PHOTO: Joey Elrose and Jasmin Richardson star in the production of “
Time was, this musical would be too hot to handle for
The show walks the fine line between being preachy and being entertaining. It lifts the spirit.
A vibrant (4½ stars out of 5) production of the musical re-launched a national tour Tuesday night at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Performances continue through Sunday, Oct. 20. Info: www.foxcitiespac.org.
Firecrackers lace the cast.
Jasmin Richardson, RaMond Thomas and Avoince Hoyles fuel key songs with impassioned feeling. Those songs leap past showbiz and find meaning.
The story is based on reality, with abundant artistic liberties: A radio disc jockey dares to play “race” music on the air in 1950s
Huey Calhoun is white, illiterate and rough around the edges. He taps into music he’s heard in a club on
In performance, Joey Elrose digs into the blindingly naïve drive of Huey. He explores the huge complexities of the strangely sympathetic part, which doesn’t require the greatest singing voice (others are all around). His “Tear Down the House” is filled with frayed emotion.
Jasmin Richardson is Felicia, a star to be.
RaMond Thomas plays Felicia’s brother, who is pure grit and anger in “She’s My Sister.”
Avionce Hoyles is Gator, a character rendered speechless by a horror who becomes a beacon for reason in the profound “Say a Prayer.”
Jerrial T. Young is the steady Bobby, who wears many hats as a side character and explodes into dazzling dance moves in “Stand Up.”
Pat Sibley has a wonderful character role as Mama, who is dismayed and increasingly alarmed by things Huey does. At first, she’s a dumpy woman whose world is solely black and white. Eventually, she’s a person found and a delight in the motivating “Change Don’t Come Easy.”
Production-wise, the show clicks as it moves from department store to radio station to nightclub to Huey/Mama’s house to TV studio, etc. Behind the backdrop is a feisty band (the trumpeter of which shoots up a rocket note as the audience departs). Ensemble dancers erupt.
The songs are original to the musical. That means instead of bringing back the songs that were the real hits of the ’50s, the creators came up with new music and songs to better able the performers reach in to the soul of their characters.
The book and lyrics are by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan. Working from a (“gee, how did that happen?) concept by George W. George, the talent of DiPietro and Bryan led this show to earning a Tony Award as best musical on Broadway.
Tuesday night’s performance earned a standing ovation. In part, that was for appreciation of seeing a highly motivated company.
ADDED EVENT: A discussion will explore the diversity themes found in “
VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on
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