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The Women of Brewster Place

a Musical
by Tim Acito (based on the novel by Gloria Naylor)

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 2312

SHOWING : September 05, 2007 - September 30, 2007



The Women of Brewster Place
World Premiere Musical based on the Gloria Naylor Novel
Book, Music and Lyrics by Tim Acito
Based on the novel by Gloria Naylor
Directed by Molly Smith
Produced in partnership with Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.

September 5 - 30, 2007

Box Office: 404.733.5000

The Women of Brewster Place recalls the rich emotional experience of the Alliance's World Premiere - and now Broadway hit - The Color Purple. Based on Gloria Naylor's beloved and award-winning novel, The Women of Brewster Place explores the lives of seven passionate, loving, heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring African-American women living in an urban housing project in the early 1970s. The show tells their stories through gospel, soul, R&B and old school funk. The Women of Brewster Place is the most anticipated new American musical of 2007.

Why We Love This Musical
There is a vibrant energy that fills the Alliance whenever a World Premiere musical graces our stage. Our audience knows music and comes to stories of overcoming difficulty with warm hearts and open minds. The Women of Brewster Place recalls the rich emotional experience of the Broadway hit The Color Purple, which debuted at the Alliance in 2004. Gloria Naylor’s classic text (and winner of the American Book Award) offers a poetic and insightful portrait of life in the inner city that sings until the tears flow and the spirit soars.

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Stories, Not Stains
by Dedalus
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I went into the Alliance’s production of the new musical “The Women of Brewster Place” with a clean slate – I have never read the original book by Gloria Naylor, and I somehow missed the mini-series TV Version when it was aired in 1989. Maybe I was in a good mood (because I got to dress up in my tux to usher the opening night performance), but I found this to be a moving, tuneful, well-performed, well-produced show.

As a plot recap (for those like me who are unexposed to this story), a group of women in a big-city housing project face poverty, dead-end jobs, apathetic landlords, gang violence, and each other, eventually coming to the realization that the only family that matters is whatever community you are part of. These women are strong, weak, whining, vindictive, inspiring … in short, they represent all the good and bad that can exist in us as we struggle against the barriers that life (and our own shortcomings) throw up against us.

A true ensemble piece, this musical weaves several stories into a tapestry of life at the bottom of the social order. One woman (Mattie) struggles in a factory job to raise the money to travel in search of her missing son. One woman (Lucielia) tries to raise a young child while her husband is off on a job that keeps him away from home. One woman (Cora Lee) loves babies, and cranks them out with alarming regularity, only to discover they aren’t so easy once they begin to grow. One woman (Kiswana) is trying to recover her “roots” after growing up in a privileged suburb. One woman (Etta Mae) is hiding/resting from a free-spirited life that is beginning to take its toll. Two women (Lorraine and Tee) in love with each other are trying to come to terms with the hostility of their neighbors. Act One centers on the Cora Lee, Lucielia, and Etta Mae stories, while Act Two shifts the focus to Lorraine and Tee, and the “Tenants’ Rights” movement of Kiswana, with Mattie being the nurturing mother figure who ties all the stories together.

If some stories get short shrift, if some characters are “left hanging,” well, that’s part of the portrait of a community where small victories and large tragedies compete in an arena where the players change with alarming regularity. The musical form is especially ideal for this, since complex webs of emotion and experience can be quickly spun in a single song. My biggest complaint is that, in the rush to get as many stories included as possible, a few clunky contrivances stand out. For example, one Mother/Daughter estrangement is too-quickly solved with a song and a hug. The saving grace is that it was a good song (“Then Know This”).

There are a lot of good songs (by Tim Acito) in this show. Standouts are “This Ain’t a Prayer” (the Act One closer that provides a “laying on of hands” moment in response to a tragedy), “Because my Soul is Dry” (a moving spiritual done in time to the rhythm of the women cleaning up the blood of one of their own), and especially “Ghosts With Paper Bones” (an incredibly moving meditation by one of the gay characters contemplating her childhood possessions being burned by her disapproving father). Don’t get the idea that everything is somber or depressing – there are a lot of joyful songs and even a few comic ones. For example, “Smile” will make you laugh. It starts out as a teacher’s lesson on a “Smile Is the Answer to All Your Problems,” but soon descends into chaos, as her overcrowded classroom grows more unruly). There’s really not a bad number in the bunch (and I really REALLY hope a recording is made soon).

I liked that the cast was composed solely of the women. Men and children are talked to and talked about, but never seen (except in shadow or soundscape). Our focus is solely on these ten women, which is as it should be. The set is a shifting series of brick walls upon which abstract projections suggest the city, the nightmares, and the visions that make up these lives. Behind it all is a towering wall that separates the housing project from the rest of the city, and which may (or may not) be broken apart in a moment of victory. The lighting design is adept at combining the projections with light and shadow and color in a beautiful array that underscores and illuminates the stories.

And the cast is uniformly excellent. This is a true ensemble, and all have voices that are strong, accurate, and compelling (and, for those who care about such things, they are supported by a LIVE orchestra, not a CD from a Karaoke Bar). If I would pick standouts (and, believe me, they don’t stand out too far), they would be Tina Fabrique’s Mattie, Harriett D. Foy’s Lorraine and Shelley Thomas’s Lucielia, but only because they have the best songs. The others in the cast (Cheryl Alexander, Terry Burrell, Suzzanne Douglas, Eleasha Gamble, Marva Hicks, Monique L. Midgette, and Tijuana T. Ricks) all get a chance to shine, and, more important, fall into ensemble roles that are distinct from their principal characters, and blend into a chorus that defines community.

One of the best lines in the play comes when Mattie says that “Our lives should leave behind stories, not blood stains.” “The Women of Brewster Place” is a compendium of such stories, and it is also the story of a community, the bonds that hold it together, and the walls that threaten to tear it apart. It is a tuneful tapestry that will make you laugh and cry.

-- Brad Rudy (



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