The fiery and unfaltering Sister Margaret, leader of a devoted congregation in Harlem, has dedicated years of her life to serving the Lord. But when her son unexpectedly reunites her with her estranged husband, a jazz musician, she risks losing her standing in the church and the son she has tried to keep on a religious path.
While the opening weekend was marred with a few technical issues (actors adjusting to microphones, among other things), the majority of reviewers found this show meaty and rewarding, worthy of the three-hour investment it demands. Read on for excerpts of reviews, or click on the links to read them in full.
The cast of Penumbra Theatre Company's production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
"Amen Corner," James Baldwin's first play, is impressive for its meatiness. It packs many issues into three hours -- conflicts between the spiritual and the carnal, pastor and congregation, parent and child. The drama is suffused with themes that Baldwin, a disgruntled onetime preacher, dealt with in other writings, including the hypocrisy and holier-than-thou mores in so many churches.
Greta Oglesby (right) as Sister Margaret Alexander and Crystal Fox as Odessa in Penumbra Theatre Company's production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
The performances in The Amen Corner are outstanding. Greta Oglesby plays Sister Margaret beautifully, fearful of what Luke represents, yet drawn, inevitably, to his deathbed. She never wavers from her religious convictions, even as old passions rise up unbidden. She is able to give expression to gorgeous defiance in the face of her congregation's (egregiously unfair) accusations. Oglesby is also a terrific vocalist and she does some highly tasty singing - ditto the wonderful Dennis W. Spears. As Luke, Hannibal Lokumbe amazes, as he pants and weaves through his scenes - and plays them with can't-look-away fervency. Plus, as a bonus, Lokumbe is a gifted trumpeter. What more could you ask for? As Odessa, Crystal Fox does quietly lovely work, as does Faye M. Price. Thomasina Petrus is a hoot.
And Eric Berryman as David. Wow. Quiet, understated, poised, sweet, drawn to his father's musicianship, in love with his mother's safe religiosity. Quietly defiant: "I have things I have to do," he says, making you feel the pressing burden of his future. Berryman dominates every scene he's in. Bravo.
Eric Berryman as David Alexander and Greta Oglesby as Sister Margaret Alexander in Penumbra Theatre Company's production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Things pick up steam after intermission, when both the emotion and the rhetoric swell to poetic heights. But Baldwin, the playwright, seems unwilling to let these characters go. As the play moves toward an anti-climactic climax and a swift, shallow denouncement, Bellamy, the director, can't get the script to keep its pace.
Greta Oglesby as Sister Margaret Alexander and Hannibal Lokumbe as Luke in Penumbra Theatre Company's production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
The scenes with lengthy bouts of dialogue tend to drag, likely due to Baldwin's unfamiliarity with writing for the stage and the actors' unfamiliarity with the expansiveness of the Wurtele versus their more intimate Penumbra stage. Balancing the lulls, however, is the incredible music, courtesy of the actors (many of them trained vocalists) as well as the members of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, whose powerful voices and harmonies revitalize the action.
As is the case with any performance, these small lows will likely disappear by the end of the play's run, leaving only the powerful piece of art that is The Amen Corner--a work that, although written 50 years ago, still resonates with today's society.
Have you seen "The Amen Corner?" If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.(1 Comments)
The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus (TCGMC) has chosen its next Artistic Director.
Ben Riggs will become the organization's fifth Artistic Director on August 1, 2012.
Image courtesy TCMGC
Riggs has been the Artistic Director of the Denver Gay Men's Chorus since 2007. He also has served as Artistic Director of the Boulder Chorale, a 120-voice volunteer mixed chorus in Boulder, Colorado.
The TCGMC has been searching for a new Artistic Director since Dr. Stan Hill announced his retirement in July of last year. He has served as the Chorus' Artistic Director for 12 years and is considered a major figure in the gay and lesbian choral movement
Dr. Hill's final performance in the Twin Cities will be the Chorus' Pride Weekend concert,
"They Sang to Me."
It will be performed at Ted Mann Concert Hall on June 22 and 23.
Posted at 3:33 PM on May 15, 2012
by David Cazares
Filed under: Music
Midway through "Black Radio," the innovative new recording by the Robert Glasper Experiment, the musicians break from their intricate fusion of jazz and hip-hop to reflect on the state of contemporary black American music.
Their mini-rap session that concludes "Gonna Be Alright" (F.T.B.) is a bit rambling and perhaps distracting for accomplished listeners. But it is a window to the serious debates that occur in the jazz world, in which some wonder if musicians have strayed too far from popular tastes, and others worry about that shrinking number of people - especially black fans -- in the audience.
People think of jazz musicians and they pigeon hole us as just jazz musicians. How much jazz you think is like musicians' fault? Cats started playing for other musicians and trying to be one thing, just trying to be Charlie Parker...
The musicians also bemoan the quality of tracks played on black radio stations nationwide - forgettable songs that too often lack the musicianship of an earlier era.
I don't think people know what's good anymore. Anything popular, even if it's wack, is like what sets the pace of music nowadays. It used to be the bar was so high and people had a greater appreciation for music...
With that conundrum in mind, pianist Robert Glasper, once dedicated to the jazz trio, has delivered a second project that seeks to harness the energy and imagination of modern music. But while his Experiment group's 2009 release, "Double Booked," was a mix of standards and hip-hop, Black Radio embellishes them with soul, r&b and electronic touches.
Glasper has great vision, one that will be appreciated by those who understand and appreciate his approach.
But all of the attention the record has received prompts the question of whether the pianist and bandleader could be overshadowed by his own creation -- and by his higher profile friends. With "Black Radio," is he, in essence, like a great studio artist playing behind good vocalists?
The recording has garnered significant amounts of attention since its release in March, but not merely for the pianist's harmonic and melodic inventiveness. Glasper's talent might be enough to woo those in the know, but perhaps to capture a contemporary and star-struck audience, he assembled a name-dropping crew of notable indie guests, among them rappers Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco, a powerful combination on "Always Shine," a tune Glasper presented to a nationwide audience when performing on the Late Show with David Letterman.
The lush and introspective recording of covers and originals consistently grooves to a decidedly hip-hop beat from drummer Chris Dave. But it focuses on the vocalists.
Erykah Badu offers an airy, if adequate, rendition of the Mongo Santamaria tune "Afro Blue." Lala Hathaway smoothly croons Sade's "Cherish the Day," as Glasper caresses the electronic keyboards. Meshell Ndegeocello delivers "The Consequences of Jealousy" with a husky sensuality.
Glasper also aims for a multi-dimensional approach with his selections, wrapping up the CD with David Bowie's "Letter to Hermione" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - both with plenty of soul.
Is this jazz? By traditional standards - if one considers that jazz is largely about improvisation and spontaneous musical creation -- perhaps not.
If one considers Glasper's Experiment a well-constructed project that seeks to connect the rich veins of black musical thought that gave birth to the blues and jazz with a modern sensibility, then the answer is yes -- in a new way.
Jazz musicians can't keep playing old standards -- many of them improvised versions of show tunes from more than half a century ago - however much the masters infused them with complicated rhythms, expanded melodies and harmonics.
A departure from jazz records, it may help hook an estranged younger audience with rich music that reflects on the jazz tradition, even if it doesn't dwell on history. Radio needs it, as does the jazz hall.