In March, the Amas Musical Theater honored longtime musical director, composer and arranger Danny Holgate and stage and television actor Norm Lewis with the distinguished Rosie Award.
Named for pioneering actress Rosetta LeNoire, the founder of Amas, the award is bestowed each year at the Theater’s annual benefit concert. LeNoire founded the theater in 1968 out of her desire to create diversity in the creative and theatrical arts.
In addition to the awards presentation, this year’s event highlights included a stellar, bringing-down-the-house, nightclub-style performance by two-time Tony award- nominated actress and singer Vivian Reed; a performance by The Academy Teens and the presentation of The Rosetta LeNoire Scholarship Award to student Sheika Murray (presented by Lewis).
Lewis told TNJ.com, “It’s an honor to receive this award by this great organization, Amas. I’ve done a few great things with them and gotten to know [Amas’ Artistic Producer] Donna Trinkoff and the rest of the great crew. But for them to come to me and say ‘we’d like to celebrate what you’ve done’ is such a treat. I’m overwhelmed.”
Lewis made history when in 2014 he became the first African American phantom in the Broadway staple Phantom of the Opera. His Broadway acting credits include Porgy & Bess, in which he starred as Porgy opposite six-time Tony award-winning actress and singer Audra McDonald; Les Miserables; Dreamgirls; and Sondheim on Sondheim, opposite Vanessa Williams.
He even had a brief role in Shonda Rhimes’ hit television show Scandal. He played Olivia Pope’s fiancée of which he says, “Scandal was fantastic. Olivia Pope kicked me to the curb, but Kerry Washington is a sweetheart and I would go back anytime. Did you hear that, Shonda Rhimes?! I-would-come-back-any-time!”
Onstage while receiving his award, he remarked, “Vivian said it earlier. Give me my flowers before I die! I am so honored to be on the same bill with a legend like Danny Holgate. Do what you love. I stand on Rosie’s shoulders, Robert Guillaume’s shoulders and Andre DeShields’ shoulders. I was lucky to have the arts and I am proud to have been in all of the productions I was in.”
Lewis is currently doing some concert work around the country, including in Europe, and taking some time off after doing Phantom of the Opera, which he describes as “exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.”
For Holgate’s part, he told TNJ.com, “Receiving this award was very nice. I was surprised and pleased to be recognized. It was great to see my colleagues, friends and students and to see that Donna [Trinkoff] has kept Amas alive and well.”
Holgate’s illustrious Broadway career was evident by the thunderous applause that followed after Reed, a colleague of Holgate’s, presented him with the award.
She and Holgate met years ago and collaborated on projects including Bubblin’ Brown Sugar (a show that highlighted African American artists that were popular during the Harlem Renaissance), for which he served as musical director and arranger while she won a 1976 Drama Desk award.
“Before I present the Rosie award to my dear friend, I want to tell you a story. One week Danny called me and invited me to a party. He said he was working on a show called Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. He said it was an old show that goes back to the ‘40s with Black composers and singers like Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington and Billie Holliday. He said the gig didn’t pay much, maybe $35 a week. He gave me a list of songs…God Bless the Child…Sweet Georgia Brown…I told him I wanted to sing the songs his way and he said okay. We put our heads together and I sang those songs that way for years,” Reed shared with the audience.
She continued, “This Rosie award personifies lives that were instrumental in establishing Amas in the early years. Danny, we celebrate you not just as a musical director and arranger, but also as a teacher, coach, husband and father,” she said when handing the award to Holgate.
Earlier that evening, Trinkoff told TNJ.com, “Danny has been a friend of the company from the very beginning.”
Holgate’s history with Amas goes back to the days of Bubblin’ Brown Sugar, as told by one of the event’s speakers. The show was a musical revue based on a concept by LeNoire. “50 years ago, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar was a song about Rosie’s neighborhood. She was performing on Broadway and found an expert musical director. I got there two hours early. The cast was tone-deaf, hard of hearing, but the director kept his cool, never lost his head. That’s the kind of person who should get a medal and that’s why we’re honoring Danny tonight. Bubblin’ Brown Sugar was the fourth longest running revue on Broadway by the time it had closed,” the speaker said.
A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Holgate attended the Berklee School of Music, had a tour of duty with the U.S. Army Band and attended Manhattan School of Music as a piano major with studies in composition and musical theory; later, he studied advanced orchestration with Nicholas Flagello. For many years, he taught piano and theory at the Third Street Music School while appearing in the New York area and touring in South America with his Holgate, Perkins & Shaw Jazz Trio. Holgate’s many credits include musical supervision, direction, composition and arrangement for Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar, Mikki Grant’s It’s So Nice to be Civilized, EUBIE, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill and Rainbow Jones, among others.
Other recipients of the esteemed Rosie award include Carmen DeLavallade, the late Ossie Davis, the late Ruby Dee, Dionne Warwick, Phylicia Rashad, the late Geoffrey Holder and Leslie Uggams.
(CLICK HERE to review photos from the event.)