“At Last.” Etta James.
If reading those words starts the soulful 1960’s hit playing in your head, then you will understand the supreme confidence director Stephawn P. Stephens had in handing the song to Jacquelyn Hawkins, the one performer, among his seasoned cast, making her stage debut in A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn at Anacostia Playhouse.
Their friendship began more than 25 years ago.
Stephawn: “I met Jackie through her Dad, James Hawkins. They sang as a Family group of her and her sisters. They were participating in a Howard Gospel Choir Concert and I was a soloist that evening with the choir. They sang with so much presence and power I had to find out who they were. Over the years, we became good friends. I happened to attend a youth service at Ebenezer AME Church and to my surprise, Ms. Hawkins was the guest preacher. She spoke with so much fervor, exuberance, and power that you felt the very presence of God in the room. I knew then that she was going to do great things.
“I have been doing theater all my life and I began my campaign to get her in a show. She graciously turned me down every time. I was directing a Christmas Cantata at my church and needed more soloists so I called on her to sing. She did not disappoint. Now some 15 years later she has finally consented and is bringing the house down along with the other fantastic cast members of Dew Drop.”
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Did she bring something special to rehearsals?
Stephawn: “She is such a bubbly infectious personality that all the cast took to her right away. Her wisdom of years has been a gift to the cast because she sings from her heart and the passion there reaches everyone.”
Does she get a specialty song or two?
Stephawn:“I have always wanted to get her to do a night club act but she is so church-y that she couldn’t see herself in that arena. I played a song for her one day by Donny Hathaway, “Given’ Up,” recorded by one of my favorite singers, Jennifer Holiday. She really enjoyed the song so when this opportunity came up I couldn’t resist the urge. I put it in the show. Along with “At Last.” But I must say every time she opens her mouth to sing its a special experience.”
Dew Drop is a tribute to juke joints, and in particular, the famous New Orleans Dew Drop Inn. Tell us about juke joints.
Stephawn: “Juke joints were places Black Folk could go to have a good time during Jim Crow. The laws prohibited them from attending white night clubs of the day. These back wood homey establishments were nothing more than a shack or old barn off the beaten path in the communities. You would find a makeshift stage with a ragtag band, homemade hooch or moonshine, some good sangin’ and if you were lucky somebody would be in the back frying up some gospel bird (chicken) or fish.
And there was always the occasional brawl to add extra excitement to the evening!!!”
Is there a story?
Stephawn: “There is no story for this show but there is a theme of Love, lost and found throughout the arc of the evening. There are moments of Tribute to Dinah Washington, Miller and Lyles Sketch and a point where the women give the audience some good advice and vice versa for the men.”
A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn closes September 21, 2019. Details and tickets
Anything you’d like to add?
Stephawn: “All the evening’s entertainment leads to folk wanting to be loved and appreciated. If you enjoy what you hear, you have an opportunity to show your appreciation by dropping a tip in the Kitty which sits by the edge of the stage.”