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Sundays at Four
a Musical
by Brittani Minnieweather (book) and Talitha Gabrielle, Christian Magby, Jonathan Peacock, Jamie Walker, Quentin Brown (songs)

COMPANY : Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Brady Street Theater [WEBSITE]
ID# 5317

SHOWING : August 13, 2018 - August 13, 2018



Family and faith collide in this generational story about life’s difficult lessons. "Sundays at Four" revolves around a family’s foundation, Grandma Washington, and the practical proverbs she instilled in her granddaughter. Every Sunday at four, the Washington family gets together. It’s a sacred time for fellowship; a time for healing, but also for hurting; a powerful collision of personalities.

"Sundays at Four" explores what happens when family dynamics are challenged. What happens when the status quo is no longer acceptable? And what happens when family members ask questions they never dared to ask before? Will the Washington family ever recover? And will they continue to meet every Sunday at four?

Director Kevin Harry
Kenley T’Arica Crawford
Benson Darrell D Grant
Grandma Washington Terry Henry
Lee Leiloni Arrie Pharms
Whitley Kiona D. Reese
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Not a True Musical
by playgoer
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
"Sundays at Four" started out as a play, and its origins show in the musical presented at the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival. The songs are not well-integrated into the plot, so the production seems more of a play with songs than a full-fledged musical. Music supervisor/arranger Christian Magby, however, has done a marvelous job of giving the score a cohesive, rhythm-and-blues feel, tinged with a lot of gospel. Singing is first-rate throughout.

Staging goes far above and beyond the bare-bones necessities of a staged reading. This is a flat-out full production, just without a set (although with plenty of set pieces and props). The action all takes place around the dining table of Grandma Washington’s house, mostly on Sundays around 4 P.M. for the big Sunday meal, although this construct of the weekly meal tends to weaken as the show goes along.

Director Kevin Harry and the cast all deserve great credit for putting together such a polished presentation of the script and score, with nary a script in sight onstage. Each character is deftly defined, but most of them are unlikeable. Grandma Washington (Terry Henry) is the dictatorial head of the household whose word is law, and who treats various members of her family with disdain. Her son Benson (Darrell Grant), the sole male member of the cast, is repeatedly told he’s an idiot. Her daughter Diana (Nzinga Noel), who admittedly makes many shallow, bad decisions in life, is cut off entirely. By-the-book daughter Lillian (Cheley Cutwright) is tolerated, but her mother mocks her religious devotion while simultaneously touting her own faith. Granddaughters Kenley (T’Arica Crawford) and Whitley (Kiona Reese) get more affection, but Grandma clearly favors put-upon, sometimes sullen Kenley, around whom the plot circles. Whitley, who has a big bratty streak, takes at face value Grandma’s assertion that she loves them equally, but gives attention where it is most needed.

The one character with no unredeemable characteristics is the child Lee (Leiloni Pharms) who shows up in the final scene. This final scene is extremely reminiscent of the ending of August Wilson’s "Fences," which had a recent production at this same venue, also directed by Mr. Harry and also featuring Ms. Pharms as the child. As in "Fences," we have preparations for a funeral, the child singing a song associated with the dead person, the child "introduced" to a newly-returned person, and the child sent out to collect footwear. This strong resemblance to August Wilson’s work weakens the originality of the piece, which otherwise has some nice plot twists in Brittani Minnieweather’s script.

Performances are all good, but the shallowness and inconsistencies in Ms. Minnieweather’s characters are on full display. The problems are emphasized by the staging of the act one closer, a gospel faith number sung by Ms. Henry. We’ve just had a big, emotional confrontation, but in the number all the characters come out and act as backup singers for Ms. Henry, as if nothing had just happened. The emotion of the scene is undercut by the choral requirements of the "big" number.

The five-piece band plays beautifully, but the sound mix is heavy on the band and light on the vocals. Luckily for comprehension, but unluckily for dramatic resonance, a lot of the lyrics are extremely repetitious. Mr. Magby confesses that he rushed off some lyrics during the development of the musical, and the score still has an unpolished veneer. The uneasy mixture of songs and drama doesn’t quite work in the current iteration of the show, but it was rapturously received by a sold-out audience at the one-night-only performance. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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