Inside Broadway: Meet Aiesha Dukes, A New Face on the New York Theater Scene

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aiesha Dukes

*An actress, singer, dancer, and choreographer, newcomer Aiesha Dukes co-stars in the critically-acclaimed, off-Broadway musical comedy revue Me the People: The Trump America Musical at the Triad Theater in New York City. With book and lyrics by five-time Emmy Award winner Nancy Holson, directed and choreographed by Jay Falzone, and produced by Jim Russek, this show is the follow-up to the creative team’s production of Bush Wars, produced in 2006.

Me The People is a hilariously outrageous political satire of the Trump administration featuring the uber-talents of co-stars Mitchel Kawash, Richard Spitaletta, and Mia Weinberger. Dukes, who portrays nine different roles, is brilliant throughout the production, giving a particularly memorable performance with the ensemble during the Mar-a-Lago skit.

Kids love the new Secretary of Education. Special guest visitor, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gets a special welcome from Third Graders (l-r) Richard Spitaletta, Mitchel Kwash, Aiesha Dukes, Mia Weinberger — Photo Credit: Keith Sherman & Associates Public Relations

“I had a great audition,” says Dukes of landing the role in the new musical comedy. “I submitted my resume and was called in for an audition and it just clicked. I met Nancy Holson from a previous show when I worked on Wild Women of Planet Wongo. Nancy had worked with the producer of that production.” As for skewering the current resident of the White House, Dukes says she had no hesitation. “I’m behind the message [of this show] and I think comedy is a good way to deliver it. It struck a cord and connected with me,” she says.

Me The People leaves no stone unturned. Timely and topical, the 90-minute production addresses a wide range of topics and headlines in “red-white-and-orange America,” including segments of a mockumentary of “Nasty Woman,” the “Supremely Radical Court,” Ivanka and Jared, the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, Donald Trump’s connection to Russia, and Trump’s latest Twitter rants.

Working in the tight quarters of the Triad Theater—as well as performing comedy alongside a stellar cast—has been a delightful, rewarding experience for Dukes. “It brings the show to a strong focal point,” she says of the theater’s dimensions. “I think it’s a perfect venue for that message. The tightness gives power to what we’re saying, the lyrics and the words. We all get along well and are good friends. I love them and it’s been a joy to work with them.”

Paul Ryan Explains Trumpcare. Repeal, Replace and…whatever. Left to right: Richard Spitaletta, Mia Weinberger, Mitchel Kwash, Aiesha Dukes

“People are responding well to the show,” she continues. “As long as there’s something to talk about, we’re here to talk about it. The goal is to extend the show as long as it’s necessary. And for now, we are here [at Triad Theater] until the first of October.”

Born and raised as an only child in Edwardsville, Illinois’ third oldest city, Dukes grew up listening to jazz. Very early in her vocal development, her voice coach did not push the idea of her singing Disney-style music, feeling that the young singer’s voice didn’t lend itself to that genre. Instead, she exposed Dukes to jazz standards from such artists as Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald; popular music and classics by George Gershwin and Nat King Cole; and music from Rat Pack favorites Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.

Dukes received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. After college, she moved to Chicago for a year to build her résumé, working with various theater groups and dance companies, before heading to New York in 2012. That same year Dukes made her off-Broadway debut in Honestly Abe: The Musical at the Actors Temple Theater. In between other productions, she later appeared in Wild Women of Planet Wongo at the Parkside Lounge before securing the role of Me the People.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aiesha Dukes

As a singer and songwriter, Dukes spends her downtime in the recording studio creating music with producer Timothy Elliott. Though she says it difficult to categorize her music, she says it’s heavily influenced and inspired by the sounds of jazz artist and vocalese specialist Bobby McFerrin.

“I like to use a lot of layered vocals as instruments; I understand instruments enough to communicate to my producer,” she says. “[McFerrin] did this tour from his Circlesongs [project] where it was a group of [13] singers and one person would start with something low and rhythmic, and another person would come in, and all of the roles that the instrument played were done vocally. And I haven’t seen many other artists make use of the voice like that and hear music in that way. I just think it’s beautiful and it inspires how I hear music whenever I’m writing a song.”

A shining star on the rise in the theater world of New York, Aiesha Dukes says she’s right where she wants to be, though she says she will always be a girl from the Midwest. While she continues to mine laughs onstage for her work on Me the People, Dukes plans to finish recording her first album project and perform a few concert gigs around town.

gwendolyn quinn

Gwendolyn Quinn

Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is a contributor to NBCNews.com/NBCBLK.com, BlackEnterprise.com, Black Enterprise’s BE Pulse, Huffington Post, EURWEB.com, and Medium.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business.


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