Shell – an acting veteran of myriad West End musicals, including The Lion King, Miss Saigon, Jesus Christ Superstar, Starlight Express, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Five Guys Named Mo, 125 Street and Dancing in the Streets - is the force behind the new gospel musical, The Legend of J James Jr, which he’s co-written with his 30-year-old son, Desmond Smith.
On Sunday, Shell – who also stars in The Legend of J James Jr – and his fellow company members performed “More Love to You” from the new show, which is staged and directed by two-time Whatsonstage.com Award nominee Jason Pennycooke, who has also been Olivier nominated this year for his performance in the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of La Cage aux Folles, now running at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre.
In the early 1960s, The James Singers are huge stars on the church gospel circuit. Papa, Mama J, Baby Sis, Little Mister and Jr have been singing together ever since the children could walk. Now Papa has a bigger dream for his family, and he’s arranged an audition with a record company. But his offspring want different things, especially Jr, who wants to be the next Sam Cooke and has the talent and looks to go all the way. Papa must watch from the sidelines as his son’s success eclipses his. Tragedy threatens to tear the family apart. Is love enough when money, ambition and stardom stand between them?
Joining Shell, who plays Papa, on the stage of the Prince of Wales on Sunday were: Victoria Wilson-James, Siam Hurlock, Coree Richards and Nathaniel Morrison, playing his wife and children – whose performance went down a storm with the capacity audience. The fictional James family is loosely based on the real-life group The Staple Singers, the Jackson 5 of gospel, who had hits including “I’ll Take You There”, “Let’s Do It Again” and “Respect Yourself” in the 1970s.
Ray Shell and Victoria Wilson James at the Whatsonstage.com Awards Concert
The American-born Shell has been working on The Legend of J James Jr since 2007, when he appeared at the Young Vic in Rufus Norris’ adaptation of Vernon God Little. Norris’ production incorporated various American folk music styles, which made the actor recall his own childhood musical influences. The music and life experiences of icons including Sam Cooke, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, who Shell met in 1981, all provided inspiration for the new piece.
Speaking about performing The Legend of J James Jr at the Whatsonstage.com Awards, Ray Shell said: “The audience reaction on Sunday night was just amazing. People kept asking us after the show: when can we see it? where is it going to be on? We were really encouraged by the response.”
Shell is now in talks with an Off-West End theatre about mounting a small-scale production, with a view to a subsequent transfer. Ahead of that, there are plans to release “More Love to You” as a single via Dress Circle. And, Shell adds, “we’d like to get other producers involved at an early stage to take it forward.”
For more information about The Legend of J James Jr and how to get involved, please email [email protected]. And to listen to a sample track of “More Love to You”, click on the WOS Radio icon below.
Siam Hurlock comes from a gospel background. As an actress her credits in TV/film and theatre include: Fix-Up (National Theatre), One and Only (BBC1), Dancing in the street (West End), The Kat and Tameka show (Hackney Empire), Soul sisters (John Lyons Theatre), East End of Chicago (Stratford East theatre), Tanisha's story (film), Dog Eat Dog (film), Hope and Glory (Channel 4), White Teeth (Channel 4), Voices of Colour (John Lyons Theatre). Siam has preformed in numerous West End theatres and toured around the UK as a principle lead (Diana Ross) in the hit Musical Dancing in the Streets.
Birmingham born and bred, Nathaniel Morrison developed his vocal skills from a very young age singing in The Pentecostal City Mission Church. He went on to pursue his performing arts career training at The Mountview Academy Of Theatre Arts, gaining a B.a (Hons) in Performance in 2005. Roles while training included Charlie Davenport In Annie Get Your Gun, Bobby In A Chorus Line, Mr Snow in Carousel (Bridewell Theatre) and Jesus in Godspell (B.A.C).
His professional theatre credits include his West End Debut as his ultimate idol Stevie Wonder in Dancing In The Streets (Uk tour and Cambridge Theatre), Followed by Jorge (the camp butler) in Tonight's The Night (Uk Tour), The Genie in Aladdin (Warwick Bridge House), Sunday Yuletide Singalong (Cochrane Theatre) and (Trevor Nunn's) Porgy and Bess (Savoy Theatre). Television credits include CD:Uk, supporting The Atomic Kittens, Alistair Mc Gowan's Big Impression:Eastenders Christmas Special and CBeebies Superheroes (Paparazzi).
Nathaniel has also featured as a Supporting Artist for Pato Banton and The Reggae Revolution (The National Indoor Arena, Birmingham), Lynden David Hall (Birmingham Drum Centre) and Anton Stephens:-As I Am (Arts Club, Mayfair). On the Cabaret scene, Nathaniel has performed At The Gala Casino (Queensway) and hosted his own cabaret alongside Ian Carlyle at Lauderdale House (Highgate) and The Stag Theatre (Victoria).
He is currently in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as Napthali (Adelphi Theatre) as well as The Founder of the New and Up and Coming West End Gospel Choir.
Jason Pennycooke is currently performing in the Olivier nominated musical 'La Cage Aux Folles' playing Jacob, for which he has also been nominated for Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Awards for best supporting actor in a musical.
As a choreographer he has worked on such musicals as Gershwin’s 'Porgy And Bess' directed by Trevor Nunn, 'Half A Sixpence' Kenwright No 1 Tour, Olivier nominated 'The Big Life' (also Whatsonstage.com Award nomination for choreography), and also resident director. Numerous musicals at regional Theatres. Pantos, Music Videos, numerous Operas, TV shows and Fashion Shows, one of which he won 1st prize for presentation for the Vidal Sassoon International Competition.
Coree Richards has always been on the forefront of the British Urban music scene. After being with the hugely successful Damage for nearly ten years, Coree is now creating a buzz with his solo material. With numerous top ten hits including "Love II Love" and "Forever" and the hugely successful ‘’Ghetto Romance’’ (which is still often heard at many of the top clubs today), as well as sell out tours across Europe, Damage cemented themselves as one of the biggest Urban acts the UK has produced.
Their self-titled debut album was released in spring 1997, along with two further UK Top 10 singles - "Love Guaranteed" and a cover version of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight", the latter reaching number 3. After an extensive touring schedule Damage returned to the UK music scene in spring 2001 with their Cooltempo Records' début, "Since You've Been Gone". As one of the prominent figures of the band together with Jade Jones (partner of Spice Girl Emma Bunton) and a voice which created the distinctive Damage sound, Coree has all of the tools and indeed the following to emulate and surpass the success of Damage.
Most recently Coree is working with Allen Glass the man behind people like Liberty X, Misteeq and the Lighthouse Family and to name a few legends Aretha Franklin, Earth Wind and Fire and George Benson.
Ray Shell has starred in many West End productions including AIN’T MISBEHAVIN, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD-WEBBER, LITTLE WILLIES Jr’s RESSURECTION, MISS SAIGON, KING, CHILDREN OF EDEN, 125th STREET, THE LION KING, GONE WITH THE WIND, STARLIGHT EXPRESS and created the role of ‘Nomax’ in the original National Theatre workshop production of FIVE GUYS NAMED MO.
Other theatre credits include, MASS CARIB, BLUES FOR MR CHARLIE (Tricycle Theatre), SWEENEY TODD (Holland Park), HAPPY END (Nottingham Playhouse), TWO TRAINS RUNNING (Tricycle Theatre), BLUES FOR MR CHARLIE (The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield), BLUES IN THE NIGHT (West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds ) GOLDEN BOY (Greenwich Theatre) and in America, THE ME NOBODY KNOWS, HAIR and THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER.
More recently, Mr Shell appeared as MC Romeo Marcell in DANCING IN THE STREETS, LaSalle in Rufus Norris’ production of VERNON GOD LITTLE at the Young Vic Theatre, he recently appeared in Che Walker’s musical workshop of BEEN SO LONG also at The Young Vic and starred as Sterling Johnson in Paulette Randall’s production of August Wilson’s RADIO GOLF at the Tricycle Theatre.
Mr Shell’s novel ICED has been published and toured internationally. It is soon to be a major motion picture produced by Lee Daniels Entertainment (MONSTERS BALL; THE WOODSMAN). His musical WHITE FOLKS was produced in concert at The Cochrane Theatre and a full production at the Pleasance Theatre, London. Ray has also produced, wrote and directed FLATSHARE, FREDERICK AVERY VISITS and STREET ANGELS. Mr Shell directed The Black Fashion Designers Show at the Royal Albert Hall, The Mango Lick Poetry Jam at The Royal Festival Hall. He has just directed the critically acclaimed production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre. Ray Shell is also CEO of www.angel22.tv, an internet television company.
VICTORIA WILSON JAMES
Statuesque, exotic and soulful - the unforgettable voice and powerful stage presence of Victoria Wilson James has earned her the title of “The Glamazon” by the British press. Victoria attended the Los Angeles Academy of Theatre Arts and the prestigious Phil Moore Singers Workshop in Hollywood, Ca. She combines her training and broad experience into her live performances which take the shape of an audio/ visual extravaganza. Like a chameleon ever changing colours, her repertoire spans from her numerous recordings ranging from heart-wrenching torch songs to gloriously infused global dance floor anthems.
Victoria initially tasted international success through her featured role on Soul II Soul’s chart topping hit “ A Dream’s A Dream”. Her performance in the sensational one time only World Tour of the band received rave reviews. The Village Voice praised her performance as a combination of Katherine Hepburn and Michael Jordan.
Following the success of her role with Soul II Soul, Victoria released her debut solo album, “Perseverance” which yielded the top 5 U.S. Billboard hit “Through” and boasted remixes by Frankee Knuckles and David Morales. “Reach 4 the Melody” taken fromher sophmore solo album Colourfields (SONY Dance Pool) produced by Alex Party and remixed by Boris Dlugosch topped dance charts around the world.
Victoria became co- front person for ground breaking techno-pop band The Shamen along side band member über globlal DJ Mr.C and through her tenure of 6 years, provided bangin’ vocals on several of their hits including “Destination Eschaton” and “Trans Amazonia” until the band’s amicable split in 1999, and shortly thereafter featured on Mr.C’s debut solo album on the hypnotic track “Circles of Love”.
Victoria returned to her love of musical theatre in a role which was especially created for her and alongside 80’s legend Kid Creole in the UK smash hit musical “Oh What A Night!”. She played the role of “Glinda” the good witch of the South in the UK production of the Tony Award winning musical, “The Wiz”, the role of “Missy Judson” in the European Premier of yet another Tony Award winning musical “Purlie” where both her performance and the production received overwhelming critical acclaim., portrayed Ella Fitzgerald in a new play “Lush Life” , by award winning playwright Paul Sirret. Victoria co-starred in her 1st UK film entitled “The Road to Damascus” directed by Academy Award winner Chris Munro. The film was submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for nomination consideration.
She could be heard calling everyone to arms featuring on Superchumbo’s dance global anthem “The Revolution” which was first release on Danny Tanaglia’s newly launched Twisted Records America label with subsequent releases on several über cool dance compilations which is still favoured by top clubs and DJs around the world. The glorious world beat album Avitas’s “A Course in Miracles” was released on exciting new label Thirteen(rec). and is her new home label. Victoria collaborated with Ralph Falcon from Miami based super duo Murk for the glorious Café Mambo 2005 on a track entitled Swim. In 2007, she re-teamed with Ralph Falcon on their smash hit “Need Someone” which stayed in the Billboard Club Play chart for 16 weeks and peaked at no 2.
(*Biographies are provided by the artists’ agents and have not been edited.)