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Tony Award-winning director George W. Faison brings his talents and energy to one Richmond stage.

Steppin' Out


George W. Faison is all about energy. "Keep moving!" he says, and move he does. For more than 30 years, he has been thrilling audiences around the world with his magnificent moves on the dance floor.

Faison brings that boundless energy and talent to town as director/choreographer of "Bubbling Brown Sugar," a musical salute to the great jazz era in Harlem. The Broadway hit features songs made famous by legendary performers such as: Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Sophie Tucker and Fats Waller.

Working in spontaneous collaboration with his dancers, Faison tried to find the most natural way to integrate dance into the scenes. "Bubbling Brown Sugar" is a dynamic showcase of social dances such as the Swing, the Charleston, the Black Bottom. "I like to interject a lot of fun and wit," he says. "I try to anyway." Faison adds, "I've done a lot of shows with the dances of the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s."

It doesn't stop there, you name it, Fasion's done it.

George W. Faison has had his hands, or more appropriately, his toes in the creative success of hundreds of theatrical and dance productions. His earliest professional appearance was as Lauren Bacall's dance partner on a television special in the '60s. His Tony award-winning choreography could be seen in the Broadway hit musical "The Wiz" in the '70s, and more recently he was nominated for an Emmy for his work on "The Josephine Baker Story."

He has directed, choreographed for, or danced with the likes of Alvin Ailey, Betty Carter, Natalie Cole, Bill Cosby, Miles Davis, Melba Moore, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire. His countless projects include work in film, video, television, dance concerts and Broadway productions.

After three decades in the entertainment industry, one might think George Faison would be slowing down, but no, he is beginning yet another ambitious endeavor. He is in the process of converting an old firehouse in Harlem into a dance studio and theater. He used this new space — not far from the famous Apollo theater — to rehearse his troupe of dancers for their Richmond performance.

Working simultaneously on both projects is invigorating for Faison. He thrives on the energy. "There is a second renaissance happening in Harlem and so much of what is happening there right now is relevant in "Bubbling Brown," he says.

As a result of adding a couple of characters to the beginning, Faison says his reprise of the musical is "refreshingly different." "I've changed the feeling of the show; I've changed the flow." Faison plans to invite a few New York producers to his Richmond production.

"We're very hopeful for it," he says. "We have such a wonderful, enthusiastic young cast. This show is a history lesson for them because they weren't even born at that particular time. It's a great transferal of the legacy of that culture."

Looking back on his spectacular career and the hundreds of stars he worked with, it isn't easy to pinpoint the biggest thrill of his career. According to Faison, receiving the Tony for "The Wiz," has been "very sustaining" over the years, and receiving his first paycheck for dancing on national television is right up there. But the biggest thrill, Faison says, "is that you keep going and you keep growing. You never really stop dancing or stop singing or acting; you keep finding other avenues of expressing yourself."

Faison has found teaching another gratifying avenue. As visiting professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts, he finds great joy working with aspiring young talent. He understands them. He was just such a talented young man over 30 years ago when he left dental school, grabbed his tap shoes and headed for New York City.

Faison doesn't spend too much time looking back on his accomplishments. "There's always something else to do, somebody else to give to. There's always somebody else willing to learn what you've got. It's never ending," he says. "It's life. And it continues to affirm itself if you stay positive and hopeful."

Faison sums it all up with his best advice, "Keep moving!"

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