BILL VAUGHAN’S TASTY CLIPS: ‘Jelly’s Last Jam’ brings Cress Williams to the stage

By Bill Vaughan

Entertainment Writer

With his numerous recurring television roles on hit series including “Living Single,” “Nash Bridges,” “ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Prison Break,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Hart of Dixie,” one would think the revival of a musical would be the last place to find Cress Williams

And yet, here he is taking on his dream part of Chimney Man in the Pasadena Playhouse production of George C. Wolfe’s “Jelly’s Last Jam,” directed by Kent Gash and running at the theater through June 23. 

Since seeing the original production in his 20s at the Mark Taper Forum, Williams was so mesmerized by Keith David in the part of New Orleans composer Jelly Roll Morton’s spiritual guide that he has committed his prologue to memory since. 

“I said at that time I want to play that part one day,” he told Tasty Clips. “It’s always been in the back of my head. I also wanted to be at the Playhouse. I had this dream of getting on my bicycle and riding to rehearsal. So, it’s finally all come around and I’m kind of knocking out two dreams in one.”

Even after its success on Broadway starring the late Gregory Hines, Tonya Pinkins and Savion Glover, the show hasn’t been produced very much over the years, perhaps due to its still unfortunately timely look at colorism.

“I think for people of color, it’s a story we all know and have lived,” Williams said. “Every culture that has brown people in it has colorism. Not just African Americans but Asians and Latin Americans. I was really excited for an audience in Pasadena, that I know is mixed but also predominantly white, to see this because they need to know these things.”

The celebrated 6-4 actor segued to the stage after four seasons starring as the titled DC Comics superhero “Black Lightning” on The CW; a role that was a consolation of sorts after just missing out on becoming “Marvel’s Luke Cage.”

While pleased with diversity efforts in his industry, he warns about classism because a lot of times the former is synonymous with finding all the already famous people. 

“It’s happening in our society. Show business is not any different,” Williams warned. “The chasm between the people who are doing really well financially and the people who aren’t doing so well is growing immensely. There’s more than enough to go around, but we’re led to believe that there is not. Those people who are doing really well are hoarding and holding on. Honestly, in my life I don’t know a lot of people who are doing so well. I just don’t.” 

He continued: “Like do we need an A-list person to sell yogurt, or to voice a video game, or hawk a cellphone online game? No, you don’t. You need to hire working actors who need a job to do those things. When I was coming up, there were plenty of working actor jobs out there and those are going away.”

Currently, Williams has an independent film “Dead Wrong” on Prime and has a couple of television projects in development.  

“I look to do something different,” said the performer who would love to portray jazz legend John Coltrane in a biopic. “Once I’ve done a part, I generally want to do the opposite of it.” 

TICKET WATCH: Andra Day is embarking on her first proper headline run since 2016 with the Cherith Tour 2024. Tickets for the national tour with a Sept. 19 stop at L.A.’s El Rey go on sale June 21 at 10 a.m. via AXS.com. 

TASTY QUIP: “At this point, for me in hip-hop, I think n—a and b—h should be used as a moratorium on both of those words in hip-hop because it’s low-lying fruit and it’s so easy, everybody f–king does it to the point it’s corny.” – MALCOLM-JAMAL WARNER to “Not All Hood”

CLIPPETTES: Los Angeles Laker Anthony Davis is an exec producer of the heartfelt Level 33 Entertainment film “Finding Tony” now On Demand from writer and director Raven Magwood Goodson. It stars Stephen Bishop (“Run The World”) as a grieving ex-NBA star who finds a lifeline through an orphaned hoops phenom beautifully played by newcomer Raquel Justice (daughter of former baseball player David Justice). David Banner, Columbus Short and Rodney Perry round out the cast … 

Megan Thee Stallion’s Hot Girl Summer Tour with Glorilla comes to Crypto.com Arena June 21 … 

Taraji P. Henson is signing copies of her latest children’s book, “You Can Be a Good Friend (No Matter What!)” on June 22 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Culver City’s Malik Books. Later at 6 p.m., the free (with RSVP on Eventbrite) Max Roach “The Drum Also Waltzes” Centennial Celebration will be held at Grand Performances  

Phylicia Rashad and Brian Stokes Mitchell are joining the cast of HBO’s period drama “The Gilded Age” for its third season

June 23 is opening night at The Hollywood Bowl with Cynthia Erivo, Michael Bublé, Dave Koz, Monica Mancini and the orchestra slated for Henry Mancini’s 100th Celebration, while The Doobie Brothers are at The Forum, and Mumu Fresh at The Lodge Room …  

Roadkill featuring comics Jay Pharoah, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Freddy Lockhart and more will be held at the Hollywood Improv on June 24 … 

The Sun Rose hosts three intimate evenings with BJ The Chicago Kid beginning June 25, as Joe Jackson does a solo turn that evening at the Orpheum Theatre  

After visiting with Pope Francis, Chris Rock revealed he will be exec producing and narrating an animated reboot of “Everybody Hates Chris” for Comedy Central with original cast members Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews lending voice

June 26 brings the start of two-night engagements for PartyNextDoor at the Palladium and Chris Stapleton at the Hollywood Bowl  

In addition, The BET Experience runs from June 26-30 with a fan fest at the Convention Center, Chris Spencer-produced comedy shows at the Miracle Theater, day parties, concerts and more. Visit BETExperience.com for the lineup and details  

SiriusXM Pandora presents Coco Jones at Academy LA on June 27 as Kodak Black is at The Novo … 

Among the first selections for the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 5–15) are the LeBron James-produced Indigenous hoops drama “Rez Ball,” the Lupita Nyong’o-voiced animated film “The Wild Robot” and the documentary “Elton John: Never Too Late.”  

TASTY QUIP: “I think if Jesus was alive and walking today, he would be in therapy.” – KERRY WASHINGTON at the ABFF season 2 premiere of Hulu’s “Unprisoned”  

TC ON TV: June 21 – “Trigger Warning” (Netflix): Jessica Alba kicks ass in this action thriller with Tone Bell (“Survival of the Thickest“). “Killing Hip Hop” (Tubi): A deep dive into the lives and premature deaths of rappers with Angela Yee, Big Gipp and others. “Roots of Comedy with Jesus Trejo” (PBS): Ali Sultan, Vanessa Gonzalez

June 24 – “Breakin’ On The One” (Hulu): A documentary on the hip hop dance craze turned Olympic sport that erupted in the ‘80s when New York City’s Rocksteady Crew and the Dynamic Rockers squared off. 

June 25 – “CMA Fest” (ABC): Jelly Roll co-hosts with performances by Post Malone, Shaboozey, Blake Shelton, Brittney Spencer, The War And Treaty, Keith Urban and more. 

June 26 – “Land of Women” (Apple TV+): Executive producer Eva Longoria portrays a New York empty nester who is forced to flee the city alongside her aging mother (Carmen Maura) and teenage daughter (Victoria Bazúa) in this dramedy. “The View” (ABC): Letitia Wright 

June 27 – “The Bear” (FX on Hulu): The third season begins. “Young.Wild.Free.” (BET+): Algee Smith, Sierra Capri, Sanaa Lathan, Mike Epps, Ta’Rhonda Jones, GaTa and Tamela Jones are featured in this film. “Breaking New Ground” (MAX): Follows Black gay Broadway performer, entrepreneur and educator Robert Hartwell as he takes on the challenge of transforming a 200-year-old house he purchased with cash on Juneteenth. “Domino Day” (Sundance Now/AMC+): The hit UK supernatural drama starring Siena Kelly as a dating apps predator comes to the U.S. “Supacell” (Netflix): A new series from Rapman (“Blue Story”) about a group from South London who unexpectedly develop superpowers with the only connection being they are Black.

END QUOTE: “My history is American history. It’s the one thing in this world I am interested in, beyond making money, having a good time and getting enough sleep.” – MORGAN FREEMAN to Variety on executive producing “The Gray House,” an upcoming series on the three women who Gen. Ulysses S. Grant credited as helping the North win the Civil War.

As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment columns in the nation, serving nearly one million weekly readers. Bill Vaughan may be reached attastyclips@yahoo.com, via Twitter @tastyclips, or Instagram @tasty_clips.

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