SARASOTA, FL – A capacity crowd at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s recent “WBTT Voices” community forum enjoyed discussion and songs from a legendary entertainer. Star of stage, screen and studio, Melba Moore, earned several standing ovations over the course of her appearance, featuring two power-packed songs followed by conversation about her life and career facilitated by Jay Handelman, arts editor and theater critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and supplemented by commentary by WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs. Moore is in Sarasota rehearsing for WBTT’s upcoming show, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
Moore is a trailblazer: she was the first African-American woman to replace a white actress (Diane Keaton) in a lead role (in Hair), she won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Lutibelle in Purlie, she landed the female lead role of Fantine in the acclaimed musical, Les Misérables, on Broadway, starred in a successful variety TV show in the early 1970s, and has earned four Grammy nominations. In 2015, she was inducted into The Official Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame Museum in Detroit, Mich.
Nate Jacobs told the story of meeting Moore in the 1990s, during a trip to New York City. He snuck around a rope line and walked the red carpet in order to meet Moore before the Broadway show “Jelly’s Last Jam.” When he introduced himself to Moore, it turned out they had a mutual acquaintance (in Miami) who had actually talked about Nate with her and she recalled her name. She gave Jacobs her number, they had lunch, and they’ve been friends ever since.
Moore thrilled the audience with renditions of her original song, “I Believe,” and “I Got Love” from Purlie before sitting down for the discussion. She described her childhood, reminisced about the many steps along the path of her career, and talked about how her faith – she is a born-again Christian – guides her to help others and try to do better each day. She also talked at length about preparing for the role of Billie Holliday in the upcoming WBTT production. While discussing the terrible things that happened to Holliday over the course of her life and how that impacted her career and life choices, Moore spoke of her own abuse at the age of 10 and how she was blamed for it by her caretaker – this caused her to suffer from depression for years until her work in the theater showed her that she could choose to be joyful.
The WBTT Voices program, a free service WBTT offers for the community, examines the people and issues that have shaped the African-American experience in our country. WBTT Voices was launched in 2014; all programs have been at full capacity. For more information about WBTT, go to westcoastblacktheatre.org. Extremely limited tickets remain for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill – call the Box Office at (941) 366-1505.
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African-American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.