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Performing arts

Shirley Jo Finney replaces murdered director Ben Bradley on The Ballad of Emmett Till

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The Fountain Theatre has announced that the show will go on – albeit a week later than originally scheduled. Actor/director Shirley Jo Finney has been named to replace Ben Bradley as director of the theatre’s west coast premiere production of Ifa Bayeza’s The Ballad of Emmett Till.

Bradley died on Jan. 2nd, the victim of a violent homicide. He had been readying Emmett Till for a February 6th opening when he failed to show up for a scheduled rehearsal. When concerned phone calls went unanswered, a stage manager went to Bradley’s nearby home to check on him and discovered his lifeless body. Mexican national Jose Fructuoso, 25, who has been romantic linked to Bradley, has been charged with his murder.

Finney’s association with Bradley and the Fountain includes two critically- and publicly-acclaimed dramas. In 2001 she directed the world premiere of Central Avenue, penned by the Fountain’s co-artistic director Stephen Sachs about the 1940’s Jazz scene in Los Angeles. In 2005 she directed the Southern California premiere of Dael Olandersmith’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, Yellowman, a thought-provoking and poetic two-hander concerning emotional inheritances and racial identity. Both productions enjoyed lengthy runs and collected countless awards and recognitions. Both were also produced by Bradley.

In Los Angeles, Finney has also directed at the Matrix Theatre, the Odyssey Theatre, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Mark Taper Forum. Other directing credits include productions at the Kennedy Center, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, the Cleveland Playhouse and Sacramento Theatre Co.

The Ballad of Emmett Till will launch the Fountain’s 20th anniversary season, which also includes Michael Hollinger's Opus (L.A. premiere), Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver (U.S. premiere), Tennessee Williams’ A House Not Meant to Stand (west coast premiere), August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the Flamenco dance/drama DJ: Don Juan in L.A. (world premiere). Emmett Till is based on the true story of the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a young black boy whose shocking death helped to ignite the civil rights movement. The Fountain website says of the play: “This west coast premiere, part history and part ghost story, is a jazz/gospel/folk integration of past and present, the living and dead, factual accounts and storytelling. Chicago playwright Ifa Bayeza captures the powerful truths at the heart of the legend, creating a soaring music, poetic language and riveting theatricality.”

The Ballad of Emmett Till is now scheduled to open on Feb. 13th and run thru Mar. 6th. Previews will begin on Feb. 6th. Performances are Thurs. – Sat. at 8pm; Sun. at 2pm. Click here to purchase tickets.

The Fountain has also established a Ben Bradley Memorial Fund to help offset the costs related to his death, and, in his honor, to fund the development of new plays. Donation details are available at www.fountaintheatre.com/BenBradleyMemorialPage.htm.

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