Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater will present the American Artist Award to Tony Award-winning actress, choreographer, director and author Baayork Lee. The award will be presented Wednesday, November 13, 2019 as part of the opening night celebration for Disney’s Newsies, directed by Molly Smith.
Beginning at 6 p.m., the evening will include a cocktail reception in the Bank of America Lower Lobby, seated dinner in the Molly Smith Study, 8 p.m. opening night performance of Disney’s Newsies in the Fichandler Stage and post-show dessert reception in the Grand Lobby. The seated dinner will feature the presentation of the American Artist Award to Lee.
“Baayork Lee personifies the best of American theater. She is a choreographer, director, leader, dancer and actor,” explains Smith. “Not only does she work as an artist, she also co‐founded the nonprofit National Asian Artists Project (NAAP) which provides training, education and opportunity for aspiring young Asian-American theater artists through musical theater programs in New York’s Chinatown, Korea and Japan.
“She has travelled the world creating her own special brand of choreography and intense love for the theater,” says Smith. “I have had the pleasure of working with Baayork many times including my first musical, South Pacific, and experienced her drive, talent and joy. This award highlights exemplary careers in the theater, and Baayork’s trajectory from ensemble to front of the stage to training choreographers to director to national leader is remarkable and worthy of this recognition.”
The American Artist Award recognizes artists of the highest caliber, honoring their work and significant contributions to American theater. Past awardees include Eve Ensler, Hal Linden, Moisés Kaufman, Sheldon Harnick, Kathleen Turner, Leslie Uggams, Edward Albee, James Earl Jones, Robert “Bob” Alexander, August Wilson and Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler.
Baayork Lee has performed in a dozen Broadway shows and created the role of Connie in A Chorus Line. She also served as Michael Bennett’s assistant choreographer on A Chorus Line, of which she has directed and choreographed many national and international companies. Her directing and choreography credits also include: The King and I and Bombay Dreams (national tours); Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (NYC Opera); Barnum (Australia); Carmen Jones (Kennedy Center); Porgy and Bess and Jesus Christ Superstar (European tours); and Gypsy and A New Brain.
Lee has also choreographed Miss Saigon (Kansas City Starlight); Mack and Mabel (Shaw Festival); Animal Crackers, South Pacific (Helen Hayes nominations), Coconuts, Camelot and Damn Yankees, all at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Through her nonprofit National Asian Artists Project (NAAP), Baayorks’ vision includes educating, cultivating and stimulating audiences and artists of Asian descent through the many outreach programs the company offers. The organization has produced Oklahoma!, Carousel, Hello Dolly!, Oliver!, Into the Woods and Honor (collaboration with Prospect Theater Company) with all Asian-American casts. With these classic shows, NAAP has demonstrated that famous works can speak to all audiences and ethnicity is no longer a barrier. She has been the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including the 2017 Isabelle Stevens Tony Award; 2014 Paul Robeson Award from Actors Equity Association; the Asian Woman Warrior Award for Lifetime Achievement from Columbia College; Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association Achievement in Arts Award; and the Dynamic Achiever Award from OCA Westchester.
“It humbles me to be honored by Arena Stage with this American Artist Award,” shares Lee. “I would also like to express my deep gratitude to Molly Smith: my friend, my director, and my mentor. As her choreographer, I was privileged to watch the growth of this most diverse and inspiring theater. Arena and Molly continue to break new ground and with every production we are aware of the importance of its voice that speaks to and for the American Theater.”
Inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, this Newsies follows the story of newsboys and newsgirls who dream of a better life and lead a crusade for justice. Just in time for the holidays, the score features fan favorites, including “King of New York,” “Carrying the Banner” and “Seize the Day.” Newsies will feature D.C. actress Erin Weaver (Arena’s Mother Courage) as Katherine Plumber with Edward Gero (Arena’s Junk and The Originalist) as Joseph Pulitzer. Making their Arena Stage debuts are Daniel Maldonado as Jack Kelly, Joe Montoya as Crutchie and both Josiah Smothers (The National Theatre’s Finding Neverland) and Hazel Hay as Les Jacobs. Newsies, directed by Molly Smith, with choreography by Parker Esse and music direction by Laura Bergquist, will run November 1-December 22, 2019 in the iconic in-the-round Fichandler Stage.