*As Sheldon Epps stepped up to the stage following nearly two hours of emotional tributes to him at the Pasadena Playhouse event, he looked up at his face on the projector looming above and quipped, “Not a bad looking fellow.”
The audience cracked up!
A humble man with a magical voice that has moved so many during his 20-year tenure at the Pasadena Playhouse, Epps was clearly moved by the tremendous outpouring of love and gratitude those in attendance at his celebration, Sheldon At The Playhouse, was there to extend.
Epps also makes history as holding the longest tenure of any artistic director of color at a large regional theatre.
“It is a very rare thing indeed when the right person appears in the right situation; and when that happens, we celebrate!” said actress Angela Bassett, who wasn’t in attendance, but sent her congratulations. Bassett and husband, actor Courtney Vance, are Honorary co-Chairs at the Playhouse. “For those of us who lived through the rebirth of the venerable Pasadena Playhouse, what Sheldon Epps did in shepherding our community through that dark period of the past into the light of the future was nothing short of miraculous. For that, and for many other reasons, we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sheldon,” the What’s Love Got to Do With It star concluded.
Through productions such as Fences, A Night with Janis Joplin and Fly, as well as several other productions that have gone on to Broadway, and individual accolades and awards, Epps’ legacy is firmly secured among the great American artistic directors.
“Sheldon Epps. What a wonderful name! A man of passionate charm and tremendous energy,” said Richard Chamberlain, an actor who says even in his youth he was aware of the Pasadena Playhouse and wondered what it would be like to “actually act on its stage.” Best known to older audience members as the star of the 1960s TV series, Dr. Kildare, as well as the mini series, The Thorn Birds, Chamberlain adds, “Lo and behold Sheldon called me and said, How about being a part of my production of The heiress, a wonderful play.”
Randy Johnson (creator of A Night with Janis Joplin)
“What can I say about Sheldon that I don’t call him every week and say myself,” said Randy Johnson, who wrote the fabulous play, “A Night With Janis Joplin,” which was produced at Pasadena Playhouse earlier this year. “He is the best collaborator. He provides safe sanctuary for the director.”
Johnson says he didn’t really understand all of that before working with Epps. He told the enthusiastic audience that the play about Joplin was written six years ago.
“It came out of my head and onto the paper in 10 days. Four months later, 40 thousand people had seen it,” says Johnson. He also said at the time the play was three hours long.
“Sheldon took me to ‘one of those lunches’ and he was very nice. He said, ‘Randy, you know, Janis doesn’t have to sing every song she ever heard.”
“We’ve done three wonderful shows together,” said vocalist and actress Yvette Cason.”I thank you for always inviting me to play in your sandbox.” She dedicated the song, You’ve Got A Friend to the director.
I want to talk about Sheldon and his work with introducing kids to the arts. Sometimes that goes unspoken. For the past five years we’ve had the absolute pleasure of doing the ‘Panto at The Playhouse,’ said Kris Lythgoe who, along with his wife Becky, is a co-producer of Panto. “It was without a doubt his foresight to bring the Panto to the playhouse. Under his leadership, five thousand students from Title I schools came to see the arts for the first time. That’s just changing lives. That’s the thing with Sheldon, he likes changing lives.”
“He does the technical things, I do the emotional,” said Becky Lythgoe. “We have so many people coming and going in our life, and so few affecting change and leaving footprints on our hearts the way that Sheldon Epps does. From the moment that you meet him you know that you are surrounded by greatness.
“All theatre people want to entertain, but Sheldon was always dedicated to sparking dialogue; to challenging you to change minds and hearts” said host Wayne Brady, who, along with many of the speakers shared the first thing he noticed about Sheldon was that voice.
Wayne first worked with Epps on the production of ’12 Angry Men,’ and also worked with him on Kiss Me Kate. Brady adds, “The ensemble he created on ’12 Angry Men’ was incredible. I forged incredible friendships. We still get together. We still call each other by our numbers (the audience laughs). I was number 8. And that only happened because Sheldon created that environment. Brady says Epps creates and environment that “is safe. Safe so that you can be as dangerous as you need to be on stage. Safe so that you can be both. And he did that. He led by example. By sharing.
The actor had audience members cracking up when he shared how Epps would smile to himself and then go into “That reminds me of a time…”
“Stop whatever you’re doing,” he adds, “because you are getting ready to hear a phenomenal story.”
Stories and experiences. We all think we’re going to live forever. Nobody wants to die. But when an artist is on their death bed, nobody talks about the money they made. Nobody talks about their fame. Nobody talks about the awards. OK, maybe that’s a little bit of a lie, some people…But they talk about the experiences they’ve had and the people who impacted their lives for the better.”–Wayne Brady
Actress Kacee Clanton, who starred in the Pasadena Playhouse productions, Breaking Through and A Night With Janis Joplin, performed two songs.
“I want to thank you Sheldon for looking at me and seeing me as an artist. Not for seeing what I was, but for seeing what I could be” said actress Casey Clanton, who was directed by Epps in the production, Breaking Through. “You saw a diamond in the rough, and you were my chisel sometimes. And my polishing cloth, and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.”
Actor Dorian Harewood performed a song from the Playhouse production of the original musical, Play On.
A woman who introduced Harewood said, “His performance in Streamers on Broadway was so powerful Sheldon chased him down the street after the performance.
“Other than our visionary founder, Gilmore Brown, I can’t think of any other person in our hundred year history who has made a bigger impact on the Pasadena Playhouse,” Danny Feldman, producing artistic director at The Pasadena Playhouse, said of Sheldon Epps. “Sheldon produced well over a hundred main stage productions including musical; many of which he directed himself…To me, Sheldon’s most important work here was creating a theatre that boldly said, ‘everyone is welcome.’ Sometimes at odds with his own community, he persevered to make sure that the shows on our stage gave voice to multiple cultures and backgrounds. He paved the way in this regard and inspired so many others.
In honor of Epps’ work and the vision he realized over his 20 year tenure at the Pasadena Playhouse, the artists entrance of the theatre will be named Epps Alley.
This naming is especially endearing to the director, and a statement from The Playhouse reveals…
“The artists’ entrance is especially dear to Sheldon’s heart because it is where all artists enter the world of the theater and it leads directly into the Greenroom which is named after his parents.”
Epps’ will no doubt continue to break through barriers and inspire others as he embarks on new endeavors. It is, after all, the stuff that he is made of.
All the best to you, Sheldon Epps!