The Ensemble Theatre kicked off the World Premiere of Holiday Musical More Than Christmas, November 14, 2019. The phenomenal female creative leadership team shares their thoughts for developing the show and their hopes for it in the future.
“Our journey developing this exciting world premiere has brought together not only a group of amazing women, but an incredible ensemble of artists, designers, and technicians who are all very proud to share this story with the world,” says Eileen J. Morris, The Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director. “We are humbled and thankful for the generous support of all our funders who helped make this work possible.”
More Than Christmas book and lyrics are by playwright Celeste Bedford Walker, music and lyrics by composer Stephanie Blue, directed by Eileen J. Morris, and stars Broadway Actress Vivian Reed most known for her career igniting performance in the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar.
The Ensemble Theatre was able to commission the development of More Than Christmas under the BOLD Theatre Women’s Leadership Circle Grant funded by the Pussycat Foundation. The Ensemble Theatre was one of five inaugural recipients of this funding initiative geared towards developing women’s leadership in the arts. In addition, the theatre received support from the Texas Commission on the Arts Cultural District Grant to assist in further development of the play.
“My goal in writing this story was to bring forth something relatable and timeless,” says Walker. “The holidays or any gathering with emphasis on family togetherness can heighten emotions, stretch our patience, and expose that which makes us vulnerable to those we rely on to stay grounded in this world.
Bedford Walker (Playwright)
Celeste Bedford Walker’s award-winning canon includes over forty plays, videos, documentaries and films that have been performed and viewed in major venues across the country. She has received numerous commissions to write dramas, comedies, and musicals for theaters, schools, museums, and organizations. She is honored to be commissioned to write the musical More Than Christmas as part of the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle grant, under leadership of The Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director, Eileen Morris.
Recognized by the U.S. Congress for her historical contribution as producer and author of works that bring to light lost stories of African American history, Walker has received several honors and awards in theatre which include The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Image and Theatre Awards for Best Playwright/Best Play for positive portrayal of Blacks in the media; the National Black Theatre Festival’s August Wilson Playwriting Award for significant contributions to Black and American Theatre; Houston Ensemble Theatre’s Salute to Texas Playwrights, New York’s AUDELCO nominations and awards, Memphis Tennessee’s Gyneka Award, finalist in the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Outstanding Work by a Female Playwright; finalist in 38th Annual Samuel French OOB Short Play Festival, and others.
Walker’s work is also featured in the anthology Acting Up and Getting Down, published by the University of Texas Press. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and was inducted into membership of the Texas Institute of Letters, a distinguished honor society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and recognize distinctive literary achievement.
Walker’s eclectic plays are timeless and universal, embracing the sacred and the mundane, the serious and the comic, but what they all have in common is an awesome delight in the wisdom and the witlessness of the human condition.
Stephanie Blue (Composer & Lyricist)
A native Houstonian, Stephanie York Blue is a 1981 graduate of the High School for Performing and Visual Arts and has a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Texas Southern University. She has been teaching in Houston ISD for thirty-three years and is currently the piano instructor at Henry F. MacGregor Elementary School. Stephanie first served as pianist and organist at Bethel Baptist Church for twenty years and then at Windsor Village United Methodist Church for 10 years where she accompanied several choirs. She is currently on the music staff at Jones Memorial UMC and has served as Music Director for the show Motown And More for Bace Productions, and most recently, the Music Director for HSPVA’s Black History Production of Fela!
Stephanie has been involved in the musical theatre community through Theatre Under The Stars for fourteen years. She has toured Canada with blues singer Ruthie Foster and has worked with many gospel recording artists including Kathy Taylor, Lamar Campbell and DeWayne Woods.
She wrote and co-wrote several songs for Sunday, The Musical, which was later made into a BET premiere motion picture entitled Church. Stephanie enjoys sharing her musical talents and gifts with the Houston community, be it Sunday morning worship, or playing the piano with the Conrad Johnson Jazz Orchestra. She has been married to Lee Blue for twenty-six years.
Eileen J. Morris (Director)
As Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre, Eileen has produced over 87 productions which include eight world premieres, over 64 regional premieres and directed over 80 productions throughout her career. She is part of the First Cohort of the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle and was named the 2017 Houston Women Magazine 50 Most Influential Women, Broadway World Houston Awards Best Director for Sassy Mamas and received the 2016 Houston Press Theater Award for Best Director for August Wilson’s Fences. Her most recent Ensemble Theatre directing credits include School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play, Freeda Peoples, Too Heavy For Your Pocket, ‘da kink in my hair, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Eighth Day of the Week, Front Porch Society, Sassy Mamas, Plenty of Time, Detroit ’67, What I Learned in Paris, Women in the Pit, and By the Way Meet Vera Stark to name a few. Under her artistic leadership, The Ensemble Theatre received the 2013 Houston Press Best Season Theater Award and has performed at The Winston Salem- National Black Theatre Festival for the past ten years.
In Pittsburgh, she directs annually with the New Horizon Theater and has ties that include Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theatre, Kuntu Repertory Theatre, and City Theatre. In Houston, her directing credits include the 2016 Houston Grand Opera world premiere of What Wings They Were: The Story of Emeline and the 2010 Alley Theatre’s production of I, Barbara Jordan. In 2017 she received the Black Theatre Network’s Larry Leon Hamlin Award, the BCCM Kim Kupp Award, and was recognized as one of Houston’s Top 50 Black Professionals and Entrepreneurs by D-MARS.com. She is a 2016 recipient of the PACE Foundation Community Award and received the 2016 Houston Community College – Central Campus Unstoppable Leaders Award. Currently, she serves as secretary on the board of the Theatre Communications Group, board member, secretary and Cultural Arts Committee Chair of the Midtown Management District, a board member of the Black Theatre Network and a newly appointed board member of the Houston Cinema Arts Society.
A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Eileen holds the distinct privilege of being the ONLY woman in the country to direct eight plays of the August Wilson Ten Play Cycle.
Vivian Reed (Lead Actress)
Vivian Reed is a multi-award-winning Broadway actress including two TONY Award Nominations, A Drama Desk, Mabel Mercer, NAACP, Dance Educators of America, Outer Critics Circle and more. Her tenacity and innovation propelled her into international success in the acclaimed musical Bubbling Brown Sugar, for which she created the role of “Young Irene.”
Her credits include: Tartuffe, Damn Yankees, Show Boat, Marie Christine, Sophisticated Ladies, Blues In The Night, Tintypes, Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd, Bubbling
Brown Sugar, High Rollers, Hallelujah Baby, More than a Song, One For My Baby, Countess of Storyville, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Cookin’ at the Cookery, The Second Tosca, Pork Pie and Invisible Life.
Vivian is also the creator four one-woman shows: An Evening with Vivian Reed, Standards and More, Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne and Little Bit of Soul, Little Bit of Pop. She has performed in major theaters and clubs around the world. www.vivianreed.com