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Norwich Arts Center launches new jazz musical theater series

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published August 21. 2014 12:53PM   Updated August 22. 2014 1:31PM

Norwich — Norwich Arts Center is inviting guests to step into Miss Lottie’s Café at the Donald Oat Theater and step back in time to the grand days of jazz, with performances by legends Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

NAC and Eastern Connecticut Urban Professionals Thursday announced a joint venture to produce Miss Lottie’s Café — named for NAC co-founder and longtime Norwich arts advocate Lottie Scott — that will feature music and theatrical re-enactments of performances by historic jazz greats.

Miss Lottie’s Café will open at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Donald Oat Theater, 62 Broadway, with New London singer Krystal A. Livingston portraying the jazz singer-songwriter and civil rights activist Simone with the Jim Hunter Trio accompanying her.

NAC board member Thom Keaney called it an “exciting series we are venturing into,” saying it should bring regional audiences to the downtown Norwich theater. He said the concept was first discussed earlier this summer with leaders of the urban professionals group and the NAC board of directors. He approached Scott — who lives literally a few steps from the theater’s rear entrance — about using her iconic name for the series.

“I really feel real honored,” Scott said at Thursday’s press conference at the theater announcing the new series, “as much as I have given my time and my efforts to promoting the arts in Norwich.”

Scott said her main hope for the new series is that young people will attend and become inspired either by the theatrical performance or the music. She said she has been listening to Simone’s music for the past week and can’t wait “to hear that music play here.”

The program will be more than a concert — Livingston hopes to sing 17 of Simone’s most popular songs — but a theatrical play that will feature her interacting with band members and the audience as Simone.

On Nov. 7, Brown University graduate Becky Bass of Providence will portray Holiday, and on Jan. 9, New London singer Michelle Rollins will play Fitzgerald.

North Carolina playwright Shaunne Thomas is writing the Simone script, and possibly future scripts for the portrayals of Holiday and Fitzgerald. The series director is Theresa Broach, who has a long resume in local theater as past president and producer of the Pfizer Players and vice president of Writer’s Block Ink in New London.

Kia Baird, a jazz performer who has performed with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Chorus, is the producer and will head the marketing effort to spread the word about the series. NAC also is seeking business sponsors to support the series.

Baird said Eastern Connecticut Urban Professionals was formed about four years ago. Members hold events at various locations to help support local businesses. She said 50 to 70 people have attended events. The group’s last gathering was at Philly’s, A Taste of Philadelphia cheesesteak restaurant in Norwich.

Norwich Mayor Deberey Hinchey attended Thursday morning’s announcement and welcomed the event as an important step in expressing the city’s diversity of culture and music offerings.

“When you open up art, you speak to different people,” Hinchey said. “You bring in people to experience the city.”

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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Miss Lottie's Café

What: Norwich Arts Center and Eastern Connecticut Urban Professionals present Miss Lottie's Café, musical and theatrical performances of historic jazz greats.
When: 8 p.m. on Sept. 12: An Evening with Nina Simone, featuring singer Krystal A. Livingstone and the Jim Hunter Trio; 8 p.m. on Nov. 7: Providence singer Becky Bass portrays Billie Holiday; 8 p.m. on Jan. 9: New London singer Michelle Rollins portrays Ella Fitzgerald
Where: Donald Oat Theater, 62 Broadway, Norwich
Tickets: $20 to all shows. Order tickets at www.norwicharts.org or call (860) 887-2789.

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