Actors From Uncle Jed’s Barbershop Musical Win 2015 True West Awards

I’m so excited! Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter are 2015 True West Award Winners for their performances in Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, A New Musical. Below are excerpts from the article on announcing their win.

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2015 True West Awards: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter

by John Moore | Dec 20, 2015

2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS ​Today’s recipient: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter Uncle Jed’s Barbershop Today’s award presenter: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore

Let’s get this first part out of the way: Yes, Mary Louise Lee happens to be married to the mayor of Denver. But this First Lady is second to no one when it comes to that voice. Lee’s professional stage cred dates back to being hired to perform in Beehive The Musical at the now Garner-Galleria Theatre when she was still a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.

When they invite Lee to sing the national anthem before 78,000 Broncos fans, or to sing on America’s Got Talent, or to join the cast of the national touring production of The Million Dollar Quartet onstage at the Buell Theatre, it’s certainly not because her high-school sweetheart won an election.

It’s because she’s Mary Louise Lee.

Lee’s lengthy theater resume includes work at the DCPA, Arvada Center, Country Dinner Playhouse and theaters around the country. The Mary Louise Lee Band has been knocking out blues covers like “Chain of Fools” from military bases worldwide to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. She is choir Director at the New Hope Baptist Church, and founder of “Bringin’ Back the Arts,” a foundation that encourages arts education in the public schools.

When the creators of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop decided it was time to finally, fully stage their unapologetically sentimental new family musical at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, they weren’t messing around. Their cast featured Broadway veterans Ken Prymus (Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Wiz), Nora Cole (Jelly’s Last Jam, On The Town) and Terry Burrell (seven Broadway credits including the original DreamGirls), along with a host of local stalwarts including Lee, Harvy Blanks, Leonard Barrett Jr. and Anna High.

And they weren’t messing around when they unearthed a then 12-year-old named Yasmine Hunter to share with Lee the leading role of Sarah Jean.

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop follows Sarah Jean’s life dating to her childhood in rural Arkansas, where Uncle Jed was the only black barber in a segregated county. The sharecropper’s dream was to open his own barbershop, but instead he freely gave up his savings to pay for emergency medical care that saved Sarah’s life at age 5. Sarah Jean then struggles to reconcile her past in the decades that follow.

Lee is not easily intimidated – and young Hunter was clearly not daunted to share the role of Sarah Jean with her. Lee brought the backbone and Hunter brought down the house on a solo called “I Will Go Where You Go.”  Lee said working with Hunter, a four-year member of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir, was a complete joy. “She’s funny and congenial, and extremely talented,” she said. “This girl has such a bright future.”

Margaree King Mitchell, author of the award-winning source book, has seen every iteration of this developing music, but this newest incarnation made her feel as if she were seeing it for the first time because of the caliber and exuberance of the company. “The high-spirited music and soul-stirring singing took me back in time,” she said. “The incomparable Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter brought Sarah Jean to life as she dreamed right along with Uncle Jed.”

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, which has high ambitions for a continued life, is written by Kenneth Grimes, David Wohl and Susan Einhorn, who is also the director. For more information, click here.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.  

ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore’s daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org



Purchase When Grandmama Sings And Share A Little Jazz This Christmas

When Grandmama Coles gets a big chance, Belle gets one, too. Belle’s going to spend the summer touring the South with Grandmama and a swing jazz band! Belle’s never been outside Pecan Flats, Mississippi and she can’t wait to go on the road with Grandmama, helping her read signs and menus and helping her sing. There are so many new things to see on their travels through the Deep South. But some things aren’t new. Everything is segregated, just like at home. But Grandmama stands up for what’s right. And when she sings, Belle knows that Grandmama’s song can bring everyone together.

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Readers are saying:

“This is a beautiful story that teaches young readers about the time of segregation and the importance of music, mainly how it can bring people together.” – L. Calebrese

“When Grandmama Sings is a great book and should be read by everyone.” – Anna

“This book takes readers back to the segregated Deep South where obstacles abound, but courage and the desire to chase a dream are much greater.” – Coach A

When Grandmama Sings is the winner of the Living The Dream Award.  It was also named a Best Book of the Year by Bank Street.

For Further Information:

When Grandmama Sings


This Christmas Give The Book That Inspired An Award-Winning Musical

Sarah Jean’s Uncle Jed was the only black barber in the county. He had a kind heart and a warm smile. And he had a dream. Living in the segregated South of the 1920’s, where most people were sharecroppers, Uncle Jed had to travel all over the county to cut his customers’ hair. He lived for the day when he could open his very own barbershop. But it was a long time, and many setbacks, from five-year-old Sarah Jean’s emergency operation to the bank failures of the Great Depression, before the joyful day when Uncle Jed opened his shiny new shop – and twirled a now grown-up Sarah Jean around in the barber chair.

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Uncle Jed’s Barbershop has received numerous awards, including a Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award, the Living The Dream Book Award, the Charlie May Simon Honor Book Award, and is a featured Reading Rainbow book.

Readers are saying:

“Now I know how to explain to my dad that I will never give up on my dreams.” -Z. Chowhury, 4th grade

“As a mother and teacher I have never read a book for children that was so rich in content and emotion.” -M. Berkowitz, New jersey

“When I read that book I started back believing in my dream.” -T. Allen, 3rd grade

“When I first read this book back in elementary school I loved it and still do. I am a college sophomore now. Ms. Mitchell had come to our school. She wrote ‘Never Give Up On Your Dreams’ in my book. I’m following that dream by going to college.” -A. Jones

A musical has been adapted from Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. It has won the following awards:

  • ASCAP/Disney Workshop Winner
  • O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference Finalist
  • Richard Rodgers Award Finalist
  • National Music Theater Network’s Director’s Choice Award Winner
  • Featured Show in the New York Musical Theater Festival

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop opened to rave reviews in Denver at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre – September, 2015.

For more information:

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop book

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop musical

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