'An Honor and a Privilege': Meet the Cast of New York City Center Encores!' Jelly's Last Jam | Playbill

Video 'An Honor and a Privilege': Meet the Cast of New York City Center Encores!' Jelly's Last Jam

The show began performances February 21 at New York City Center.

As the legacy of the American musical continues to spool out across generations, historical programs like New York City Center Encores! are more important than ever. Through diligent craft and care, the program balances more familiar favorites from yesteryear with rarely produced gems, breathing fresh life into important touchstones from the art forms lineage. 

Jelly's Last Jam, now playing the Manhattan venue through March 3, is the latest in the Encores! series. For much of the cast, the show feels achingly necessary. See them reflect on the show in the video above.

"New audiences need to see where musical theatre came from," declares Tiffany Mann, who plays Miss Mamie. "Bringing the history back, it feels like an honor and a privilege, and I don't take that lightly, to touch this piece."

"This is our history!" John Clay III, who plays Jack the Bear proudly proclaims. "Jazz is Black history... especially with Black History Month, the timing couldn't be more perfect. These are legends in my community."

 The seldom-produced biomusical celebrates the life and music of Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (a.k.a. Jelly Roll Morton), featuring a book by George C. Wolfe, music by Morton, and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, plus musical adaptation and additional music by Luther Henderson.

Originally portrayed by Tap legend Gregory Hines, the title role is now played by Nicholas Christopher, doing double duty playing Pirelli and standing by for the title role in Broadway's Sweeney Todd.

"My eyes were crossed for the first week of rehearsal," Christopher laughs. "I was playing Sweeney Todd at night and coming in at 10 AM here and tap dancing, and singing, and playing piano. This year for me is about title characters only!"

The production also features Tony winner Leslie Uggams as Morton's grandmother, marking her return to the musical theatre stage after over a decade, when she shined in Encores! revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pipe Dream. "I was very close with Gregory Hines," Uggams recalls, "I loved the show then, and I think people are going to be really excited about this show now. The music, the dancing, it's amazing."

Photos: Jelly's Last Jam at New York City Center

The Encores! staging is one of two major new productions for the work, with another revival set for California's Pasadena Playhouse beginning in May.

Christopher leads the cast as Jelly Roll Morton, alongside Clay III as Jack the Bear, Alaman Diadhiou as Young Jelly, Joaquina Kalukango as Anita, Mann as Miss Mamie, Okieriete Onaodowan as Buddy Bolden, Billy Porter as Chimney Man, and Uggams as Gran Mimi. Original cast members Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Stephanie Pope Lofgren, and Allison M. Williams are reprising their roles as the Hunnies.

The ensemble features Raymond Baynard, Shawn Bowers, Amanda Castro, Joshua Dawson, John Edwards, Ari Groover, Morgan McGhee, Jodeci Milhouse, Ramone Nelson, Paul Niebanck, James Patterson, Antonia Raye, Salome Smith, Taylor Mackenzie Smith, Funmi Sofola, Jordan Simone Stephens, Renell Anthony Taylor, Nasia Thomas, Sir Brock Warren, and Chanse Williams.

WATCH: See Billy Porter and Joaquina Kalukango Perform the Songs of Jelly's Last Jam

Rounding out the company are Jelly Roll Morton standby Reese Britts and swings Topher J. Babb, Crystal Burton, and Charlotte McKinley. Casting is by The Telsey Office's Destiny Lilly.

Robert O'Hara is directing, leading a creative team that includes choreographer Edgar Godineaux, tap choreographer Dormeshia, music director Jason Michael Webb, scenic designer Clint Ramos, costume designer Dede Ayite, lighting designer Adam Honoré, sound designer Megumi Katayama, and hair and wig designer J. Jaren Janas. The musical features musical adaptation and additional music by Luther Henderson, and Daryl Water is serving as score consultant. Karen Moore is production stage manager.

The revival is the second in Encores' 2024 season, with each of this year's titles playing an extended two-week run in celebration of the series' 30th anniversary. Once Upon a Mattress starring Sutton Foster and Harriet Harris kicked off the season in January, and Titanic will follow Jelly's Last Jam in June.

Visit NYCityCenter.org.

Photos: Jelly's Last Jam at New York City Center

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