the musical looks at the life of the five-time Grammy winner and LGBTQ icon, charting her rise from gospel choir to international acclaim — and her professional and personal struggles along the way. The musical was on Broadway in 2018. Here, three actresses take on Donna at various points in her life. Jessenia Ingram is Duckling Donna, Desiré Gaston plays Disco Donna, and Marliss Amiea is Diva Donna.
Harris has always been a fan of the artist. One of the elements he likes about the show is that it explores Summer as a person and not just an artist.
He described the show as fun and energetic.
“There’s a lot of glitter, glamour and goodness — the glitter of the life that we know, the glamour we thought it should be and the goodness of her, how kind she was,” he said. “And how she embraced everybody and had to leave her family.”
Harris said there was much he did not know about Summer before taking on this project. The biggest surprise for him was finding out about all of her humanitarian efforts.
Her legacy shows the importance of being who you are.
“She was a great example of this,” Harris said. “No matter what your sexual orientation, where you were from, your economic status — she loved everybody.”
The musical features virtually all of Summer’s hits, including “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “MacArthur Park,” “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” and “Love to Love You Baby.”
“A Soldier’s Play” runs March 28–April 2 at the Fox Theatre
“Summer” runs through April 9 at Aurora Theatre