ALBANY, NY – For Jannie Jones, portraying Ethel Waters on stage is more than a role. It is a vocation.
Jones premiered the role of Ethel Waters in the original production of “Ethel Waters: His Eye is on the Sparrow” at the Florida Studio Theater in 2005. She returned to FST for an acclaimed cover in 2019. Tomorrow night she begins the Premieres of a new production of the show set to open Tuesday at the new performance space at the Capital Repertory Theater in Albany.
Jones will be the first person to perform at the professional theater company’s new theater located at 251 N. Pearl Street in Albany.
This is a feat that has not escaped the actress-singer. “It’s an honor that is very humbling,” she said. “I played Capital Rep three times. (“Crowns,” “Black Pearl Sings,” and playing Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone in “Janis Joplin.”) It’s exciting to be a part of everything that secures the future of Capital Rep.
She is just as thrilled to represent one of her idols again. As an African-American woman, actress and singer, Jones says she sees Waters as an inspiring role model.
“I still stand on the shoulders of Ethel Waters and have great gratitude to her for the struggles she has endured. Because of her and other African Americans of that time, I can’t just play on Broadway, but as a black woman I can play a role that at the end of the play I can marry. a white man and few people would care. ,” she says.
Although Ethel Waters passed away in 1977, her reputation is still legendary today. At one point, she was one of the highest paid artists in the world. Born out of a rape of a 16-year-old mother just before the turn of the 20th century, her singing voice made her a star on Black Vaudeville tours in the 1920s. She moved on to the mainstream vaudeville circuit and later. At the movie theater. Later in her career, she had a series on television.
Although Waters is a star across the board, her legacy is best known for the songs she popularized. Indeed, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” contains fifteen songs, all associated with Waters.
Local theater fans who saw the Park Playhouse production of Fats Waller’s musical “Ain’t Misbehavin” earlier this summer, will remember the songs “This Joint is Jumpin ‘” and “Black and Blue”. Fans of jazz and blues classics will be delighted with “Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Heat Wave”, “Am I Blue? And “Stormy weather”.
Gospel lovers will understand the feelings of the title song lyrics, which implies that if God cares about a sparrow, it is proof that He watches over every living creature, including humans.
Jones is happy that the work shows that very little of Waters’ success has come easily and often resulted in unrest. She points out that for an African-American artist, job security did not exist. “If you were an African-American artist and asked for fair treatment, you probably wouldn’t be working anymore. “
According to Jones, Waters was not a knack for suffering unfair treatment in silence. On the set of the 1949 movie “Pinky”, she had a hard time working with famous director John Ford. Jones says Waters was convinced Ford was a racist who tried to force her to portray her character as a black stereotype. Although powerful, the director met his match with Waters and left the film.
He was replaced by Elia Kazan and Waters was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, Waters won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for her stage performance opposite Julie Harris in “Member of the Wedding”.
“His Eye is on the Sparrow,” written by Larry Parr, doesn’t avoid the tarnished personality traits and insecurities that plagued Waters throughout his life. Three marriages, a huge debt in the 1950s for overdue taxes and failed friendships are covered in the play. Jones says Waters’ demons amplified as she began to lose her stardom. The actor explains that the once powerful star gained so much weight, nearly 400 pounds, that she avoided being seen in public.
Jones reveals the moment that saved Waters’ life when one day in 1957, she entered Madison Square Garden during a Billy Graham Crusade. It helped her find the peace, love and trust that had been missing from her life. From that day until her death, she traveled often with Billy Graham and in his debating gatherings with the Gospel hymn from Psalm 23, “His eye is on the sparrow”.
Between August 20 and September 26, you will experience the magic of Ethel Waters song, life and dedication to equality at the Capital Repertory Theater. For tickets and schedule, call 518-346-6204 or visit capitalrep.org. Proof of vaccination is required for admission and face masks are required inside the theater.