Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker

What makes this biomusical work so well is the combination of terrific period dance numbers depicting traditional vaudeville, ragtime, and roaring twenties dances with outstanding performances by the two Josephine Bakers. We see Joan Ruffin, as the older Josephine as she narrates the Baker story deftly until she ‘becomes’ her. But the real star is Aerial Williams as the younger Josephine. Aerial is a true beauty, a fabulous dancer/singer and an exquisite actor. She has a terrific stage presence that becomes electrifying. She has charm to spare yet is tough as need be. Aerial Williams gives a star-studded performance here.

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Things to Ruin: The Songs of Joe Iconis

Wikipedia would have us believe Things to Ruin is “A rock concert about young people hell bent on destruction and creation,” but it’s unlikely Wikipedia saw the production I did. For me, at its worst Things to Ruin is about a group of former high school theatre nerds (I use the term affectionately), now grown into struggling actors and wayward young adults, who hang around a bar exorcising the ghosts of their Emo years while bemoaning the failures of their present. At its best, the show sometimes manages to transcend the hallmark sound of musical theatre, relay a sentiment not entirely infantile, and actually land in genre (though typically it does not stray far from the roots of Rock). At its best, Things to Ruin is very good; at its worst, it’s mawkishly sentimental. The good news: it’s more often at its best.

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Into the Empty Sky

The stand-out performances, I noted, were experienced Trap-Dôrsists Halie Ecker, Marzena Bukowska, and Kelsey Rhiann Shipley: their presence had that sine qua non quality—in their physical movements; the credulity in their eyes; and, most especially, the expressive skill of their voices that transcended the “poetry” of the poetry to communicate its meaning clearly (cf. a coherent Shakespearian actress).

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Objects In The Mirror

Objects In The Mirror is his best to date!. This work is based on the true experiences of Shedrick Yarkpai, an actor living in Australia and a former immigrant from West Africa. Charles Smith met Shedrick Yarkpai when he played in Smith’s Free Men of Color in Adelaide, Australia. The actor and the playwright became friends and, over time, Shedrick Yarkpai told Smith his story of his more than ten year journey from war-torn Liberia as well as migrant camps in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire to Australia.

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We’re Gonna Die

In 60 minutes we hear about a peculiar older man lulling himself to sleep with the phrase, “I’m a piece of shit” (the most intriguing story of the night); we hear how childhood friendships can sadly end spontaneously without any reason; we hear the advice of a grandmother who talks about growing old, losing one’s mind, and seeing everyone you know die; and we hear even more advice from a 30-something divorcée (whose ex was scum) who consoles our Singer with the knowledge that someday we will die, the pain will end, and someone will cry for us. Surely some weighty stuff.

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Cabaret at The Theatre at the Center

Cabaret’s opening, “Willkommen” (one of the best ever of a Broadway musical) must create the sleazy atmosphere of the 1930 Berlin club. Sean Fortunato is powerfully enticing as the Emcee. He uses the eye-popping expressions and campy style to make his Emcee the featured persona at the Klub. He welcomes us into his world. With the terrific Kit Kat Girls and the sweet Kit Kat Boys; the Kit Kat Club has a staff of deliciously sexy performers. Linda Fortunato’s opening choreography was innovative and original.

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Paradise Blue

With original trumpet jazz music played in part by Al’ Jaleel Mcghee, the actor-musician playing Blue the owner of the Paradise jazz club in 1949 in Detroir’s Black Bottom neighborhood, playwright Dominique Morisseau has mounted a haunting urban drama. This is an enticing work with strong characters each caught in an urban struggle that finds city hall moving to displace a black neighborhood for an Interstate Highway. Black Bottom was home to dozens of jazz night clubs where black musician could play and develop their craft uninhibited.

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Tight End

In small town, Midwest, USA, football is based on tradition, on which then legend itself is built: just ask Ash’s late father, whose name became legend and his story myth after he beat the town’s rival football team during Homecoming so many years ago. Ash Miller (Bryce Saxon) wishes to live that legend—or, rather, she only wishes to play the sport she loves with the same hustle and success as her father—but as herself, regarded as her own person.

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My Fair Lady at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

The current production of My Fair Lady was initially directed by Robert Carsen for Paris’s Theatre de Chatelet with this “revival” being staged by Olivier Fredj. With British stars Richard E. Grant as Henry Higgins and Nicholas Le Prevost as Colonel Pickering, this Broadway at Lyric production as a ‘very British’ sensibility. Americans who play Higgins (Nathan M. Hosner, Kevin Gudhal, and Nick Sandys among others) give Higgins a sharper bitter edge than Britishers like Richard Grant do. That is not to say that Grant’s performance as Higgins wasn’t superb, it was. It’s just that he has a the English gentleness that American audiences are not used to. Lisa O’Hare (who did the 2008 American tour produced by Cameron Mackintosh) was splendid as Elisa as she sang well and presented a strong Elisa who stood up to Higgins effectively.

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