A SECOND SUCCESS FROM
THE OSCAR MICHEAUX REPERTORY THEATER COMPANY!
For its seventh consecutive year, the Oscar Micheaux Repertory Theater Company delivered a fine production of its signature
show THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE REVISITED WITH BOSTON FLAVOR, this time at Roxbury Community College's Media and Performing Arts
Center. The production, written by Haywood Fennell, Sr., who was also the show's Artistic and Executive Director, was revamped
for this year's production. With new musical elements and vibrant choreography by award-winning tap prodigy Cyrus Brooks (who
portrayed "Sport" delightfully in the play,) Harlem... not only glistens with phenomenal artistic presence, but
serves an educational purpose as well.
Fueled by the Company's program of teaching its cast about theater operations using African-American History as the vehicle,
the cast brought The Harlem Renaissance - one of the most promising times in African-American History - to life! And each
actor shined with as much brilliance as the luminaries they portrayed. The show, directed by opera singer Sister Frances Ingram
St. George, transported the audience through time.
Opening the show, we share the experience of an African celebration and witness the theft of African brethren and children
as they are carried to the Slave Ships. "Mother Africa" (in a moving performance
by Irene O’Bannon) wails at the loss of her children. "Father Africa" (Hon. Milton L. Wright who also
performs as composer James Weldon Johnson) consoles her - reassuring that her children,
while they will endure suffering as slaves, will rise up to make the most important artistic contributions known, inspired
by their homeland's rich cultural promise.
The story moves to touch upon the Slave experience. We jump quickly to meet "Ms. Millie the Bag Lady" (Ruby
Hill) who meets a group of children working on an history project about the Harlem Renaissance. Ms. Millie begins to tell
the kids about the time, "I may be a bag lady but I know my
history! I wasn't always a bag lady!"
Next we meet a Gospel-singing washer woman, who we later learn is portrayal of the early days of impressive entrepreneur
and arts patron Madam CJ Walker (full of presence in Deborah J. Peters) - a self-made millionaire whose hair products and
straightening comb flourished in the African-American community. As we follow the story, we find ourselves in the company
of "Ms. Evelyn" (played illustriously by Nelle) as she and her staff prepare to greet Madam Walker and honor Langston
Hughes as he returns from his sabbatical in Europe, where Black artisans were not persecuted as they were in the United States.
Guests of the party are all properly introduced, to each other and to the audience, and in context - which proves brilliant
writing by Fennell. Maintaining flow in the dialog while remaining deeply educational was not lost on the writer or the cast.
While the history had to be massaged a little bit in order to pay homage to the leaders of this time period, it went off without
a hitch - and historical fictionalizations were explained in the program - which was a nice touch. After all, the Company
wants to educate and preserve historical integrity. This made the imagination element of this show more than acceptable!
In the role of Ethel Waters both contralto Karen Parker and lyric soprano Velma DuPont gave it their all. While offering
two vastly different vocal performances, they articulately captured the spirit of this vocal icon - delightful. Yma Arrington
as Billie Holiday was dead-on and with such poise - transportive. Linda White also shined in this pivotal role.
In the part of "Steve Lucky" Mark Bouyer offered much comic brevity, and his chemistry with Nelle gave a two-fisted
knockout of timing and banter. Dr. Joseph Warren's Paul Robeson was stately and commanding, as were Garrison Bond and Rashad
Bowden as Langston Hughes. Shima Jackson inspired us as Zora Neale Hurston and Charlene Green as artist Meta Warrick was heartwarming.
Lisa Robinson’s croon of "looking for a man who's looking for a wife" was a crowd pleaser - really relatable
and sung with "oomph!" Loren E. Roberts gave light to Aaron Douglas. Gladys Gruillon and Shana Barnes sparkled in
dazzling portrayals of iconic dancer Josephine Baker and Young Bojangles was captured with tap fury by the fascinating talent
of Shaquan Reed.
The supporting cast in this production were equally exceptional - not a weak link in the entire group. Everyone's stage
presence was 200% and frankly, I forgot that it was 2005 and not 1925! Coupled with fine acting and accurate "attitude"
for the time period, the music - under the direction of Janice Allen was lively and memorable. Peter Golemme, Esq.. provided
very appropriate piano backdrop and excellent accompaniment. His playing tied things together very well.
The riveting arrangement of the Black National Anthem "Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing" (written by James
Weldon Johnson) at the close was nothing short of Tony-worthy.
The mission of the OSCAR MICHEAUX THEATER PROGRAM is to "Continue Our Cultural Lineage" and to teach and reach.
They accomplished this once again, as they did in their recent performance of From Gospel to Hip-Hop and All in Between in
February. Giving two outstanding and tangible performances highlighting Black History in one year bodes well for the Company,
who is currently under consideration for National Black Theater Festival!
I highly recommend that you catch this show the next time it comes around. You and your family will be enlightened, engaged,
and inspired by not only the accomplishments of the artists portrayed, but by the thematic content of the dialogue. "Everyone
has a talent!" This show will encourage you to find and share yours!
June 5, 2005