NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The new $172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center has had a successful debut, especially if you are measuring by ticket sales.
The first three performances of the Crossroads Theatre Company's production of "Paul Robeson" were sold out, according to spokesperson Mona Terrell.
"We are very pleased at the ticket sales," Terrell said. "We sold a lot of tickets at the ribbon-cutting ceremony (on Thursday). We are off to a great start."
Nathanial Stampley, who has has a vast array of theater credits on Broadway (Mufassa in "The Lion King), off-Broadway and on production tours, gave a powerful performance in the lead role of "Robeson" during opening night. His bellowing voice filled the Arthur Laurents Theatre on Saturday night as he brought New Brunswick's most revered native son to life.
During a promotion several weeks before the show's opening, Stampley revealed that in preparation to play the athlete/attorney/singer/actor/statesman, he visited Winants Hall on the Rutgers Campus. There, he visited Robeson's dorm room - one of the settings in the show.
The play's arrival in the city coincides with a yearlong celebration of Robeson's legacy on New Brunswick and beyond. Among the events commemorating his life, the city renamed Commerical Avenue to Paul Robeson Boulevard and his Rutgers marked the 100th anniversary of his graduation from the school at its commencement ceremonies.
"You can feel it in the city, on the campus," Stampley said. "You can feel his legacy everywhere you walk."
Stampley's performance was more remarkable when you consider it was interrupted when an audience member had a medical emergency in the first act. Then, during intermission, a fire alarm forced the NBPAC to be evacuated while fire officials check the building. Audience members waited outside for about 20 minutes before being allowed to re-enter.
There are just five more performances of "Paul Robeson" remaining, starting with Wednesday night's show.
Tickets are available at the Crossroads Theatre Company's website.