Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

Theatre Review | 1980-5-5

Sherman Hemsley of the television hit series, The Jeffersons, returns to Broadway May 8 in Carl Reiner’s The Roast, at the Winter Garden Theatre. Hemsley, a New York stage veteran, was last seen in Purlie.

Swing, the big band musical that was supposedly Broadway bound, closed out-of-town before its scheduled mid April opening in New York. The show bowed out March 30 after having suffered poor notices in Washington and Wilmington, Delaware. We are told that the four black lead parts were omitted from the script due to changes in creative staging. The show was directed by Stuart Ostrow, who previously produced the Broadway smash, Pippin.

For those who wondered what happened to Ruth Cooke, the female lead in Reggae, the former Miss Jamaica was fired from the show during its preview run at the Biltmore Theatre.

Censored Scenes from King Kong, the Broadway import from England, opened and quickly closed after receiving unanimous pans in late March. Edward Love, who has performed in A Chorus Line, Dancin’, and The Wiz, was featured in the cast as a bi-sexual Dooley Wilson-type character.

Moving off Broadway, noted choreographer Otis Salid and director Lucia Victor Jent their talents to yet another musical fable — This time about present day city life, entitled The More You Get The More You Want. Dan Owens wrote the show, which is currently running at the Black Theatre Alliance through May 11. It showcases the talents of Ben Harney, the tin man in The Wiz, Charles Lavont Williams, the scarecrow from the same musical, and Pat Lundy, who was last seen in Miss Truth.

While on the street life subject, Dementos, a musical documentary, had its March opening at off-Broadway’s Downstairs at City Center postponed because of budget problems.

In the beginning was the rhythm, we were told in Reggae, which as soon as it opened, waged a battle for its very life. The likes of Jackie O didn’t know if they would tell friends to go see the performance the next week, thinking it would be dead by then.

Perhaps it is because the staid, middle-class, middle-aged community of critics could not connect with it on any level, and thus dismissed it on most. Reggae is far from a masterpiece, but it is enchanting, lilting, and as flavorful as planter’s punch.

The script repeats the often-told tale of the successful young woman who returns to her roots and finds no communication (as in Mahogany, remember?). She has drifted away from the one she loved. She is a stranger in a strange land — much like the biblical prodigal son, only here it’s a daughter. Faith Brown, who seeks to learn her native reggae traditions in order to fill the coffers of an American record company.

The dreary plot aside, the show, directed by Glenda Dickerson, comes alive in the musical segments that are mercifully numerous. Seven people wrote the music and lyrics to the show’s songs, alternately driving and very Broadway, even though there is not a lot of diversity within these two categories.

But the music is performed so well that, taken as individual units, it provides enough excitement to make you want to get up and move—which the audience does at the end of the show. The rousing finale appears to be a trademark of producer Michael Butler, who also ended the legendary musical Hair with a bang. It’s as if Butler can’t produce a show without turning it into a bash. But this one’s a party you won’t want to miss,

The vocals are for the most part fine. Philip Michael Thomas, one of God’s greatest examples of manhood, displays a musical talent many people weren’t really aware of. If occasionally he gets the spirit too much, it is compensated by his clear delivery, magnetic movements and earnestness.

Sheryl Lee Ralph as Faith, has watched too much Diana Ross, but still, she’s beautiful and gives the role the old school try. She may not make it as an actress, but for this party, or any other, she’s great.

The standout in this cast is undoubtedly Obba Babatunde, as Rockets, the villain. He makes the season’s most convincing — and sympathetic — bad guy, and both he and Martin Vidnovic of Oklahoma should be remembered come Tony time. Babatunde is electrifying and surpasses anything he has done, including Timbuktu and his stint with Liza Minelli.

In the event that Reggae should continue its run and get more convoluted than it should to tell its simple tale, let it. Music, as is its wont, will rescue.

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