“Dancing From The Ghetto” (Part 2) Featured – Noho Arts Commission
Written by By Lacy Darryl Phillips aka Uncle Earl
Well…..Well…..Well…..Here we are again! In my last installment I took you on a trip from the beginning of my career until my unleashing in Hollywood. Let’s just get right to it….shall we????
The year 1988 – I was now on the “A-List” of dancers and I didn’t even have a clue. The ride became fast and furious very quickly. I was determined to get a chance to dance on “FAME” but no cookie. There was someone similar to my type on the show but my first gig with Ms. Debbie Allen was at Le Sporting Club Du Monte Carlo with her act. It was my first time to that fantastic city and got to meet the Prince of Monaco.
For the next couple of years, I was bouncing between Ms. Allen, Michael Peters and Lester Wilson, each claiming that I was “their dancer.” Mind you, I belonged to no one but myself. They both kept me on a serious schedule of TV shows and live appearances including: The Debbie Allen Special, The 1st Annual Movie Awards (Peters), The 63rd, 64th & 65th Academy Awards (Allen), Comic Relief (Lester Wilson), The Essence Awards (Peters), Sammy Davis Jr. 60th Anniversary Tribute (Allen), The Las Vegas Hilton with Bill Cosby & Phylicia Rashad (Peters), Welcome Home America USO 50th (Allen), Jackson Family Honors (Peters), The Emmy Awards (Lester Wilson) Black Filmmakers Hall Of Fame (Peters)……..you get the point lol…….
I must take a moment to give a shout out to all the amazing teachers who kept my engine running and my chassis well tuned: Jackie Sleight, Joe Bennett, Doug Caldwell and Claude Thompson. I also taught some classes at a few studios: Du Pree Dance Academy, Studio A and Alley Kat. Let me not foget to mention that I was till traveling to Japan to teach, perform and choreograph with Broadway Dance Center Tokyo, choreographing numerous club shows, TV shows, commercials, music videos and Live concerts. The money was STUPID and creative juices were flowing!
Then came movie time……once again, the schedule became frantic. I was blessed with the opportunities to dance in such films as: Polly 1 & 2 for Disney (Debbie Allen), Sister Act 2 with Whoopi Goldberg (Michael Peters), What’s Love Got To Do With It with Angela Bassett Michael Peters), Death Becomes Her with Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis (Brad Jeffries), Hot Shots with Charlie Sheen (Lester Wilson), The Five Heartbeats (Michael Peters) and my 1st featured role as “Teddy The MC” in the CBS TV Movie “Stompin’ At The Savoy” starring Mario Van Peebles, Lyn Whitfield, Vanessa Williams, Jasmine Guy, Darnell Williams, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Dawnn Lewis.
I was in heaven….a huge leap out of the dance corp onto the big screen. I had gone back to my roots as and Actor. The phone began ringing off the hook after I appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, Backstage Magazine and Daily Variety. The most major call came from Casting Diva Robbie Reed. She was looking for an actor to portray Jermaine Jackson in The Jacksons TV Movie “An American Dream.” Ms. Reed called me to audition numerous times and I could not pull myself together to go in.
Now most actors would jump at the chance but for some reason, I was thrown into a dismal state of being. Looking back, I now realize that I had a serious case, “Fear Of Success.” I digress to say that I came from humble beginnings and my Life in the entertainment industry was already fulfilled, due to the fact that I was doing what I loved, earning a very healthy living, traveling, working with the best individuals in every field of my art and I was still in my 20’s. The fame of it all was not appealing and scared me because I was witness to what happened to fellow Artists once bitten.
After my brief hibernation period, I emerged with a vengeance! Once again, Momma Debbie Allen was there to uplift and support me. She requested that I join her during the final season of “A Different World” as her assistant, principal stand-in and featured guest star in a few episodes. This opportunity afforded me the chance to sharpen my tool kit in many areas simultaneously. I took her shot notations, help her set-up shots and was a featured singer/actor on camera. It doesn’t get any better than that. I learned everything they never teach you in school and I am forever indebted to Ms. Allen. I love her dearly.
I must mention that in the midst of all this activity, started to panic and think about my future after Dance, even though the end was nowhere near insight, I thought hahaha……so I enrolled at Sound Masters Audio/Video Institute in North Hollywood and became a certified Sound Engineer in 1994. Wouldn’t you know that on the night of my graduation, we had the major Northridge earthquake. It was a sign that I was truly coming out but to where and what, was left to be desired!
In 1996, after a few more trips to Japan, more TV shows and dance concerts, I got the old “Broadway Itch” again. In December, I packed my bags and headed for NYC after receiving a call from Mercedes Ellington about a new musical “Play On” (based on Twelfth Night) that she was choreographing for Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. That was all I needed to know! By this point, I am still in my prime at the age of 33 and so ready. It was so exciting to work with Director Sheldon Epps, Musical Director Luther Henderson and Associate Choreographer Louis Johnson. The cast was stellar: Carl Anderson, Tonya Pinkins, Andre DeShields, Larry Marshall, Yvette cason, Cheryl Freeman and Lawrence Hamilton, to name a few.
During previews, I received a call from the producer of a touring company of “The Wiz.” He was looking for a choreographer and was recommended to me. OH MY GOD!!!!! Before he could offer me the job, I was in rehearsal in the day and performing at night. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! Now….get a load of the cast of “The Wiz” – Peabo Bryson (Wiz), Ce Ce Peniston (Glinda), Tony Terry (Tin Man) and Diva Grace Jones (Evilene)….I almost pissed my pants! They all were so amazing to me and very supportive, especially Grace.
On the first tour stop, Philadelphia, I would take the train down for rehearsal and rub back to perform each night. This went on for about a week or so. The show opened to mixed reviews but it was an awesome experience. It came time for my final payment but for some reason the Producer refused to pay me. The show was at intermission, Grace and the cast rallied around me in support and told the Producer that if I did not receive my money, the cast would not continue the performance. My mouth dropped and I went numb. I never felt such love but they all knew how hard and tirelessly I worked to make them feel comfortable and look their absolute best on stage. Eventually, I was paid and the show went on. After the show Grace offered me a ride back to NYC in her limo.
What a time and fun ride we had, cocktails were flowing and we bonded like you wouldn’t believe. Note: She had just finished the show, jumped into the limo in full stage beat (make-up) and we made a food stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Of course, she wanted to come inside with me hahaha. You should have seen the entire place come to a stand still. Here is Diva Icon, Grace Jones, in Evilene make-up, tight leggings, heels, huge ring in her nose and demanding service…..PRICELESS!!!!!
OK…back to “Play On”…..we are in previews, show is going well, I was in performance one night, friends in the audience, low and behold, there is a major set malfunction, I am riding onto the stage on unit, 2 twirling towers start to leave the stage as I enter, they do not clear in time, sets crash and I am caught between and 100lb piece of wood falls on me. I can definitely say that ‘I was a show stopper.’ Not funny! Needless to say, I was out of the show before opening night….DAMN! Before I could heal, the show closed and I went into a major depression.
In 1999, after tons of therapy, I heard they were hiring for “Fosse” on Broadway but there would be a cattle call. I was number 101. People and myself were amazed that I recovered so well and so fast. I was asked to join the touring company which I refused. They later called and said that a slot in NYC became available and asked my interest. Before they could ask….I was in rehearsal replacing Sergio Trujillo featured as Mr. Bojangles….NIRVANA! Also joining the cast was my dear friend Stephanie Pope, as the Star, and Keith “Tyce” Di Orio as Bojangles Spirit.
Ann Reinking actually put me into the show and gave me her blessing. While I was over the moon , the experience was not the most enjoyable or memorable , due to a few circumstances. I needed constant therapy to maintain such a rough schedule and challenging performance, I felt a sense of dis-ease with a few cast members and Broadway was changing into a numbers game….it was losing that Family feeling so I began to change inside and out, lost respect for the work and myself which led to an early termination by mutual decision. So what did I do, took my show on the road and headed for Japan to Star in my own Fosse revue produced by K-Broadway Tokyo.
I was able to offer employment to a few good friends, Garry Q. Lewis (Choreographer/Performer) and Terry Mathis (Hair Stylist). While sitting by the pool one day, I was surprised by a visit from my friends Sharon Ferrol and Choreographer Keith Young who happened to be in Tokyo with Baby Face. We had a ball and the show went well.
After returning to New York, a few days later, the “911 Incident” happened. I actually watched as the second plane plowed into the second tower. I felt as if I was watching a Steven Spielberg movie.
I worked on various other small stage productions, low budget films and began working with DJ’s singing dance music. While walking down the streets of NYC during the Winter of 2001, I heard “Hey Lacy, we been looking for you,” it was friend and Choreographer Ken Roberson. He told me to call Director Charles Randolph Wright immediately regarding a new musical workshop being created using the Gamble & Huff music catalogue . Well, after a few workshops over a year, the role of a lifetime was built on me to Star in “Me and Mrs. Jones” as Calvin The DJ starring Lou Rawls, Darlene Love, Nita Whittaker, Nika Noni Rose, Andrew Wright and Orfeh as my Co-Star at the Prince Theatre in Philadelphia. Can you say “winning” LOL
However, a few days shy of opening night, I ruptured a vocal chord and was put on vocal rest. I had no understudy which meant the show had to shut down. I was in a catatonic state. This had never happened to me in my entire career. I was replaced without consideration, sent home and spiraled into a deep, dark depressive state for over a month. I would not leave the bed or my room and would not eat much. My Mom was very nervous and concerned so she booked a cruise ship gig and took my sister and I away. I sailed into a New Year and new chapter.
I must say that it did some good but when I returned, I got wind that “Me and Mrs. Jones” was starting up again without me. That did it! I truly had a nervous breakdown then. My friends Sharon Ferrol and Keith Young called me and said, “Lacy get over here to LA, we have a spare room for you.” I took the offer which was the best thing I could have ever done. Leaving New York lifted fifty (50) pounds of my shoulders. My voice came back without surgery and no severe damage. How do you spell GOD!
Within days I was feeling myself and once again, the phone rings. This time, it was casting director Peter Wise offering me the male singers cover position in a new musical starring Chaka Khan set for Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel directed by Billy Porter, choreographed by A.C. Ciulla and musical direction by Stephen Oremus. Would you believe…..I Said NO!!!!! hahaha He kept calling and I kept refusing. I had low self esteem, was in a state of confusion and thought my career was over. But….after offering me Assistant Director/Choreographer and a significant paycheck, I finally said YES!
That was the inception of my company, Uncle Earl Productions now Uncle Earl Enterprises. It was the 1st major step in taking back control of my destiny, my career and my Life! I could go on and on about the rest of my career but that is irrelevant, at this point. The whole purpose of sharing my journey was to enlighten and educate, if only one individual who may need inspiration, about how I survived the roller coaster ride of this business through adversity from the beginning to this very day. Each day I awake, I feel blessed and highly favored for the valleys and the hills.
I am now on the path of nurturing and sharing my gifts with up and coming talent and pay homage to those who graced the stages of the world before me. I would not change one moment, there are no accidents or coincidences. Everything that happens in your Life is relevant to your growth: mentally, emotionally and physically.
I welcome you all to discover The Ultimate Underground Experience, my global music, arts and education multi-media project. It encompasses theater, film, music, video and production. It is a safe haven for total artistic and creative expression. The aim is to bridge the gaps between Humanity using Arts & Education as tools.
I want to thank Nancy Bianconi and the Noho Arts Commission for allowing me to express myself on such an amazing platform. I welcome any and all inquiries for partnerships and/or investment options.
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.
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