Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ron himes’

Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope
Music and Lyrics by Micki Grant
Conceived by Vinnette Caroll
Original Production Music Direction and Arrangements by Danny Holgate
Directed by Ron Himes

Choreographed by Kirven Douthit-Boyd
The Black Rep
September 7, 2019

Cast of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope
Photo: The Black Rep

The Black Rep is beginning their new season with another memorable musical production. Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope is a revue that ran on Broadway in the early 1970s, and this production presents it as both of its time and timeless. With a strong cast, great vocals, and remarkable dancing, this is a show that both entertains and challenges.

As I’ve written before, I’m not usually particularly keen on revues, since most of them come across more as staged concerts designed to showcase hit songs rather than fully conceived theatrical experiences.. Fortunately, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope isn’t a usual revue. It’s not a “jukebox” show, for one thing, with an entirely original score by Micki Grant, including some especially memorable melodies. It also as a cohesive theme, so even without much dialogue it tells a convincing story–or rather, several convincing stories. Focusing on various aspects of the African-American experience, and particularly life in the city, this show is remarkable for its specificity as well as its overall humanity, as well as its variety of musical styles, from rock, pop and jazz to blues, soul, gospel and more. The show, which opened on Broadway in 1972, addresses themes that were particular for its day but also are especially timeless. There are songs about life in various neighborhoods, as well as about dance, music, relationships, church, and resisting oppression, and overall about the experience of life with trials and tribulations, but ultimately with a sense of determination and hope for progress. Although most of the cultural references are from the early 70s, there have been occasional modern references added. The musical arrangements reflect the 70s origins of the piece, but are also accessible for today’s audiences, and the focus on storytelling through song and dance is especially effective in the hands of this excellent cast–Drummond “Drum” Crenshaw, Robert Crenshaw, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Sieglinda Fox, Herman Gordon, Amber Rose, Camille “Cee” Sharp, Denise Thimes, Keith Tyrone, Alison Brandon-Watkins, and Tyler White.

What stands out about this piece for me is, of course, the great cast, but also the sheer sense of musicality about it, in singing and dancing, in the accompaniment provided by the first-rate band led by the Black Rep’s veteran musical director, Charles Creath and through the vibrant choreography of Kirven Douthit-Boyd. The featured dancers (Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Brandon-Watkins, Robert Crenshaw, Tyrone, and White) are especially strong, from poignant and evocative ballet, to energetic tap, and more. Although the whole cast is strong, Thimes, White, and Fox have particularly outstanding vocal moments.

The atmosphere and emotion is maintained and augmented in the technical aspects of the show, as well, from  Margery and Peter Spack’s evocative unit set, to the stunning use of projections throughout the various performances, to Joe Clapper’s atmospheric lighting and Andre Harrington’s costumes that reflect a 70s influence, like the show itself. This is a revue, but with memorable original music and a unified theme and message. It’s a stirring, effective work that showcases the excellent theatrical and musical tradition of the Black Rep.

The Black Rep is presenting Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until September 22, 2019

Read Full Post »

Nina Simone: Four Women
by Christina Ham
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
May 25, 2019

Denise Thimes, Leah Stewart, Camille Sharp, Alex Jay
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is closing out its 42nd season with a powerful musical document, Nina Simone: Four Women, showcasing the life and music of the legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist, compared and contrasted with other black women set amidst the race-based violence in 1960s Alabama, the show highlights events and issues in a historical context as well as pointing out their universal importance. It’s also a remarkable showcase for some truly stellar performances and production values.

The time is September, 1963. The place, the ruins of the 16th Street Baptist Church following the bombings that killed four young black girls. The play opens with a recital by the renowned singer Nina Simone (Leah Stewart), which is interrupted by a jarring explosion. Then, we see Simone in the ruins of the church, rehearsing at the piano and working on a new song, her first protest song “Mississippi Goddam’. Amid the violence outside (as police turn water hoses on protesters and black passersby), Simone is introduced to three women from different walks of life. First there is Sarah (Denise Thimes), who works as a maid for a white family and is referred to in the program as “The Strongest Black Woman in the World”. Eventually, they are joined by young activist Sephronia (Alex Jay), who the program describes as “The Mulatto That Lives Between Two Worlds”, and another young woman identified as Sweet Thing (Camille Sharp), described as “The Sweetest Hips Money Can Buy”, and who has an adversarial connection with Sephronia that is revealed in more detail as the story plays out. The story is told in conversations, and in memorable music mostly in the jazz and gospel genres, including “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again”, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”, “To Be Young Gifted and Black”, the aforementioned “Mississippi Goddam”, and the memorable closing number “Four Women” in which the four main characters each get a chance to shine. It’s essentially a character study and an examination of the impact of systemic racism on people–and particularly women–who all experience the impact of racism even as they themselves differ in terms of class, background, education, philosophies of protest, and attitudes toward one another. Also, while the four adult main characters are the focus, the presence of the young girls who were killed in the bombings is constantly referenced, emphasizing the great tragedy of the bombings and the desire–and need–for change.

The performances here are nothing short of stellar, with rich portrayals and powerhouse voices all around. The contrasting personalities are portrayed with profound energy and strong ensemble chemistry, as these women tell their stories and get to know one another. It’s difficult to single out one standout, as all four are equally excellent, with strong acting and even stronger singing from Stewart as the determined Simone, Thimes as the world-weary Sarah, Jay as the determined Sephronia, and Sharp as the brash, confrontational Sweet Thing. This is a tour-de-force from all four performers, with standout musical performances individually as well as impressive harmonies on the group numbers.

The production values are always excellent at the Black Rep, but they especially impress here, with a remarkably detailed and evocative set by Tim Jones that suggest the time and place with a striking credibility. There are also excellent period costumes by Nikki Glaros, strong choreography by Heather Beal, and superb musical direction by Charles Creath. As great as everything is technically, special note needs to go to the lighting and sound in this production, as lighting designer Sean Savoie and sound designer Justin Schmitz especially evoke time, place, and mood and contribute to the profoundly affecting atmosphere of the production, and its context.

Nina Simone: Four Women is, simply speaking, a must-see, and a must-hear. Conveying its profound message through character and song, it sheds light on an important period in history, as well as a legendary musical figure and an always important message of agency and rising against oppression. It’s a truly remarkable production from the Black Rep.

Leah Stewart, Denise Himes
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is presenting Nina Simone: Four Women at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until June 2, 2019

Read Full Post »

Canfield Drive
by Kristen Adele Calhoun and Michael Thomas Walker
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
January 16, 2019

Christopher Hickey, Kristen Adele
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is, as far as I have seen, the second major local theatre company to produce an original full-length play based on the devastating events in Ferguson in 2014. The Michael Brown shooting and its aftermath, along with the aftermaths of other police-involved shootings and the issue of ingrained systemic racism in St. Louis and around the country, is an important topic that will most likely inspire many theatrical productions. The Black Rep’s latest, Canfield Drive, is a four-person, many character play that starts with Ferguson but covers a multitude of issues stemming from that incident, and taking a much more direct, personal approach than the previous major local Ferguson play.

Unlike that previous play, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s thoughtful Until the Flood, The Black Rep’s Canfield Drive has more of a straightforward dramatic structure instead of being essentially a collection of monologues. Like the previous work, though, this show covers a variety of perspectives and is the result of a series of interviews with locals concerning the events. This show, though, makes the story more personal by centering it around specific lead characters, particularly Imani (Kristen Adele) and Brad (Christopher Hickey), who are commentators on a news program called Battleground, which covers the Ferguson events from the beginning, from the shooting itself to the protests and controversy that followed. Imani, who is black, and Brad, who is white, have decidedly different takes on the issues from the beginning, but we don’t just get to see their on-air debates. We get to see how the events affect their relationship as colleagues and how the events and the atmosphere that results effect them personally. The focus is slightly more on Imani, who has personal issues beyond Ferguson to deal with as well, and it’s her journey that provides the emotional heart of this story, although the initially obtuse Brad also gets a credible arc. In addition to these two characters, there is Marcus (Eric Conners), the host of the television show, and Rebecca (Amy Loui), a production assistant, although all four actors play multiple roles in addition to their primary ones. Through the course of the show, which takes place over a number of months, we see the perspective of the Battleground participants as well as an array of other voices, from Ferguson and St. Louis locals to national figures in the world of politics and academia. While the tone is mostly dramatic, there are also moments of biting satire, such as segments based on the television shows America’s Funniest Home Videos and Barney and Friends. This is a show that isn’t afraid to challenge its viewers, which is especially effective considering the importance of the subject matter.

The show has a brisk pace, transitioning seamlessly between the main setting and the various other perspectives presented, aided by the excellent, somewhat abstract multi-level set and striking video design and production by Peter and Margery Spack. There’s also impressive lighting design by Jim Burwinkel, detailed costumes by Marissa Perry, and strong sound design Kareem Deanes. The production, directed by the Black Rep’s artistic director Ron Himes, has an incisive, thought-provoking air and a focused approach that presents its subject with an appropriate tone of urgency.

The cast here is great, as well, led by one of the playwrights, Kristen Adele, in the central role of Imani. In this role and a few others, she commands the stage with a strong presence and range of emotions from anger, weariness, sadness, and also hope. Hickey, as Brad and others, is also excellent, taking his character on a believable arc, especially as Brad relates to Imani and learns to see the world around him from a different perspective. Conners and Loui are also strong in a variety of roles, shifting from one persona to another with credibility and seeming ease. It’s a cohesive ensemble, supporting the production and personalizing it for the audience well.

Canfield Drive is a world premiere that is important to be seen. The house was packed at the performance I attended, and the audience was especially responsive. This is a play that, even though it’s not directly interactive, seems interactive because of how confrontational and personal it is. The issues raised by the Ferguson events weren’t new then, but they were brought to the forefront and still resonate today. The continuing problem of systemic racism and injustice is still more apparent than ever, and shows like this serve as a reminder that there’s still a lot of thinking and talking to do, and especially, a lot of work to be done. The Black Rep has brought an especially moving production to the stage. Understandably, it’s not the last word we’re going to hear about Ferguson, but it’s an important one.

The Black Rep is presenting Canfield Drive at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until March 3, 2019

Read Full Post »

Torn Asunder
by Nikkole Salter
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
April 25, 2018

Myke Andrews, Brandi Threatt, Alan Knoll, LaShunda Gardner
Photo: The Black Rep

The Black Rep’s latest production is a world premiere production. Torn Asunder tells the story of a married couple separated by slavery, and its title comes from a common biblical phrase often used in marriage vows. This is about more than a marriage being split up, however. This heartbreaking, heartrending, memorable play focuses on a few characters–with excellent production values and a first-rate cast–but it also vividly portrays how much of American society was torn apart by the injustice and brutality of slavery.

The story begins on a Maryland plantation in 1859 and takes place over eleven years in the lives of the characters. Hannah Louise Ballard (LaShunda Gardner), who grew up as a slave on the plantation, is married to Moses (Myke Andrews) in the first scene, as Master James (Alan Knoll, who plays various roles) performs the ceremony emphasizing the fact that slave marriages weren’t considered permanent by the slaveholders. In fact, the very marriage vows ask them to accept this idea. That’s just the beginning of the story. Soon Master James becomes ill and dies, promising “provisions” for  Hannah in his will that give her cause to hope that she and Moses will be able to stay together, but that hope doesn’t last long. Hannah is soon bequeathed to Master James’s daughter and son-in-law and taken to Virginia, along with her baby son, Elijah, but without Moses. Her new “Master” is the ambitious, insecure shopkeeper John Allen (Graham Emmons), who forbids Hannah from contacting Moses. Also joining Hannah in her new situation is Malinda (Brandi Threatt), whose relationship with Allen is complicated, but who ultimately learns what he really thinks of her as she and Hannah are both sold and sent to Georgia. A few years pass, and as Moses makes his way to Canada, never giving up on his quest to find and reunite with Hannah, Hannah and Malinda are working in a cotton field with Henry (Carl Overly, Jr.), who is interested in Hannah although Hannah still holds to the hope of finding Moses. As the war ends and slavery is abolished, Hannah, Malinda, and Henry eventually make their way North, but then things get even more complicated. Basically, this play depicts not only the sheer brutality of slavery, but also the aftermath of this brutality for individuals, couples, families, and society itself.

The cast here is exceptional, with strong performances all around, led by Gardner’s determined Hannah, who has strong chemistry with both Andrews’s earnest, focused Moses and Overly’s devoted, optimistic Henry. Threatt as the conflicted Malinda, Emmons as the deluded unstable Allen, and Knoll in a variety of roles are also impressive, and the casting brings energy and life to Salter’s thoughtful script.  The production values are also truly stunning. with dynamic staging by director Ron Himes, and brilliant and evocative scenic design by Dunsi Dai that makes excellent use of Geordy van Es’s vivid projections. Kathy A. Perkins’s lighting also adds much to the drama of the production, as do Daryl Harris’s detailed costumes.

This is a remarkable new work. Although the show runs a little long and there are elements that could be better explained, Torn Asunder is a challenging, thought-provoking, heartbreaking play, and  The Black Rep’s production is excellent, with first-rate production values and a brilliant cast. I hope this isn’t the only production, though. I hope there will be more performances of this remarkable work in the future.

Carl Overly, Jr., LaShunda Gardner, Brandi Threatt
Photo: The Black Rep

 

Read Full Post »

Dot
by Colman Domingo
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
September 9, 2017

Cast of Dot
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep has opened their 41st season with Colman Domingo’s Dot. Centered around the family of a woman with Alzheimer’s, the tone is more comic than one might first expect. With fascinating characters, a well-crafted script and a top-notch cast, this play is at once entertaining and thought-provoking.

The play’s story revolves around an often used theme–a family gathers to celebrate a holiday, and the various personality clashes and unexpected revelations serve to fuel the comedy, and the drama. Here, Dotty (Thomasina Clarke) is excited about Christmas, and getting a real tree to decorate, but her daughter Shelly (Jacqueline Thompson) is feeling increasingly weary since her mother’s memory loss is getting more and more apparent, and Shelly is shouldering most of the responsibility for caring for Dotty herself. Shelly outlines her frustrations to old friend Jackie (Courtney Elaine Brown), who has recently returned to town after several years for her own soon-to-be-disclosed reasons. Also coming to join the family for the holidays is Shelly’s younger brother Donnie (Chauncy Thomas), who is having difficulties in his once-blissful relationship with his health-conscious husband, Adam (Paul Edwards). And then there’s outgoing youngest sister Averie (Heather Beal), who lives in Shelly’s basement, and who Shelly views as irresponsible. As the group gathers, the various conflicts become more obvious, as Dotty’s memory issues become more apparent, and Shelly is concerned that Dotty and her hired caregiver Fidel (Ryan Lawson-Maeske) are planning something drastic.  As Christmas morning approaches, the characters are forced to confront their own issues, in terms of Dotty’s situation as well as their own past relationships and present realities.

It’s a well-rounded script that starts out in something of a sitcom format but takes its time to develop the characters and situations. Director Ron Himes has staged the show with a measured energy, with some brisk physicality as well as times for reflection. The cast is impeccable, led by Clarke in a winning, complex performance as Dotty, an enthusiastic matriarch who strives to maintain her family’s traditions and legacy in the midst of her struggle to remember. There’s also excellent support from Thompson as the increasingly concerned and exasperated Shelly, and by Thomas and Beal as the world-weary Donnie and unpredictable Averie. Brown has some hilarious moments as the occasionally frantic Jackie, who used to date Donnie in high school, as well, and Edwards is also excellent as Donnie’s occasionally controlling husband, Adam. Lawson-Maeske, as the devoted Fidel, an immigrant from Kazakhstan who provides an emotional support for Dotty, is also superb, and the chemistry of the entire ensemble is excellent.

The production values are also first-rate. Dunsi Dai’s set is richly detailed and well-appointed, and Gregory J. Horton’s costumes suit the characters well. There’s also strong lighting by Joseph W. Clapper and clear sound design by Kareem Deanes. There’s also an excellent use of Christmas music to set the mood before and during the show.

This production makes the most of the stage at the Edison Theatre, bringing the script and these memorable characters to life. From its central theme of Dotty’s struggles to various issues that many families deal with–from cultural differences to differing life goals to the desire and need to preserve family history and traditions–this play covers a lot of ground. It’s a fascinating, poignant, and often humorous look at a woman’s relationships with her family and with her own personal history as she strives to maintain some measure of control as she slowly but inevitably loses her memory. It’s a strong start for a new season from the Black Rep.

The Black Rep is presenting Dot at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until September 24, 2017.

 

Read Full Post »

Twisted Melodies
by Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
April 23, 2016

Kelvin Roston, Jr. Photo by Stewart Goldstein The Black Rep

Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Photo by Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep

A biographical one-person show, written by the show’s star, is an ideal way for a talented writer and performer to showcase his talents while also paying tribute to a notable person. The latest production from the Black Rep, Twisted Melodies, is an excellent example of this kind of show. Featuring the remarkable performance of writer/star Kelvin Roston, Jr., the play tells the story of legendary R&B singer Donny Hathaway by taking the audience on an immersive trip into Hathaway’s life and mind.

The play introduces the audience to Hathaway (Roston) on a pivotal day in his life in 1979. After a troubling recording session, he’s back in his room at the Essex House Hotel in New York. Plagued by hallucinations attributed to paranoid schizophrenia, Hathaway recounts the story of his life and music, engaging the audience as if we are a benevolent hallucination, unlike the more hostile voices and visions that haunt him. He tells the story of his childhood in St. Louis and his upbringing in the home of his strict but loving and devout grandmother, who insisted that Hathaway spend hours practicing piano and developing his musical gifts. The story continues into Hathaway’s adolescence and young adulthood, where he attended Howard University in Washington, DC and eventually began his musical career. He tells of his marriage, his musical collaborations with Roberta Flack and others, and his experience with mental illness that grew to dominate his adult life. The play is structured so that we don’t just hear the story, though. We are put into Hathaway’s head, hearing what he hears and seeing what he sees, with the troubling, confusing and terrifying sounds and sights realized by means of Rick Sims’s superb sound design, Sean Savoie’s stunning lighting, and Mark Wilson’s vividly realized projections.  All the while, Hathaway’s music is used to tell his story, expertly played and sung by Roston.

Roston didn’t just write this show–he is the show. The first-rate technical aspects of this play, including the excellent set by Jim Burwinkel, serve as the backdrop for this first-rate performance. The amiable, personable Roston presents a Donny Hathaway whose talent is clearly at the forefront, as are his struggles. His battle with paranoid schizophrenia and his reluctance to take the drugs to treat it–since their side effects can be extreme–is portrayed with clarity and intensity. Roston’s musicality is also on clear display, with his smooth, soulful voice and impressive keyboard skills presenting Hathaway’s music remarkably. He does a great job of sounding like Hathaway as well, with strong performances of songs such as “The Ghetto”, “She Is My Lady” “Giving Up”, “A Song For You”, and perhaps most impressively, singing both parts of his duet with Flack, “The Closer I Get to You”. Hathaway’s joy in his music is made clear, as is his fear, desperation, and search for hope. As Hathaway’s journey takes him back and forth from hope to despair, Roston powerfully portrays every aspect of that journey.

Twisted Melodies is a tour-de-force performance and a superbly crafted theatrical piece, with lighting that contributes to Hathaway’s feelings of isolation and fear, inventive use of projections, and excellent sound that incorporates recorded music that blends seamlessly with Roston’s live performance. It’s a compelling and sometimes disturbing look into the mind of a brilliant but troubled musician, and it’s not to be missed.

Kelvin Roston, Jr. Photo by Stewart Goldstein The Black Rep

Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Photo by Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is presenting Twisted Melodies at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until May 1, 2016.

Read Full Post »

Sunset Baby
by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Ron Himes
The Black Rep
January 15, 2016

Erin Renee Roberts, Ron Himes Photo by Stewart Goldstein The Black Rep

Erin Renee Roberts, Ron Himes
Photo by Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep

Which comes first, your family or the cause? That dilemma and the consequences of it are a major focus of Dominique Morriseau’s Sunset Baby. It’s a drama of relationships, dreams, and ideals, currently being given a sensitive and well-cast production at the Black Rep.

Kenyatta Shakur (Ron Himes) is the famous leader of a 1980’s black revolutionary movement, who has spent a lot of time in jail as a result of his activism. He has an adult daughter, Nina (Erin Renee Roberts), who didn’t see much of her father when she was growing up, instead being raised by her mother, another famous activist who has recently died after a long battle with drug addiction. When Kenyatta shows up at Nina’s Brooklyn apartment after many years of estrangement, he’s looking for some letters that Nina’s mother had written to him but never mailed. Nina, however, is suspicious of her father’s motives, since various others are also interested in the letters and are willing to spend a great deal of money for them. Forced to drop out of college due to money and having to take care of her mother, she’s now living in a run-down apartment and making a living as a hustler along with her boyfriend, Damon (Lawd Gabe), a drug dealer who also has a child of his own from a previous relationship. Nina, who was named after the famous singer Nina Simone, often spends time listening to Simone’s music and hoping for a future outside of New York, a dream that is fueled by watching travel shows on TV. In the midst of this situation comes her father, who also is shown making a series of videos for Nina. He’s looking to reconnect with his daughter as well as reading the letters, but Nina doesn’t know who to trust. The contrast between Kenyatta and Damon is a major element of the story, as is Kenyatta’s desire to let Nina know how much she and her mother mean to him, as well as the continuing importance of the cause.

This is a small-cast, character-driven play and the actors fit their characters well. Himes projects a combined sense of weariness, regret, concern, and hope as Kenyatta. He doesn’t particularly look like a famous revolutionary, but that’s part of the point, I think. He’s a man and a father who went through some very real struggles for his cause and for the people involved, including his family. That shows in Himes’ performance, and his scenes with Roberts are particularly affecting. Roberts admirably portrays a range of qualities as well, from anger, resentment, and suspicion, to aspiration and hope. Gabe, as Damon, is alternately charming, crafty, and dejected, and he has some strong scenes with both Roberts and Himes. The heart of the drama, though, is the relationship between Kenyatta, Nina, and Nina’s late mother, who never appears except in one projected still image and in a painted silhouette that hangs on Nina’s wall. She’s just as a much a character in the play as the rest. She’s not there, but she’s there, and the production does a good job of creating that sense of familial presence between her and the living, on stage characters of the man she loved and their daughter.

The staging is simple but inventive, with a set by Jim Burkwinkel that consists of two distinct areas–Nina’s apartment and Kenyatta’s room, where he sits to record the videos for his daughter. There’s also excellent use of projections by Mark Wilson. The costumes designed by Daryl Harris are excellent as well, particularly in Nina’s range of distinctive outfits and wigs. There’s good use of lighting as well, designed by Sean Savoie and appropriately setting the mood for the scenes set at various times of day.

Although sometimes I wish there would have been more to this script in terms of background and motivations for the characters (especially Damon, who is the most underwritten), this production is staged well with a strong sense of drama and relationship. It’s an intriguing play that also deals with extremely timely issues of how civil rights activists are treated (and mistreated) by authorities, while more overtly it’s about the father-daughter relationship. It’s a memorable piece of theatre that raises many important questions, and it’s well worth checking out.

Erin Renee Roberts, Lawd Gabe Photo by Stewart Goldstein The Black Rep

Erin Renee Roberts, Lawd Gabe
Photo by Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep

Sunset Baby is being presented by The Black Rep at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until January 31, 2016.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »