Washington-born actors Keith Lorenzo Amos and Helena-Joyce Wright, who have featured roles in the Ford's Theatre's musical "Amen Corner," both began their acting studies at Howard University.
At 20, Amos, who plays the rebellious son David, is an energetic and savvy self-promoter who has booked himself as a singer at the Playboy Club in Los Angeles, in clubs in Las Vegas and on the "Fantasy" television show.
Although Amos didn't have an Equity card before being cast in "Amen," which should have prevented him from auditioning, he acted his way into the audition.
Amos used his slick delivery on the oldest line in the book to get into the Equity hall. "The last thing on my mind was getting through the door. See, they had this young lady, a monitor, at the door. So I blocked out the scene in my mind, and said, 'Hi! You don't remember me, do you?" Amos got in to audition with "God Bless the Child," but it wasn't until director Philip Rose told him he had a part that Rose realized his new actor didn't have an Equity card.
Wright landed the comic role of the feisty, vengeful Sister Boxer (which has been expanded because of audience reaction) by happy chance. She was in Houston working on her master's degree and got a call from Ruby Dee to audition for a New York production of "Zora Is My Name!," in which she had appeared with Dee and Ossie Davis at Howard University. "I flew to New York just to audition, and I was going to go right back, but Philip Rose was at the backers' audition and spotted me there--one of those lucky accidents."
Singing is relatively new to Wright--she was coaxed into auditioning for her first singing role in 1979. "But I've been around church all my life--my great-grandfather was a preacher here, so I'm drawing from that, and a lot comes back. They used to have to drag me to church. It's amazing the kind of things you absorb without knowing it." The gospel-inspired singing has put a strain on her vocal cords, and Wright is working with a sore throat.
"Amen Corner" is scheduled for a Nov. 10 opening at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre, which housed Lena Horne's one-woman show, and director Philip Rose says some fine-tuning is being done before the move. "We deleted one song, called 'It Ain't No Fault of His,' sung by Rhetta Hughes in the first act," Rose says. "It immediately followed the "Amen Corner" song, and after a few performances it became obvious that the back-to-back effect was holding things up. It was a wonderful song, and we hated to lose it, but sometimes you have to be willing to perform surgery and lose something beautiful."
Rose seems to be moving the show more toward musical comedy. The pace has been stepped up, he says, and the comedic portions have been emphasized. Rose says audiences have also played a part in reshaping the show. "Our original approach was very serious. But the audience has taught us something about the show. We've discovered what we have is a lovely human comedy with moments of pathos."