It's a Take Ten double bill with songwriters Tom Jones and William Knowles! MetroStage celebrates their compositions in the current roof-raising revue, Shake Loose: A Musical Night of Blues, Moods, and Icons now playing through March 8. Tom Jones(TJ) and William Knowles (WK).
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
TJ: The Me Nobody Knows on Broadway when I was eight or nine. Starring Irene Cara as a child star (before Fame) and a young Ralph Carter (before Good Times). It was about the writings of public school kids who looked and sounded like me.
WK: My mom took me to see The Wiz when I was in elementary school. I dug the music: "Slide Some Oil To Me", "Home", "Ease On Down The Road". It’s unfortunate and ironic that Charlie Smalls isn’t a household name.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
TJ: In college, I played a Vietnam Vet named Butter in a play called Matters of Choice.
WK: My first gig was playing piano for Bessie’s Blues at the Studio Theatre in the mid-1990s. They had a sign on the door looking for a jazz and blues pianist. There should be more of those signs.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
TJ: River Niger and Ceremonies in Dark Old Men. Amazing story-telling and amazing actors.
WK: I’m drawn to great performers rather than specific scripts. I wish I could have seen Ain’t Misbehavin’ when Hank Jones was playing it. I’ll be seeing Hamilton this March.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
TJ: Staining pap smears for Upjohn Labs from 4am to twelve noon. Wasn’t even a day job. It was a night job.
WK: I worked security for a record store. It was truly a mind-numbing experience.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
TJ: I was doing a monologue at a senior center and I could overhear two women on the front row. I was in the middle of my monologue and one said, “What’s he doing?” and the other said “I don’t know but he sure is awful.”
WK: My barn door was open one night in Atlanta during a performance of the Langston Hughes musical Tambourines To Glory.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on Shake Loose?
TJ: Working with amazing performers.
WK: I’m enjoying revisiting the body of work Tom and I have created and reshaping it for Shake Loose. We also have a great cast, and group of musicians that know our work and rhythms.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
TJ: Dorothy Dandridge because she was so ground-breaking as an artist in an era when black women were not being viewed as sensual. She was the first black sex symbol in film so she kind of broke the mold.
WK: Cecily Tyson. The conversation would be amazing, not just her work but the cats she’s been around. I was able to see her perform with James Earl Jones in The Gin Game last year.
8) What is your dream role/job?
TJ: I’m doing it.
WK: I’d dig a nice tour of my own work around the regional theaters. It’s good mailbox money, good designers and less pressure than the top of the market.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
TJ: Anna Lucasta by the old American Negro Theatre starring Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee before they were famous.
WK: Shuffle Along. I love Eubie Blake’s music, and the show was packed with the top black artists of the day. Later this year I’ll be seeing George C. Wolfe’s production in New York.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
TJ: Continue as long as you enjoy it. If you lose the passion, do something else.
WK: Learn as many skills as you can. Develop your pen. Sometimes the only way into an exclusive environment is to write yourself in.
THOMAS W. JONES II is an Artistic Associate at MetroStage where many of his original musicals have premiered. Since 2001, he has written and directed Harlem Rose, Three Sistahs, Two Queens One Castle, Bricktop, Cool Papa’s Party, Pearl Bailey...by request, Ladies Swing the Blues, and, most recently, Bessie’s Blues at MetroStage. He received a Helen Hayes nomination for Outstanding Direction for MetroStage’s production of Gee’s Bend. He has directed, written and performed in more than 200 plays worldwide. In 1978, Tom founded Jomandi Productions, where, as Co-Artistic Director and Producing Director, he led Jomandi to become the third largest African-American theatre company in the United States. His work as writer, director, and actor has been acclaimed nationally and internationally, receiving 42 Helen Hayes Award nominations and winning 12, including Best Director for Samm Art Williams’ Home and his own Bessie’s Blues (1991 production). He has also received 3 New York Audelco Award nominations, the Dramalogue Award, the San Diego Critics Award, NAACP Phoenix Award, among others. His most recently directed work is Janet Langhart Cohen’s Anne & Emmett, currently preparing for a national tour. His production company has launched the New Renaissance Project producing, among others, a national tour of Cool Papa’s Party and A Night in the Musical Life of Frankie Lyman.
William Knowles MetroStage: Three Sistahs, Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song, Gee’s Bend (Helen Hayes nomination), His Eye Is On The Sparrow, Cool Papa’s Party (Helen Hayes Award for Musical Direction), Bricktop, All Night Strut, King of Cool, Jazz Royalty, Isn’t It Romantic. DC: Arena Stage: Play On, Blues in the Night, Dinah Was (Helen Hayes nomination), Studio: Slam! (Helen Hayes nomination), True Colors Theatre Company (Atlanta & DC): Tambourines to Glory (Helen Hayes nomination); Riverside Theatre (Vero Beach): Ain’t Misbehavin’; Milwaukee Repertory Theater: Pearl Bailey...by request, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Ellington...The Life and Music of the Duke. And six CDs: visit saltmanknowles.com.