by Adam Cohen



Giving powerful voice to a new generation was proudly on display Tuesday April, 25th at the Opening Act ‘ Night of Yes’ annual benefit held at New World Stages.  Opening Act provides a free year-long after-school theater program for New York City high school students.  The program includes improve, acting, and writing exercises designed to help students unleash their creativity and find their voice while fostering collaboration, leadership, and problem solving skills.

The evening began with two scenes from playwright Katori Hall’s Saturday Night/Sunday Morning set in Memphis, 1945, in the waning days of World War II at Miss Mary’s Press and Curl, a beauty shop and boarding house for women run by Miss Mary (Uzo Aduba), a kind but cautious proprietress whose husband was an early casualty of the war. With almost all of the men gone, Miss Mary’s is a refuge for young women, some of whose souls could use some fixing.  Aduba (Orange is the New Black) made for a fine Ms. Mary and was ably supported by Jasmine Cephas Jones, Zazie Beetz, Malia Braithwaite, Dominique Fishback, and Heather Alicia Simms.  Directed by Broadway and television veteran Kenny Leon, they made a strong case for a full production of the play.

The students in Opening Act then shone boldly in a variety of student written and performed pieces centered on colorism.  Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.  These potent from the heart pieces quickly and distinctly illustrated real-life experiences – not being admitted to a club based on the color of skin; the standards of hair which are set by beauty magazines aimed at white media.  The brave new voices wore hearts on sleeves delivering scenes and monologues with poise and grace, moving the audience fully and shining a powerful light on the mission and value of Opening Act. (original cast of Hamilton) came out and performed a piece with a pianist about saying yes and recognizing the skills and talents of those around you, no matter their struggles or ability to annoy others.

The evening also included a powerful scene from Exit Strategy by Ike Holter about a student named Donnie (Caleb Grandoit) in trouble with his Vice Principal (Tom Pelphrey) and teacher (Heather Alicia Simms) for hacking into the school website.  Handled with humor, these adroit actors in front of music stands created compelling characters from a memorable situation.

The evening concluded with the star of Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) performing “How Far I’ll Go” from the movie score.  She brought down the house with a dexterous vocal outing and clearly bonded with the students of Opening Act as they hugged her during bows.

Opening Act has a great mission.  Visit their website at to learn more about volunteering or donating.  This was a worthy evening filled with humor, pathos and great performances assuring these high schoolers a powerful avenue to express themselves and propel themselves forward.  Bravo Opening Act!

Photos:Charles Chessler