Debbie Allen and Maria Shriver presented Freeze Frame Gala Performance, “Architects of Change and The Conversation.” The world premiere set the stage and offered a platform as a call to action for everyone to get involved on the issue of gun violence. The star-studded event was held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills Thursday.
The performances were spectacular and the event was a huge success – on all levels – and premiered with a standing ovation from the audience. Allen, who is the co-owner and founder of The Debbie Allen Dance Academy [DADA] and multi-talented performer also acted in the controversial-themed production. Shriver who is a respected journalist and former First Lady of California, served as moderator for the discussion panel after the stage show.
The show which was written, directed and choreographed by Allen was a prelude to a panel discussion with a candid conversation about gun violence in America. The three-time Emmy Award-winning choreographer/director who was also honored with a standing ovation, hushed the audience with sincere gratitude. The packed audience listened intently as Allen said, “I know this is a different kind of show, but this needs to go around the world.”
Allen who showcased her acting chops in the thought-provoking play, showcased two very different characters. In her dual role, Allen played the wife of a minister – who is trying to win his son over and bring him back to the church. Allen plays the supportive mom and wife. In her other role, Allen plays a Hispanic woman who has lost both her daughter and granddaughter to gun violence. She is left with the grief of trying to raise her grandson who has gone mute after being traumatized by the ordeal, of losing his mother and sister. Allen, in her role, says that she can’t forgive [the gangbangers who took their lives] but that she prays to God every night. Allen was practically unrecognizable in the role as a Hispanic mother. Her Spanish dialect was superb. Though we are not surprised to see such talent in Debbie Allen, the characters are so raw that it gives you a feeling of inspiration as to why we love to see Allen on stage, as well as behind the camera. She is captivating, and had everyone in the audience in tune to her message. At one point, the audience was so quiet that all you could hear were sniffles. When the lights came up, there were no dry eyes in sight.
The Freeze Frame production was so moving and inspiring. The characters were all very relatable. The production consisted of young dancers, who at times stole the spotlight. They brought magic to the stage with the crafty and upbeat choreography. The way Allen brought together young and old performers was nothing short of brilliant. The production, which was also streamed live, was attended by a varied audience, and had something for everyone. Allen even managed to incorporate a basketball-themed dance skit, an ode to Norm Nixon, her husband who is a retired basketball player, perhaps. The basketball leader takes the stage and begs the question, “Am I in a gang?” This question he never really answers, but leaves it open for the audience to figure out.
The audience received a treat with beautiful individual performances by Vivian Nixon, the Broadway veteran showcased an array of traditional dances and was a stand-out on stage. Vivian is the real-life daughter of Debbie Allen, but was very believable in her role as a daughter of a drug-addict mom. She conveyed great emotions and brought the character to life. The entire cast was outstanding. There was a mixture of hip-hop, jazz, tap, ballet, and african dance. The production was a visual extravaganza.
There were many scenes that allowed you to put yourself in that moment to question what you would do if you were put in that type of situation. Tragedy does strike at the end, leaving the audience open to discussion about the what ifs, as it relates to gun violence and street gangs. At the end of the production, the names of slain victims are displayed on the stage screen to remind everyone that victims are real people who have lost their lives to gun violence.
Allen praised several audience members. She began by thanking her husband Norm Nixon. She honored Shonda Rhimes, whom she called, “The Queen of Television,” and it was obvious the love the two have for one another with their embrace, “Love you so much Shonda,” Allen said. She went on to thank Berry Gordy saying he was the “first person who ever gave DADA a dime.” Allen recognized her sister Phylicia Rashad, and Jada Pinkett Smith, both were in attendance. Allen said of Pinkett Smith, “She’s like a daughter to me.” Allen gave deep appreciation to Wallis Anneberg, saying in front of the packed audience, “Wallis Anneberg’s heart is as big as this building; her vision is bigger than this state; great human; greatest support of the Arts and young people.”
Among the celebrities who attended were Tony Goldwyn, Mary J. Blige, Lisa Ray McCoy, Corbin Bleu, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Kenny Lattimore, Dan Bucantinsky, David Bohnett, and many others.
Freeze Frame will have performances from February 5th-7th in Los Angeles. Oh, if you decide to catch the show, be sure to take some kleenex’s.
For more information on Freeze Frame, please visit http://www.debbieallendanceacademy.com/
Debbie Allen, Dylan Hockley’s mother (slain Sandy Hook student), and Maria Shriver at Freeze Frame LA