By Imuetinyan Ugiagbe,
Special to the AFRO
CJay Philip, a distinguished actress, director and choreographer who also serves as the artistic director of Dance & Bmore, extends a warm invitation to both local and distant Baltimore residents for an engaging and entertaining evening as she presents her latest production, “Sweet Charity,” an adaptation of the book by American playwright Neil Simon.
“Sweet Charity” is a romantic comedy set in the 1960s in New York City. The story revolves around the life of a young woman named Charity Hope Valentine, portrayed by Peri Walker, who is desperately seeking love but facing continuous setbacks.
Her fortunes take a turn when she becomes accidentally stuck in an elevator with a stranger, later revealed to be Oscar Linguist, played by Terrance Martin This sets the stage for a romantic journey filled with excitement and self-discovery.
Originally hailing from upstate New York, Philip resided in NYC from 1991 through 2009. The producer’s journey in the arts began during her toddler years. Given her older sister’s lack of interest in dance classes, Philip stepped into the role and gradually honed her multifaceted skills in the performing arts world and successfully gained a full ride to university.
“I was 2 ½ when I first started dance classes. My sister, who was 6, was enrolled in the class but hated it, so they let me take her place because my mom was not about to waste her hard-earned money,” Philip recalled. “I sang throughout my childhood but joined the youth choir in church as a teen. By high school, I knew I was heading toward a career in the arts, and I gained a full scholarship to the Empire State Institute of Performing Arts, ESIPA, from age 14-18, where I trained in acting, writing, and dance.”
In 2010, she made Baltimore her home and established her dance company, Dance & Bmore.
For the production of “Sweet Charity,” Philip shared that Bmore Broadway Live held open auditions in May and June of 2023. Part of the actress’ goal is to create a welcoming space for auditionees.
“Anyone could come and share a song, monologue or dance. I’ve been a choreographer for many productions and dance captain on Broadway, where they have cattle calls and see hundreds of people in one day,” she said. “As a producer-director, I try to make the audition process more friendly and community-focused. I want everyone to leave feeling glad they came, whether they got the role they wanted or not. We circle up, warm up together, hear everyone’s name, play improv games to break the ice, and have fun in a creative, shade-free space.”
Auditioning is comparable to piecing together puzzle elements to craft a unified picture, Philip said. She has a fondness for encountering new talent and finds inspiration in their unique qualities during the creative process.
However, selecting the best thespians for various roles required a sense of intuition, gauging how the auditionees embody the characters they are portraying.
“Auditioning is like putting together puzzle pieces to create the picture you are trying to make,” Philip said. “I love meeting new talent and getting inspired by who they are and what they bring to the creative play and process. After open calls, we had a few runs of invited calls to work on pairing people up and seeing what chemistry and energies fit together best.”
With each round of auditions, Philip faced the escalating challenge of envisioning anyone other than her chosen Charity. Once the casting decision was made, the focus seamlessly transitioned to pinpointing the perfect match for the character’s love interest, Oscar.
Philip, with an acute eye for talent, immediately turned to Terrance Martin, a seasoned collaborator since his teenage years and the leading man in her original production, “Voices of Carmen.”
Recognizing the dynamic chemistry between Martin and Walker on stage, Philip deemed their energy as an unparalleled match. Philip says their extraordinary off-stage humility paved the way for a seamless collaboration and a harmonious theatrical experience. She deems herself exceptionally fortunate to have them as the leads in this witty and intricately layered musical storytelling.
The brilliant choreographer aims for “Sweet Charity” to inspire the audience, fostering feelings of hope, self-love, and recognizing the importance of having dreams and visions for one’s life and future.
“Sweet Charity” enchanted Moto House audiences throughout the week, beginning Nov. 11. The show will conclude on Sunday, Nov. 19.
To access additional details about the play, visit here.