Dance – “Dancing From The Ghetto” (A Two Part Series) Featured On The Noho Arts Commission Website!
Written by By Lacy Darryl Phillips aka Uncle Earl
Hmmm……where do I begin? Well, honestly I never really considered myself a dancer! I was born with unbridled energy, rhythm and passion in Brooklyn, New York to a very loving Family in very close quarters and not much income. What we lacked in finances was filled with support, encouragement, hope, dreams and discipline.
My mother, Sandra Reaves-Phillips (Singer/Actress) worked numerous jobs and sang to help support my sister, Marishka S. Phillips (Drama Coach/Performer) and I, while my father, William Lacy Phillips (now deceased) labored tirelessly day and night as a butcher, salesman and any other business to elevate our situation.
My dance career happened by circumstance. I was short with bow legs, a sway back and pot belly but In 1973, at the age of nine, I was asked to audition for a new Broadway bound musical “Miss Moffat” starring Bette Davis, Nell Carter, Marion Ramsey, Dorian Harewood, Giancarlo Esposito, Avon Long and others. My mother was auditioning to understudy Nell and they were looking for kids to sing and dance in the ensemble. I kicked and screamed all the way but I did audition and we were both offered the job. The rest is history!
Needless to say, that show never made it to Broadway but soon after in 1975, I had an audition for the Broadway musical “Raisin” directed and choreographed by Donald McKayle. The show was going on a national tour, I was offered to understudy the role of Travis Younger and once again sing and dance in the ensemble.
Now I’m thinking, there must be something to this “dancing business.” As time progressed, my voice began to change, I decided to stop singing because the voice change dilemma was just unbearable and embarrassing. I then plunged full on, head first into the world of Dance.
My first professional training was a tap class in Queens taught by the talented but no nonsense teacher, Ms. Edna Goode which led to a scholarship offer at Jo Jo’s Dance Factory by Jo Jo himself! Hahaha At the time, I had no idea that he was related to someone whom I would become very close to and work with, Ms. Debbie Allen.
This leads me to a chance to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. The mere thought of having to choreograph my own routine scared the hell out of me and I did not show up. Sucker punch #1! All the while, I never gave up on my acting career. I still appeared in films, commercials and print ads. My agent, Claretta King at American Talent Agency, landed me an audition for a new Alan Parker film entitled “Hot Lunch” which turned into “Fame” for the role of Leroy. I nailed the acting portion and then came time to dance. I was filled with excitement at the prospects. I was finishing up my last year of junior high school in Queens. My audition was after school but due to travel time and train delays, I was late for my final call back. To this day, I will never know what could have been, if I had made it! Sucker punch #2!
At this point, I was about 15 years old and was rapidly progressing in the craft. There was a class going on which blew me away. I would stand in the doorway, eyes wide open, grinning and gyrating to the beat. The teacher looked at me and said “Get In Here Now!” I froze, immediately had to run to the bathroom, returned, walked inside, put my bag down and walked to the back of the class. The teacher stopped the music and said “UH UH…..come down front.” All eyes were on me but I complied. That teacher was Mr. Frank Hatchett (recently deceased December 2013) who instilled in me the philosophy of Respect for self, others and the work!
Note: As I am writing this, tears are filling up in my eyes thinking of that very moment. Frank saw what I had before I even knew who I was. He encouraged me to go further and told me to go take classes at Alvin Ailey to brush up my technique.
I did exactly what he said and began taking an authentic jazz class taught by Mr. Beau Parker who was a member of The Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Ensemble. At the time, I was a member of the performing arts department at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens. I religiously studied with Frank and Beau for the next since months. When I turned 16, I was given my 1st big break to dance in the ensemble of the European tour of “Raisin.” It was a joint venture between Howard University’s Performing Arts Department, Director Charles Axton & Choreographer Al Perryman. We opened in Switzerland and finished in Paris.
I returned to school, began to teach and pass on my knowledge to dancers in the community at Independent Dance Theater run by Mr. Ron Kennard. Beau suggested that I audition for the upcoming Alvin Ailey Summer Scholarship auditions. Let me remind you that I had been training for less than a year and the thought terrified me. Beau made it very clear that if I did not attend, I was no longer welcome in his class. I loved him and the class so much that I forced myself to participate.
That day was brutal! I was in a room filled with every child prodigy in the world of dance and beyond. Me, this kid from Brooklyn who had passion and rhythm, never studied Ballet, Ethnic or Modern dance. During the final line-up, they called my name a few times and I didn’t even hear it. I had checked out before I even gave myself a chance.
By this point, I graduated high school at 17, heading to college (reluctantly) and had a full schedule of dance. Five classes a day five days a week and school work. This went on for a year, my confidence and ability went through the roof. I was fearless but not competitive. I believe what is for me, no one can take away and I respect other people’s good fortune. However, every time there was an audition, I would hear in the crowd “Oh No…here comes Lacy.” Hahaha It always tripped me out.
By the winter of 1981, I had auditioned for every Broadway show in town. Then came my 1st encounter with Michael Peters at an audition for “Comin’ Uptown” starring Gregory Hines. He told me to come back when the milk cleared from my top lip. I was then accepted by four other shows: Richie understudy in “A Chorus Line” (Bway), Rum Tum Tigger in “Cats” (Tour), Bob Fosse’s “Dancin’ (Bway on file) and the Los Angeles production of “Sophisticated Ladies” starring Gregory Hines, Paula Kelly, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hinton Battle, Greg Burge & Terri Klausner at The Shubert in Century City. I took a six month leave of absence from college, convinced my Mom to let me go, packed my bags and that was the second phase of making history! Michael Smuin, Director of San Francisco Ballet, Claudia Asbury and Bruce Heath took me under their wings!
The show closed after 9 months and the very next day was an audition for the LA premier of “Dream Girls” which was my 2nd encounter with Michael Peters. I had grown up, was at the prime of my dance career but once again no cherry…..darn!
From that moment on was a fast and furious ride to the Broadway “A List.” From the first Broadway telecast of “Sophisticated Ladies” and the 1983 Las Vegas production which ran for about 9months at The Desert Inn Hotel starring Harold Nicholas, Paula Kelly & Freda Payne. I became ill 5 months in, had a major surgery and was back on my feet in 3 months starring in the Bus & Truck tour of Bob Fosse’s “Dancin’ staged by Gail Benedict, all by the age of 20, I might add! This all sounds unbelievable to me and I was there….hahahaha.
Right before leaving for London, I had a major medical relapse, was hospitalized in St. Louis and the cast left me and town. I thought it was all over! I went back home to rest and before you know it, the phone rang. It was a call from Choreographer Michael Kidd to join a new musical workshop called “Honky Tonk Nites” in New York which eventually went to Broadway but I decided to pass and take an opportunity to teach in Japan at Broadway Dance Center Tokyo for Mr. Frank Kurita & Terry Yamamoto.
Wow…..here I was 22 years old and had lived, traveled and experienced more than some do in a Lifetime but the journey continues. Upon my return, I was hired to perform at Radio City Music Hall in a production called “Gotta Getaway” starring Liliane Montevecchi, Loretta Devine, Tony Azito, Alyson Reed & The Rockettes with Director/Choreographer Larry Fuller. We did 2 shows per day 6 days a week. Immediately after, I was called to do the Bus & Truck tour of “Sophisticated Ladies” starring Freda Payne which went on for 2 years. During that time, I was requested by Choreographer, Jeff Hornaday, to fly back to New York for “A Chorus Line” The Movie as Greg Burge’s double. Can you say truly living the dream?
But wait….there’s more! Hahahaha There was major talk about Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon & Christopher Chadman remounting a production of “Sweet Charity” starring Debbie Allen & Bebe Neuwirth in 1986. OH MY GOD! It was the cattle call of the century and I must digress to say that my previous Fosse experience was not with him per se. Here we are, in the room, combinations learned and time to eliminate through his favorite piece “Tea For Two.” I was up, breathing frantically, I heard 5,6,7,8, I was out of my body, leaped into the air and heard a big “THANK YOU” upon my descent. My heart dropped, I grabbed my dance bag, headed for the door and the voice said “WAIT….TRY IT AGAIN.” Let me tell you, I don’t know what happened but I leaped higher and traveled further than never before and Bob told me to stay.
The next 6 months was nothing less than fantabulous. I was featured in the role created by my idol, Ben Vereen, and understudy for the role of Daddy Brubeck. We played at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and Curran Theater in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I did not make it to Broadway but returned to Japan to teach, perform and choreograph for Major Artists, TV shows, Commercials and Clubs.
Just when I thought I could take a vacation, the phone rang with an offer to join the Broadway cast of “Anything Goes” starring Patti LuPone & Howard McGillin directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Michael Smuin in 1987. I am now the ripe old age of 24 working at Lincoln Center. By this point, I would become bored very easily performing the same task every night, so I gave my notice after 6 months to star in Atlantic City production of “Sophisticated Ladies” at The Claridge Hotel in the Spring of 1988.
I enjoyed a healthy run for about 3 months then the “ants in my pants” syndrome returned. I gave my notice and headed for HOLLYWOOD! However, on the way out, I managed to squeeze in a few gigs with my friend and choreographer, Jeffrey Daniel. The 1st was an appearance with Vanessa Williams (Right Stuff) on Club MTV and the 2nd was a music video with La Toya Jackson (You Gonna Get Rocked).
There was no stopping me now! Upon arriving in Los Angeles the Summer of 1988, Jeffrey once again called and said “Hey, I need you to do Soul Train with Vanessa next week and A video/commercial campaign with Sheena Easton (The Lover In Me) after that. These opportunities afforded me the chance to acquire my 1st dance agents Ms. Julie McDonald and Debra L. Johnson at JHR Agency. I then remembered that Debbie Allen gave me her number and said “When you get to LA, give me a call.” So I did, she said “Chile I got some work for you.” Boy….did she ever! Hahahah….and the rest of the history will be forthcoming in my next installment…..get ready!
Lacy Darryl Phillips aka Uncle Earl is currently Producer/Host/DJ of “The Ultimate Underground Experience” Radio Show and TV project broadcast every Monday, Thursday and Saturday 9am & 9pm at www.KLEDLive.com (91.1 FM) sponsored by www.MusicXray.com. He also serves as Media/Marketing Director at www.WorldDanceAwards.com produced by Allen Walls and Carey Ysais.
For more information, please got to: www.ultimateunderground.com