Theater Recommendation: GUN & POWDER (New Musical at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey)

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by Tony Frankel on February 28, 2024

in Theater-New York,Theater-Regional


The full cast and creative team has been announced for the new musical Gun & Powder, which — with book and lyrics by Angelica Chéri and music by Ross Baum.– explodes onto the stage at Paper Mill Playhouse April 4 – May 5, 2024, with opening night on Sunday, April 14 at 7pm. This new musical is inspired by the true story of Mary (Ciara Renée) and Martha Clarke (Liisi LaFontaine), African American twin sisters who take extraordinary measures to settle their mother’s sharecropper debt and save her home. In 1893 Texas, the Sisters Clarke—passing as white—embark on a remarkable Wild West adventure that examines race, family, and identity with two electrifying women who transformed from farm girls to outlaws to legends.

Also in the cast are Jeannette Bayardelle as Tallulah Clarke, Aaron James McKenzie as Elijah, Hunter Parrish as Jesse Whitewater, and Jisel Soleil Ayon as Standby for Mary and Martha.

The ensemble of Gun & Powder will include Rickens AnantuaReed Campbell, Carrie CompereMeghan Olivia CorbettJoann GilliamFrancesca GranellAaron Arnell HarringtonMary Claire KingMalik Shabazz KitchenRayshun LaMarrZonya LoveTiffany MannTony PerryAdam Roberts, Hank SantosChristine Shepard, Katie ThompsonAurelia Williams, and Jason SweetTooth Williams.

The company of Gun & Powder at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Billy Swann.

Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher and music directed by Austin Cook, the production features orchestrations by John Clancy, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Emilio Sosa (see Stage and Cinema‘s interview), lighting design by Adam Honoré, sound design by Connor Wang, and wig, hair, and makeup design by J. Jared Janas & Tony Lauro.

Gun & Powder
Paper Mill Playhouse
April 4 – May 5, 2024; opening night Sunday, April 14 at 7pm
22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, New Jersey
for tickets, call 973.376.4343, or visit Papermill.

BIOGRAPHIESLiisi LaFontaine (Martha Clarke) is so excited to make her Paper Mill debut in this brilliant show. Previous credits include Deena Jones in Dreamgirls (Japan and West End original cast), Whitney Houston in Born for This, Crocodile in Fly (La Jolla Playhouse), and Satine in Moulin Rouge! (West End original cast). She was recently seen on the TV show “Good Trouble”. Liisi released an EP in 2016 titled Golden and is currently working on new music. She dedicates this performance to her dad. @liisilafontaineCiara Renée (Mary Clarke) recently starred in the Showtime series “Your Honor” opposite Bryan Cranston as well as the IFC feature “Paint” opposite Owen Wilson. She starred in the world premiere of The Lonely Few at the Geffen Playhouse, as Jenna in Waitress on Broadway, and was the first Black mixed actress to play Elsa in Disney’s Frozen on Broadway. Previously, Ciara starred in MCC’s The Wrong Man, originated the role of the Witch in Big Fish, and appeared as the Leading Player in Pippin on Broadway. She also originated the role of Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Paper Mill. Ciara splits her time between New York and Los Angeles and directs/produces for stage and screen. Other television: “The Big Bang Theory,” Facebook’s “Strangers,” Netflix’s “Master of None,” “Legends of Tomorrow.”Jeannette Bayardelle (Tallulah Clarke). Tony Award nominee Jeannette Bayardelle has traveled to over fifty countries sharing her gift. She is the founder and CEO of Broadway to Wall Street. Jeannette wrote and starred in Shida: The Musical and I Take Thee Zoe, a web series. Other credits: Broadway: Girl from the North Country (Mrs. Neilsen), Hair (Dionne), The Color Purple (Celie). Off Broadway: The Harder They Come (Public Theater), Girl from the North Country (Public Theater), Shida (Ars Nova). National Tours/Regional: The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical (La Jolla Playhouse), Shida (in London), The Color Purple. Film: Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning.Aaron James McKenzie (Elijah) is elated to be making his Paper Mill Playhouse debut in this beautiful piece accompanied by the most inspiring and gifted cast and creatives. Some previous credits include A Beautiful Noise (original Broadway cast), “Bull” on NBC, and Choir Boy at Yale Rep.Hunter Parrish (Jesse Whitewater) co-starred on Broadway in Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird; as Claude in the Hollywood Bowl production of Hair; as Jesus in the Broadway revival of Godspell. He received raves for his Broadway debut in the musical Spring Awakening. He can currently be seen on Hulu’s “The Other Black Girl.” Hunter starred for eight seasons as Mary Louise Parker’s son on “Weeds.” Television credits include: “This Is Us,” “The Good Wife,” “Good Girls Revolt.” Film: It’s Complicated opposite Meryl Streep, 17 AgainGone, and Paper Man opposite Emma Stone. Hunter was Julianne Moore’s son in Sony Pictures’ Still Alice.Jisel Soleil Ayon (Standby for Mary & Martha) is an Afro-Latina SoCal native excited to be making her Paper Mill debut. She is currently the Schuyler Sisters standby on the Hamilton national tour. Other favorite credits include Jenna (Waitress, second national tour), Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Rev), and Wednesday Addams (The Addams Family, PCPA). When not in a theater, Jisel can be found doing a puzzle or some sort of craft, creating content for social media, or cuddling her cat Figaro. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok: @JiselSAyon.Angelica Chéri (Book & Lyrics) is a playwright, musical theater bookwriter/lyricist, screenwriter, and poet. Plays include The Seeds of Abraham (Billie Holiday Theatre); The Sting of White Roses (NC Black Rep); Crowndation; I Will Not Lie to David (National Black Theatre); Berta, Berta (published by TRW); The Wiring & the Switches (Geffen Playhouse); and Woman: Maya Angelou (Houston Ensemble Theatre). TV writing credits include “Godfather of Harlem” (MGM+), “Keyshia Cole: This Is My Story” (Lifetime), and “Highway to Heaven” (Lifetime). Angelica received her BA in Theater from UCLA, MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University, and MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU. www.angelicacheri.comRoss Baum (Music & Arrangements) is a composer, singer-songwriter, music producer, arranger, and educator from New York. Ten years ago, an unexpected series of events led him to enroll at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, where he met Angelica Chéri and embarked on the incredible journey of creating Gun & Powder, which has been the honor of a lifetime. Thank you to every artist who has given voice to our show, Stevie, Austin, Tiffany, Team Music, P3, Edgewood, Paper Mill, WME, and my family for always supporting my love for the theater., @rossbaummusicStevie Walker-Webb (Director), a Tony Award–nominated, Obie Award–winning director and the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage, boasts a prolific career both on and off Broadway. Notable works include Ain’t No Mo’ (Public Theater, Broadway), One in Two (The New Group), Black Odyssey (Classic Stage), Fairview (Woolly Mammoth), and Our Town (Baltimore Center Stage). He founded HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS, an arts and advocacy organization highlighting the plight of incarcerated mentally divergent individuals. Honors include the Princess Grace Award for Theatre, the Lilly Award from the Dramatists Guild of America, and a 2050 Fellowship at New York Theatre Workshop. Additionally, he contributed to BET’s Emmy-nominated comedy “The Ms. Pat Show,” and he serves as a visiting artist and lecturer at Harvard University.Tiffany Rea-Fisher (Choreographer) has become a go-to choreographer for major theater directors. As the resident choreographer with the Classical Theatre of Harlem, she has contributed to their productions of MacbethThe Three MusketeersA Christmas Carol in HarlemAntigoneThe Bacchae, and Seize the King. Following her 2022 choreographic contributions to the company’s Twelfth Night, for which The New York Times suggested she should have been nominated for a Tony Award, Rea-Fisher’s choreography was most recently seen at the Public Theater’s 2023 Delacorte production of The Tempest as part of their Public Works program.John Clancy (Orchestrations). Broadway: The NotebookKimberly Akimbo (Tony, Grammy nominations), Mean Girls (Tony nomination), 1776 (2022 revival), Fun Home (Tony nomination), Diana: The MusicalThe PromTuck EverlastingShrek: The Musical (Tony nomination), Cats (2016 revival, dance arranger). Off Broadway/Regional: A Transparent Musical; The Karate Kid; Joy: The Musical; The Secret Life of Bees; Cornelia Street; Becoming Nancy; Soft Power (dance arranger); The Fortress of Solitude; Jasper in Deadland; Just So. 2018 Tony Awards opening by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban.Austin Cook (Music Direction & Arrangements) is an award-winning, interdisciplinary artist based in New York City. A lifelong student of the musical and visual arts, Austin has found a successful career in the performing arts where visual and aural mediums intertwine. He strives to be honest in his art, to see the world as it truly is, empathize with all creatures, great and small, and passionately pursue greatness. He hopes his work inspires and challenges audiences while also providing the highest quality of professional entertainment. Creatively, you’ll find him in the studio, onstage, or in the pits of Broadway. Visit or @austincookmusic.Beowulf Boritt (Scenic Design) has designed A Bronx TaleThe StingThe HoneymoonersThe Wanderer, and Murder on the Orient Express for Paper Mill Playhouse. His 31 Broadway designs include the Tony Award–winning sets for New York, New York and Act One and the Tony-nominated sets for The Scottsboro BoysThérèse RaquinPOTUS, and Flying Over Sunset. Also on Broadway: Come From AwayRock of AgesThe Piano LessonA Bronx TaleHand to GodSondheim on Sondheim, and …Spelling Bee. Author: Transforming Space Over Time, about Broadway set design. Founder of The 1/52 Project, which provides grants to early career designers from historically excluded groups.Emilio Sosa (Costume Design). Chair, American Theatre Wing. Broadway: Sweeney ToddPurlie VictoriousGood Night, Oscar (Tony nomination); Ain’t No Mo’ (Tony nomination); A Beautiful Noise; Trouble in Mind (Tony nomination); The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (Tony nomination); 1776Skeleton CrewMotown: The MusicalOn Your Feet!Lady Day…Topdog/Underdog. TV/Film: “Project Runway,” “Annie Live!” (NBC), Red Hook Summer (dir. Spike Lee), Descendants: The Rise of Red (Disney+). Recipient of NAACP Theatre Award, Lucille Lortel Award, AUDELCO Award; Drama Desk nominee. He has designed for Usher’s Las Vegas residency, Blue Man Group tour, Big Apple Circus, the Rockettes, NY Knicks City Dancers, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, and Wynton Marsalis. @esosafashionAdam Honoré (Lighting Design) is a Harlem-based designer for the stage. Recent Broadway: Purlie VictoriousAin’t No Mo’Chicken & Biscuits. Select Off Broadway: Jelly’s Last Jam (City Center Encores!), Flex (Lincoln Center), This Land Was Made (Vineyard Theatre), Patience (Second Stage), Ain’t No Mo’ (Public Theater), Carmen Jones (Classic Stage Co.). Regional: Alliance Theater, Arena Stage, Asolo Rep, Barrington Stage Co., Center Theatre Group, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Cleveland Play House, Dallas Theater Center, Geffen Playhouse, Goodspeed Musicals, Hartford Stage, Huntington Theatre Co., Paper Mill Playhouse, Shakespeare Theatre Co., Signature Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival. Nominations: Drama Desk, Elliot Norton, Henry Hewes, Helen Hayes, Suzi Bass. @itsadamhonoreConnor Wang (Sound Design) is pleased to be making his Paper Mill Playhouse debut! Selected credits: How to Dance in Ohio (Broadway), Laura Benanti: Nobody Cares (Audible/Minetta Lane), Evita (A.R.T., STC), and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live! (US tour). Assistant designs for Hamilton (US tours), Hadestown (Broadway and South Korea), The Cher Show (Broadway), and Tina (US tour). Regional/International: Dubai Opera, American Repertory Theater, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Alliance Theatre, TheatreSquared, Kansas City Rep, Northern Stage, and many others. In addition to his design work, Connor is a mix engineer for Disney Concerts. connorwangdesigns.comJ. Jared Janas (Wig, Hair, and Makeup Design). Select Broadway: Prayer for the French RepublicPurlie VictoriousSweeney ToddKimberly Akimbo& JulietGood Night, OscarOhio State MurdersJagged Little PillIndecent; Frankie and Johnny…Sunset BoulevardMotownThe VisitLady Day at Emerson’s Bar and GrillThe Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Recent off-Broadway: Jelly’s Last Jam, Once Upon a MattressBuena Vista Social Club.Tony Lauro (Wig, Hair, and Makeup Design). Broadway: & JulietSweeney ToddKimberly AkimboGood Night, OscarFrankie and Johnny…Getting the Band Back Together. Off-Broadway: ClueBLKSAlice By HeartThe Other Josh Cohen.

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