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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 15,

1999. All rights reserved.

Crossroads’ Good News

The rumor-buffeted Crossroads Theater has some good

news — and it’s all solid fact. The New Brunswick-based regional

theater has formally announced the extension of the run of "Play

On!", starring Leslie Uggams and Stephanie Mills, with five

additional

performances on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, December 21, 22,

and 23.

"Musically the show is a trail of delights, with plenty of jivin’,

groovin’, and dancin’ thrown in the mix for good measure," wrote

Simon Saltzman in his U.S. 1 review (December 1). The show’s singing

stars provide "a banquet of song, dance, and dazzle," and

the bold, handsome set by Eduardo Sicangco and sassy colorful costumes

by Felix Cochren contribute their own "non-stop parade of visual

pleasures."

The stage was set for rumor and innuendo when Crossroads was forced

to cancel six previews of "Play On!" before the musical opened

(on time) on Wednesday, November 24. Carrying a sizable debt of $1.2

million, and lacking an endowment fund, the winner of the 1999 Tony

Award for outstanding regional theater could not open the show until

it secured a loan to pay vendors of sets and costumes for the show.

At a press conference at the theater on Monday, December 6, co-founder

and artistic director Ricardo Khan addressed the confusion swirling

around Crossroads’ future. Facing economic difficulties that would

have closed down many arts organizations, Crossroads, Khan says, will

fight on with new management and fundraising appointments and a plan

to launch a campaign for a permanent endowment.

Together with Mayo Sisler, CEO of Millennium Bank, and Leslie Anderson

of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, Khan announced a $500,000

loan from New Millennium Bank, backed by a $250,000 guarantee from

the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, as the key element to

stabilize

its rocky economic picture. New Jersey Secretary of State DeForest

B. Soaries Jr. was on hand to announce his intention to rally support

for the theater in the state legislature. The Star-Ledger of Newark

subsequently published an editorial urging that the New Brunswick

"treasure" be preserved at all costs, perhaps with a state

appropriation comparable to the $3 million bailout of the New Jersey

Symphony Orchestra in 1995.

Crossroads’ conspicuous triumphs over the years include

the premieres of "The Colored Museum" by George C. Wolfe,

"The Love Space Demands" by Ntozake Shange, "Black

Eagles"

by Leslie Lee, and "Sheila’s Day" by Duma Ndlovu. Add to these

Pearl Cleage’s "Flyin’ West" that opened the 1994 season at

the Kennedy Center in Washington, "It Ain’t Nothin’ But the

Blues,"

currently on Broadway, and August Wilson’s "Jitney," developed

by the playwright at Crossroads in 1997.

Stressing that Crossroads is "actually in better shape

institutionally

than we have been for quite some time," Khan introduced Dale

Caldwell

in the new post (created in June) of president of the board of

trustees

and CEO. Caldwell is global recruiting director and former senior

manager with Deloitte Consulting. He has a degree in economics from

Princeton (Class of ’82) and an MBA from Wharton.

Among the stabilization steps taken since last June, Crossroads has

hired Andre Robinson Jr. as executive producer; appointed Deborah

Stapleton as general manager; and hired Harold Scott as artistic

associate

during Khan’s one-year paid sabbatical. Membership on the board of

trustees, which has already raised half its $400,000 debt reduction

goal for fiscal year 1999-2000, has been expanded by seven new

members.

News of a leave of absence for Khan, disclosed in the Star-Ledger

at the same time as the "Play On!" money woes, has been one

of the most alarming developments of recent weeks. Khan confirmed

his one-year paid sabbatical, beginning January 1, mid-way through

his 22nd Crossroads’ season, noting that this had been negotiated

and planned since November, 1998. "This will be a time of renewal

for me," he said, explaining that he would use the time both to

travel and explore his Caribbean roots, as well as to lead a

fundraising

campaign to create a multi-million dollar endowment for the theater.

In other recent management changes, Robinson returned to Crossroads

in July after an eight-year hiatus. During his previous tenure with

the company (1988-1991) he supervised the company’s business,

marketing,

and development department, and was intimately involved with the

production

of the company’s seasons. His work with Crossroads reached its apex

in the 1990-’91 season with the construction of the company’s new

theater complex and multiple productions of shows running in cities

around the world. He also produced many of the company’s most

successful

benefit concerts including those by Bill Cosby, Smokey Robinson, Ray

Charles, and Dionne Warwick.

Still to come this season are "Yellow Eyes," a world premiere

drama by Migdalia Cruz, that opens February 3, and "Venice,"

a new play by Kathleen McGhee Anderson that opens March 16. The season

concludes in April and May with the 11th annual Genesis Festival of

new play readings and workshop productions.

Although many regional theaters have faced similar financial woes,

with some forced to throw in the towel, Crossroads stands alone and

remains unique as the nation’s foremost theater dedicated to the

African-American

experience. Its unique cultural objectives and progressive dramatic

goals make many in the arts community feel that Crossroads deserves

"special consideration" from the community, the government,

and those committed to the continuing development of multi-cultural

theater. Its success or failure as a world-class dramatic institution

reflects back on the entire community it serves.

— Nicole Plett

Play On!, Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 732-249-5560. The show starring Leslie Uggams and

Stephanie

Mills has been extended through Thursday, December 23. All tickets

$35.


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