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A musical 'Twist' (as in Oliver), up next at the Pasadena Playhouse

June 18, 2011 | 11:00 am

Tena Tena Clark has written and produced hit songs for Dionne Warwick, LeAnn Rimes and Patti LaBelle, been nominated for a Grammy Award (“Way Up There”), founded a company called DMI Music and Media Solutions, and written jingles for McDonald’s.

But she says none of those successes compare to her current undertaking, writing the songs for a new American musical, “Twist,” which opens next week at the Pasadena Playhouse. The work is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” set in Depression-era New Orleans. Shortly before its opening, Clark was calling it  “my legacy piece. I spent love, blood and tears over this.”

“Twist” is not only Clark’s first musical, but also a show whose themes and characters hit close to home.
The protagonist is a mulatto orphan in 1928 New Orleans named Twist, the child of an aristocratic white mother and a black song-and-dance man. Though Clark  is not biracial, she found herself identifying with Twist’s struggle to fit in as a “color no one likes.”

To read the Arts & Books preview, click here.

--Sophia Lee

Photo: Composer-lyricist Tena Clark, left, has an animated conversation with director and choreographer Debbie Allen at the Pasadena Playhouse as they work on rehearsals for "Twist." Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times