Huskies' Night Out On Broadway: ''EXCELLENT!''
Dec. 8, 2011
By Gregg Bell
NEW YORK - This was a class like no other.
Huey just finished singing how "Memphis lives in me" then was with Felicia at her big Memphis concert for the soulful musical's final, rousing scene. The curtain call hadn't even started yet.
The Huskies were giving a standing ovation anyway.
In the last row, back left on the main, orchestra level of Broadway's Shubert Theater, Darnell Gant, Desmond Simmons, Aziz N'Diaye, Abdul Gaddy, and Hikeem Stewart were dancing, clapping and cheering. They were swaying to the gospel sound that had filled the small theater for the previous two hours.
"That was filthy," Gant, the team's drama major, said immediately after the curtain closed.
"That was EXCELLENT!" Simmons declared.
"I felt it. I felt the spirit of it," Gaddy, UW's junior point guard, said minutes after the Tony Award-winning "Memphis" ended.
"It felt like I was in church."
Indeed, it was a revival.
The Huskies' Wednesday night on Broadway wiped away the frustration lingering from the night before, when Washington lost to No. 11 Marquette on a last-second shot in Madison Square Garden.
Eleven blocks north of the Garden, immediately west of Times Square, the Dawgs came to "Memphis." It was part of a special two-credit, independent-study course - Drama 499 - the players are taking this quarter in conjunction with their six days in New York.
Kenny Alhadeff, a Seattle-area resident and one of the musical's producers, spoke to the players back at UW earlier in this academic term then invited the team to his show on Broadway. Alhadeff had previously put "Memphis" through a trial production at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theater. He changed the show's ending after that; Huey now reunites with Felicia in the final scene instead of being absent for it.
The Huskies' week in New York includes the first known, regular-season trip for a major NCAA team inside the United States that includes academic course credit.
Accompanied by Professor Sarah Nash Gates, executive director of the UW School of Drama, the players went from a team dinner at Dinosaur Barbeque in Harlem to the 98-year-old Shubert on a rainy, windy night in Manhattan. Thursday night, following a post-practice lunch of soul food at Amy Ruth's where Presidents Clinton and the second George Bush have dined, the Huskies attended another Broadway production, "The Lion King" at the Minskoff Theater.
It was more than a coincidence that on the evening the Huskies were there, @MemphisBroadway tweeted during its show: "We are ON FIRE tonight! Crowd is in stitches, cheering, and quite vocal loving every bit of it!"
And, after it was over: "Standing ovation BEFORE the curtain call BEGAN! Let's hear it for our FANTASTICAL FANS!" ("Fantastical" is a signature line from the show.)
Before Wednesday, most of the Huskies had never attended a play, not even in a grade-school assembly. That includes Shawn Kemp Jr.
"It was awesome," the freshman forward said after clapping and standing through "Memphis." He said he was almost in tears at some of the play's more poignant moments of race relations and love.
Gant had been to plays before. The senior co-captain is about to receive his UW degree in drama and acted in a UW production of Midsummer Night's Dream in May 2010. He also loves music. He played piano, organ and drums at his church while growing up in Los Angeles. He has taken over the piano at the Seattle Children's Hospital to entertain kids on the team's annual preseason visits there.
He was wowed.
"It was amazing," Gant said of "Memphis." "That was one of the best plays I've ever seen, and it was my first musical.
"This was a great show."
Asked if he could, as a performer on the basketball court as well as a part-time actor, appreciate how much co-stars Adam Pascal (Huey) and Montego Glover (Felicia) and the rest of the cast put into thrilling the Huskies Wednesday night, Gant simply gushed: "Oh, man."
"I was thinking about my little play I was in," he said. "There were so many lines to remember. The work you put in. All the rehearsals. I can only imagine with a play like this how much work it takes. To know your lines. To go whether you are upstage or downstage. The dance moves. ...
"Then again, it's Broadway."
The Huskies wore slacks and shirts. Some, such as Simmons and Brendan Sherrer, wore ties. The only way they were recognizable as Washington's basketball team was by the W jacket coach Lorenzo Romar was wearing.
Before the show, fellow theater patrons stopped and asked about where this group of college kids was from and how it got to "Memphis."
"This is so great you do this, instead of just playing basketball," a middle-aged woman said when told the Huskies' story.
One excited woman said she was from Seattle and couldn't get over the Huskies were entering the same Broadway theater. She asked the players to pose for pictures on the sidewalk of W. 44th Street. Another came up to them inside the theater immediately after the show ended and asked to take more pictures. She had the players sign her Playbill program.
"You remember what it's like to be 11," she told the Huskies. "My son will think I'm the coolest mom ever now.
"You guys are awesome."
A few minutes later, the players went through a side door, ducked their heads under a low ceiling and went on stage to meet Pascal, who was also the lead in "Rent," plus the silky- and soulful-voiced Glover.
"I've got SOOOO-UL," Scott Suggs crooned light-heartedly, doing an OK imitation of Pascal's performance minutes earlier.
"You guys were killin'!" Gant told the actors.
The 41-year-old Pascal, a native of the Bronx, thanked the Huskies for being there and for being so enthusiastic over the show.
"You guys are a basketball team? Are you, what do they call it, `ranked?' Pascal asked.
"Top five," Suggs joked.
"We're working on it," another said.
The Huskies (4-3) explained to the actors they were staying in New York through Saturday's noon Eastern time (9 a.m. Pacific) game against seventh-ranked Duke (8-1) at Madison Square Garden (CBS TV, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive, live game chat and play by play from courtside).
"I've got some tickets, if you want them," Gant said to the actors. "For real."
When "Memphis" ensemble member Robert Hartwell, a University of Michigan graduate, came out to meet the team he said, "My dad called me at six in the morning to tell me you were coming here to the show. He had heard about it on the radio.
"He woke me up to tell me, he was so excited."
Hartwell can be assured the feeling was mutual.
QUICK SHOTS: The Huskies banged through a rugged, spirited practice in the morning at Baruch College a few blocks east of their midtown Manhattan hotel. The next-to-last workout before the Duke game went on for more than two hours. ... G Tony Wroten, who had 13 points, six rebounds and three assists against Marquette, leads Pac-12 freshmen in scoring, assists and steals. ... The team's Wednesday also included a 3 ½-hour visit to Brooklyn and the set of the CBS crime thriller Person of Interest. Jim Caviezal, a native of Mount Vernon, Wash., and a basketball player in high school, hosted the players and coaches and talked to them after the filming. ... Romar is seeking his 200th victory of his 10-year tenure at Washington. ... The Pac-12 is 0-9 against ranked teams this season.
Special thanks to the cast of Memphis. For more information about Memphis, visit MemphistheMusical.com