Stealing Scenes and Hearts on and off Broadway

Two Brandeis acting alumni get their big breaks center stage in New York

J. Bernard Calloway brings down the house as Delray.
J. Bernard Calloway brings down the house as Delray.

Breaking into the theater is said to be a nearly impossible challenge — especially if you have your heart set on a performance career. But two young alumni of Brandeis’ acting program have recently heaped up kudos on the New York stage.

You may have seen him milling about as a guard or corrections officer in “Law and Order.” You may have seen him playing Sgt. Moran in “The Taking of Pelham 123” with Denzel Washington and John Travolta. But you haven’t seen J. Bernard Calloway, M.F.A. ’00, the way Broadway sees him unless you’ve been to the Shubert Theater to witness him bringing down the house in “Memphis,” the smash hit that captured this year’s Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award in the “best musical” category. “Memphis” deals with controversy, thrill and heartbreak surrounding the introduction of sizzling-hot black rock-and-roll music to the Tennessee airwaves in the 1950s. Calloway, 33, was named the “Scene Stealer of the Week” last year for his off-Broadway role in “The Good Negro” at New York’s Public Theater. He made his Broadway debut in “Memphis” as Delray, an entrepreneurial nightclub owner who tries to protect his songstress sister, Felicia, even while promoting her art and career. His two songs, “She’s My Sister” and “Love Will Hold,” are central to the plot, and a reporter for the Huffington Post singled him out as “a new Broadway star.”

Sheldon Best
Sheldon Best as Templeton
For Sheldon Best ’08, the big break came even earlier in his career. Cast in a dazzling array of professional roles almost since the day of his graduation, the 24-year-old garnered rave reviews in June as the lead character in “Freed,” at off-Broadway’s 59E59 Theaters. The play focuses on John Newton Templeton, a former slave who was given his freedom in 1813 (long before the Emancipation Proclamation) and became the first African-American to attend a Midwest college. Online reviewer Oscar E. Moore said Best “could very well be the next Denzel Washington” and termed his performance “noble, heroic, honest and passionate.”

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