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Arts and Entertainment

‘Be a Lion’ stands out among stage’s best in national competition
Charlotte production wins at Atlanta showcase
Published Wednesday, October 16, 2019 12:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Brand NFew Sheriff Productions’ “Be a Lion” earned founder Rory Sheriff the Best Director award at the Atlanta Black Theater Festival.

“Be a Lion” is roaring through 2019.

Brand New Sheriff Productions founder Rory Sheriff earned the Best Director award earlier this month at the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival.

“I did not expect to win,” he said. “There were so many talented people, and so many talented directors.”

Another show, “Crowns: A Musical by Regina Taylor” was also up for awards at the festival. Sheriff expected the Helen Hayes Award-winning production (Best Production, Best Musical and Best Director) to dominate in Atlanta as well.

“I was not thinking that I could compete with ‘Crowns,’” Sheriff said. “I was just there to enjoy. When they were calling the nominees and winners, I was genuinely shocked. Usually you get a good temperature of the possibility that you can win and there’s some good competition, but you have some confidence that ‘I can be No. 1 here. I can win this thing.’ I did not have that. I was just enjoying the festival. Then they called my name, and I was blown away. I was like, ‘what!’

Sheriff compared the ABTF, which was founded in 2012 by Toni Simmons Henson, with the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem.

“It ranks up there with the National Black Theatre Festival,” said Sheriff, who has attended the Atlanta festival twice and described its growth as “leaps and bounds.”

“To be honored by people I respect in theater means a lot,” Sheriff said. “It really, really ranks up there, personally.”

Sheriff said he has considered bringing a similar festival to Charlotte.

“Over the last year we’ve really been flirting with the idea of bringing a black theater festival to Charlotte,” Sheriff said. “How would that look? Where would we do it? I’ve been watching a couple of the festivals trying to figure out, am I willing to put in that kind of work to produce a festival like that, because it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of logistics and planning. You don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. If you’re doing it, you’re putting your name out there. You’re putting your face out there, and you don’t want to do it halfway. You want to present an awesome festival. If I’m going to do it, I need all the bells and whistles that’s expected of a festival like that.”

Until then, Sheriff has plenty to focus on with BNS. “Be a Lion,” “The Wiz” inspired musical, marks the second in this season’s lineup, running Dec. 5-14 at Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square. Open auditions are Oct. 17 from 6-9 p.m. at Spirit Square.

“‘Be a Lion’” is our longest-running piece,” Sheriff said. “It’s going to be running during the holiday season. It’s a really uplifting, family oriented musical.”

The show focuses on Lion, who now has courage. He must face the daughter of the Wicked Witch of the West, but his companions from the original story have moved on. Scarecrow is teaching and the Tin Man is busy being happy. Enter Miles, an African tree mouse named for Miles Davis and lioness LaDawn, a Rastafarian and vegetarian.

“People love coming to see it over and over and over again,” Sheriff said. “That’s what’s unique about it. People enjoy the costumes, the story, the songs—it lifts the spirit of our season.”  

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