Thursday, December 10, 2009


I am both celebrating and mourning the year’s final episode of “Glee” that aired last night. This show would earn points solely by offering kick-ass performances of some of the best-loved show tunes ever every week. “I’m telling you” last night was a killer, certainly in the J-Hud vacinity if not quite surpassing it, and bringing “Defying Gravity” to a greater audience is one of the show’s finest public services. But in addition to these bonuses for the musical theater crowd, the show delivers some great biting satire, dark humor and a surprising number of genuine tear-jerking moments. Sure there are misfires (I was tired of the fake pregnancy subplot about 2 months ago), but no other show has riveted my attention so completely since “Lost” premiered more than 5 years ago.

And for other “Gleeks” out there, you’ll be excited to hear that it’s looking like Idina Menzel may be doing a guest stint next year. Together with Jonathan Groff, there will be some serious Broadway shine to the series come April. (For even more serious Gleeks, you may enjoy Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten moments gallery.)

Speaking of celebrations, I’m overdue in offering my rave – albeit a qualified rave – on African American Repertory’s production of “Black Nativity.” Hopefully my full review will come out next week, but in the meantime I cannot heap enough praise on the young troupe of dancers that enlivens this show. Mostly made up of middle schoolers, these 6 dancers were the absolute highlight of the production for me. Not only was their energy and enthusiasm addictive, it was tempered and enhanced by fine form and creative choreography (by Willie Hinton). The 4 girls were delightful but I was paying special attention to the athletic and charming boys (Johnnie Mercer, Jr. and Brandon Penn) for several reasons: they spend the first act half-naked, always an attention-getter; the two of them are such an interesting contrast and compliment to one another; and I have two sons who are both getting more and more interested in dance. Whenever the dancers were on stage, I was entranced by this production.

However, there was plenty of times – particularly in the second act – when the dancers were not on the stage. Luckily, the musicality of this production was first rate, with a great band and some phenomenal singers. Still, the second act was mostly a revival meeting/choir performance with no narrative and very little choreography/theatricality used to enhance the proceedings. As the production soldiered on toward – and eventually surpassed – the two hour mark, I was increasingly bored. I also thought it a bit of a shame that Dustin Faltz and Katrina Carol Lewis, two fine actors with sterling voices who play a fabulous Joseph and Mary in the first act, were relegated to the chorus. I did enjoy Margaret Joyner’s costumes in both acts, the colorful native ware in the first, the fine and fancy Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes in the second.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned early on when the distinct religiosity of the production was announced so clearly (the powerful and appealing preacher Alfred Powell states something to the effect: “you didn’t expect a sermon today did you?” Well, no, I didn’t.) Not that it matters much, but I was raised Catholic; currently celebrate in a dual faith home, supporting our local synogogue with our membership; and consider my beliefs largely in line with what I know of Thomas Jefferson’s. I only mention that because perhaps if I was an evangelical Christian, I would have been more swept up in the testifying of the second act. Mostly, as a theater lover, I was disappointed that theater took a back-seat to faith in the second act. When they were riding more side-by-side during much of the first act, I was deeply satisfied and entertained by the trip.

Overall, I’d say the production was a successful and welcome leap forward for AART. I hope they can continue to bring this level of energy, professionalism, and talent to the stage in their upcoming productions. Namaste.


Frank Creasy said...

I can't resist commenting on GLEE, which has created more buzz than any show in a long time (but look for increased buzz soon about MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE on TNT!)

The GLEE fall finale was a stunner in many ways, but despite hit-and-miss plot lines, it's the absolutely astonishing performances that set this show apart from anything else on TV today. "I'm Telling You" was one we had to back up on the DVR to watch a second time. Beyond that,why should any of us be surprised to see the young Jewish diva Rachel do a Fanny Brice turn as her triumphant number? Yet it still blew me away! And could anyone else attempt a seque from Streisand to the Stones, fully satisfying EVERYONE? WOW!

What ultimately strikes me about GLEE is how spot-on-perfect the title really is. This show, and the young performers showcased in it, demonstrate true glee in singing and dancing every single number. And I for one hope that translates into revived attendance at local and regional theatres nationwide!

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that Black Nativity is coproduced by AART and Barksdale Theatre.