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His Eye Is on the Sparrow

a Musical
CATEGORY : DRAMA MUSICAL
by Larry Parr

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3731

SHOWING : April 28, 2010 - June 13, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

NOW EXTENDED THROUGH JUNE 13! Atlanta's own Bernardine Mitchell will play Ethel Waters through May 30, then Broadway actress Jannie Jones, who originated the role, will perform through June 13. See them both! The inspiring story of actress/singer Ethel Waters, who rose from a downtrodden life in Philadelphia's back alleys to become a celebrated talent. Aside from the title song, other Waters hits include "Stormy Weather" and "Am I Blue." For audiences 16 years and up.


CAST & CREW LIST
Music Director S. Renee Clark
Director Gary Yates
Ethel Waters Bernadine Mitchell
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Find God, Lose Weight
by playgoer
Sunday, May 30, 2010
3.5
"His Eye Is on the Sparrow," playing at Marietta's Theatre in the Square, tells the life story of singer/actress Ethel Waters. It is framed by her participation with the Billy Graham Crusade, but the bulk of the show focuses on the lack of God in her life. She was born the illegitimate daughter of a teenager and was married and divorced herself as a young teenager. Her tough early years on "Whore's Alley" in Philadelphia were followed by years playing in segregated clubs, and even her years of success were filled with rage, it seems, according to the storyline. It's not a pleasant story.

The set, designed by R. Paul Thomason, consists of a miniscule platform center stage, flanked by brick walls at far left and right, and backed by a quartet of scrims that are occasionally backlit to reveal set pieces. (One coffin is used three times in the show, which gives an idea of the often grim quality.) The set is not particularly attractive, but is serviceable.

Costumes, by Lindsey Paris, are no better. The first act base costume is a blue-and-white checked dress, while the second act base costume is an elegant black evening gown. Accessories, added at various times, look more like costume pieces than real clothes. The costumes are not particularly attractive, but are serviceable.

Sound design, by Brian Patterson, relies on reverb through Bernardine Mitchell's microphone for many of its effects. Ms. Mitchell's powerful voice really doesn't need amplification in the small auditorium, but perhaps the sound system allows a better balance with the virtuoso piano playing of S. Renee Clark. Ms. Clark is an able accompanist, though, and really lets loose only in her spotlight moment, a rousing solo entr'acte.

The show, of course, belongs to Bernardine Mitchell. She does a wonderful job of delineating separate characters' voices through her tone, pitch, and accent, and her vocals are consistently impressive. At the performance I saw, though, she bobbled a lot of her lines noticeably, stopping and restarting with the correct word. This damaged the flow of the show and never allowed her truly to "become" Ethel Waters.

Little things show a lack of attention to detail in the production. The introductory recording mentions "evening," even at a matinee performance, and the song list misspells John Latouche's last name twice. Hook-and-eye connections, Velcro, and zippers on costume pieces all require too much of Ms. Mitchell's attention and focus, reducing the impact of the show.

The biggest problem, though, is the script itself. It tends to go for a trite, church-basement-production feel. I could not believe that no mention was made of "Supper Time," one of Ethel Waters' big numbers in the 1933 topical revue "As Thousands Cheer." This number told the story of a woman awaiting her husband at the end of the day, only to find he had been lynched. This could more effectively have highlighted the racism of the times than the interpolation of the self-pitying "Black and Blue." We did get to see Irving Berlin's "Heat Wave" from "As Thousands Cheer," done as a comedy number. The range of Ethel Waters as a singing actress (or acting singer) was never shown adequately, and it could easily have been demonstrated by back-to-back numbers from "As Thousands Cheer," one light and one dark.

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow" is an obvious crowd-pleaser, as evidenced by full houses and an extension of two weeks in the length of the run. It does give us ample opportunity to enjoy the artistry of S. Renee Clark and Bernardine Mitchell, but it's all in service of a story that focuses on racism and bitterness until a last-minute redemption. Ethel Waters had gained a couple of hundred pounds late in her life, but the pounds started dropping after she joined with Billy Graham. It's an almost laughable bit of exposition, trading a true understanding of character for a cheap reliance on God to round out the show. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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