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Travelin' Black

a Musical
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Patdro Harris and S. Renee Clark

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3967

SHOWING : March 16, 2011 - April 10, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

World premiere musical that combines dance, poetry, story and song to explore how the centuries-old legacy and evolution of African American music have helped to shape and define a nation’s cultural identity. Take the journey through the rich musical genres and traditions—from beloved standards to gospel, jazz, R&B, soul and hip-hop—that have inspired, encouraged and united us all.


CAST & CREW LIST
Writer/Composer S. Renee Clark
Writer/Composer Patdro Harris
Musical Director S. Renee Clark
Director/ Choreographer Patdro Harris
Set Designer Roy Howington
Lighting Designer Cristopher P. Kettrey
Stage Manager Wendy Palmer
Scenic Charge Kat Parham
Props Designer M. C. Park
Sound Designer Jon Summers
Costume Designer Chase Wagner
Drums Chris Burroughs
Keyboards S. Renee Clark
Sax Charles Marshall
Guitar Peter Moore
Bass Ramon Pooser
Woman # 3 T. Renee Crutcher
Man # 2 Gavin Gregory
Dancer Thomas Hamilton
Dancer Ursula Kendall-Johnson
Man # 1 Eric D. Moore
Woman # 1 Adrienne Reynolds
Woman # 2 Sheila Wheat
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REVIEWS

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On the Road Again
by Dedalus
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
4.5
It’s a simple metaphor, perhaps overdone. Life is all about the journey, not the destination (which, truth to tell, is a foregone conclusion). That’s the simple premise of Patdro Harris and S. Renee Clark’s new musical, “Travelin’ Black,” commissioned and produced by Theatrical Outfit. More a revue than a story-musical, this is nevertheless an effective, tuneful, and, eventually, uplifting show.

Broken into “chapters” composed of songs and anecdotes and dances, this show succeeds in its stated goal, to “celebrate how music and dance have initiated and sustained the journey of black people through time and place and how these creative gifts have empowered them to change the world for the better” (from Tom Key’s program notes).

The show starts out right (IMHO) by introducing us to the five singers and two dancers of the cast by showing there is no didactic “definition” of “black,” that diversity is as much within groups as it is between groups. We are introduced to the suburban man with “history” (“I travel with my family on my back”), to the traditional supportive “Mama” figure,” to the laid back popular guy, to the upper class patroness of the arts (“I travel first class, is there any other way?”), and to the nature-loving back-to-our roots “Earth Mother.” As simple as these characterizations sound, they achieve surprising depth as the show progresses.

In the first “chapter” (“Packing Up”), we hear background pieces that show different types of music that make up the black experience. Gospel, Blues, Motown Soul, Show-Biz dance, all are shown to be part and parcel of the baggage for this trip. In the next segment (“On the Road”), we get music that makes up the lives and loves of, well, just about anybody – Ray Charles, the Isley Brothers, and Michael Jackson all have songs here. Before we get to intermission, we go through “Colored Intersection,” that strange place where white artists suborn black culture and vice versa, where our own road diverges from too many of our friends and colleagues.

Act II, then, takes us through “The Freeway” (which includes an extended “ballet” of all the “high points” of Black American History and music), a “Rest Stop,” “My Neighborhood,” and ending in the “Promised Land” with a rousing original number by Ms. Clark., “Travelin’.”

Also along the way, we have a sequence where each character tells us about the first time they “got a n%^^er” citation,” moments of surprising racism that in some cases, are a tad mild, even mundane, but which exemplify a real part of anyone travelling along this particular road. In one case, it’s a simple inability a have a cab stop. In another, it’s a moment of fear in the eyes of some new neighbors. But, there are those that are more serious, such as when a young boy sees his best friend being taught to hate him – “That’s when I first realized my best friend was a white boy.”

You may legitimately ask that if a far-from-black guy like myself can respond so favorably to this show, what can it possibly say to someone sharing this trip instead of simply observing it? Talk about questions impossible to answer! It could be as simple as the characters are all created to be recognizable to anyone. It could be that I always loved most of the songs being revived, as well as finding the new Renee Clark songs of equal caliber (I’d buy this CD in minute!). Maybe it’s the theatricality of the piece that’s so compelling.

I’m pretty sure, though, that anyone can (and will) respond favorably to the singers and dancers here. It’s becoming more and more true that, for me, whenever Eric Moore opens his mouth to sing, the world fades away and attention must be paid. When his baritone rises to the rafters, it’s like an arrow to the heart that can’t be ignored. The others (T. Renee Crutcher, Gavin Gregory, Adrienne Reynolds, and Sheila D. Wheat) each get their moments to shine and they take full advantage. And, when “Dancer Woman” (Ursula Kendall-Johnson) and “Dancer Man” (Thomas Hamilton) cut loose, it’s pure musical theatre, and a complete joy to behold.

The set is a stylized road that starts down center and rises to the ceiling. Platforms act as “Roadside Attraction” pullovers (including the small band at the highest level), and the show segues from song to song with no delays and no apparent traffic jams. The lights are in turn dramatically low-key and high-spirited spritely and bright. And the sound mix combines voices and accompaniment in perfect synchronization.

In the final analysis, then, then is a toe-tapping tuneful tour through the history of what can be called “Black” music (though many selections were indeed written by not-strictly-black songwriters). I loved it from beginning to end, and, I suspect you will, too. Like the journey we’re all on, I didn’t want it to end.

-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com)



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