Broadway in the HOOD explores a new ’hood: Canada

Broadway in the HOOD has another ’hood.

One of The Smith Center’s resident companies since March 2015, Broadway in the HOOD (Helping Others Open Doors) has expanded its presence far beyond Las Vegas.

Anyone who’s ever spoken with Torrey Russell, BITH’s ebullient founder and artistic director, knows that one of his favorite words is “blessed.”

So while Russell acknowledged, in a recent phone interview, that he’s “blessed” to be in Canada with BITH, he offered a rare qualifier: “freezing in Halifax.”

It’s not the first time BITH has brought a show to Canada, but this one is an original: “Descendants.”

Subtitled “a musical history lesson,” the world premiere (which Russell wrote with Deidre Thompson) focuses on the fictionalized — and unlikely — Revolutionary War-era friendship between Edmund Fanning, a white Loyalist who escapes lynching as he flees North Carolina, and runaway slave David Sheppard, who saves Fanning’s life. They escape to New York and, ultimately, to Canada. (In real life, Fanning became lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, while Sheppard remained his slave.)

BITH veteran Justin Bryant — a former “Michael Jackson One” performer who’s heading to Broadway to join the “Hamilton” cast Dec. 19 — portrays Sheppard in “Descendants.” He’s one of 10 Las Vegans appearing alongside 10 Canadian cast members, according to Russell.

Following a six-city Canadian debut, “Descendants” will return in February for performances in Toronto and Montreal. Before then, however, BITH will be back at The Smith Center’s Troesh Studio Theater, presenting Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Not so long ago, Russell wondered whether BITH would have to leave Las Vegas and move to another location for good, after this summer’s free camp for more than 80 kids. (It’s free for participants, that is; the program, which Russell says costs more than $45,000 annually, is financed by donations, sponsorships and other community support.)

“I was definitely worried,” Russell acknowledges, noting he has “had to take on other projects for work to keep the organization going.”

He’s also had “three different offers to do BITH in other locations with funding already in place, but we are doing all we can to try and keep BITH in Vegas,” Russell adds. “It is a struggle by the minute” — but the kind of struggle where “I’m able to live my dream.”

Contact Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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