4:54 PM / Saturday April 1, 2023

12 Feb 2012

Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 brings home Ethel Waters’ story with the world premiere of “ETHEL!”

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February 12, 2012 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Terry Burrell as Ethel Waters in Ethel! at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3.

(Photo: Walnut Street Theatre)


Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 is proud to bring back the spirit of Philadelphia’s own Ethel Waters with her life stories and memorable songs in Ethel! Written by and starring Broadway’s Terry Burrell, this world premiere begins with previews on February 21st, opens February 23rd and runs through March 11th in the intimate Independence Studio on 3.


She was saucy. She was talented. She was a star. Ethel Waters grew up in difficult circumstances right outside of Philadelphia, in Chester, PA, in the early 1900s. She found a way to make a life for herself. She used colorful language, rough men and good old American street skills to work her way into a career that led to hit records, Broadway shows and even an Academy Award nomination – the second African American actress to ever be nominated. Ethel! entertains with personal stories of Waters’ life and unforgettable songs, including “Dinah,” “Heebie Jeebies,” “Taking a Chance on Love” and “Stormy Weather.”


Singing and dancing from an early age, Waters stepped onto the Harlem nightclub scene in the 1920’s. She introduced the world to “Stormy Weather,” written for her by Harold Arlen, at the Cotton Club. This performance sparked Irving Berlin to write “Supper Time” for Waters to perform in a Broadway review. Ethel! celebrates the life of this strong, no-nonsense, self made woman; a life to be proud of. “She had a real passion for what she did. She earned her living in the world by fulfilling her passion. That is what I aspire to,” said author and star, Terry Burrell. Burrell felt it important to tell Waters’ story, a woman that came from nothing and made something of herself in spite of it. She worked and fought hard for what she had.


Ethel Waters was not only a singer, with 3 recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, but an actress. With no official training, Waters performed on many Broadway stages and was, at one time in the 1930’s, the highest paid performer on Broadway. Her natural talent was recognized with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in the 1949 film “Pinky.” In 1950, she won the New York Drama Critics Award for her performance in the play “The Member of the Wedding.” This production had its pre-Broadway tryout at the Walnut Street Theatre in 1949. Ethel Waters was a member of the cast and performed on the Walnut’s Mainstage.


The Walnut is glad to welcome back Terry Burrell as the author and star of Ethel!. Burrell’s first appearance at the Walnut was made during the pre-Broadway tryout of “Eubie” in 1978. Similar to Ethel Waters years before, “Eubie” made its way to Broadway, and Burrell went with it making her Broadway premiere. Since then, this Trinidad born performer has charmed Broadway audiences in “Three Penny Opera,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Swinging On A Star,” “Into The Woods,” “Dreamgirls” and “Honky Tonk Nights.”


Burrell played Julie in Harold Prince’s London production of “Showboat,” a roll she has played more recently at Signature Theatre in D.C. Additional credits include Off Broadway performances of “Almost Heaven,” “And The World Goes Round” and “Taking a Chance On Love,” “America” Radio City Music Hall Concerts for Jazz In July at the 92nd Street Y, The Duke Ellington Orchestra in Venice and the Oslo Jazz Festival. She was honored with nominations for Helen Hayes Awards for her work in both Queenie Pie and Showboat.

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