Theater Latté Da rarely makes a misstep, in fact you could almost say it’s probably the safest bet in town. When they introduce the World Premiere of a new musical, there’s little doubt that it’s going to be something special. We Shall Someday is a show with so much promise, a great hook for it’s story, a fantastic cast, and an elegant set design. Which makes it all the more disappointing that it is one of their rare missteps. The more I think about it, the more I see the potential it squanders. The only thing that doesn’t work is the music, which is kind of a big factor in a musical. In what seems like a sign now, Minnesota Playlist published an interview I gave tonight. In it, I was asked what advice I would give to someone interested in starting a theater blog and I said, write bad reviews. My reasoning is, I’m trying to grow audiences, to get people off of their couches and out into the city to experience live theater. If I convince someone, particularly someone who doesn’t really go to the theater, to take a chance on a show and they don’t like it, it’s going to be that much harder to get them out again the next time. If I get someone out to the theater and they have a great time, their going to want to have that rewarding experience again and again. And therein lies the necessity of writing bad reviews, so that we don’t sabotage the opportunity to grow our audience. If there aren’t bad reviews, the good ones don’t mean anything. I also said, and it was a good reminder to have tonight, don’t be mean, and make sure with the bad, you are also pointing out the good.
The musical tells the story of three generations of a southern black family beginning in 1961 with the Freedom Riders, and ending in 1992 with the protests of the Rodney King verdict. The family members, a father, daughter, and grandson each get an act to tell their story chronologically. The father, Julius, tells of his experience going and joining the Freedom Riders and their nonviolent protests throughout the south in 1961. His daughter, Ruby, tells of the trauma of being called to the hospital because her son Jay was beaten by a police officer, essentially for being black. In Act 3, Jay tells of his experience of the Rodney King beating and its aftermath. It’s a brilliant concept and vehicle to explore generational trauma, the cycles of violence, and to hold a mirror up to America in 2023 through the lens of it’s past. The cast is phenomenally talented, both as singers and in their dramatic performances. The issue is the music, it isn’t poorly written music on its own but not what I would spend an afternoon listening to. I can appreciate that it’s well composed and acknowledge that it’ll be to others tastes. The problem, aside from a couple of notable exceptions, it drained the story of it’s emotional power. It seemed completely at odds with the subject matter and characters. Where the dialogue or lyrics begins and the other ends isn’t always clear and starts to ignite a fire in our souls, but the music seems to be trying to throw water on it. There are musicals that mostly consist of songs, and there are musicals that mostly consist of music played while someone sings their dialogue. Admittedly, I lean more towards the former and this show is decidedly the latter. The show is written book and lyrics by Harrison David Rivers, and the music and additional lyrics by Ted Shen. I think the script, particularly it’s structure, and dialogue have the potential to be a riveting and powerful play, and that would be my suggestion to Rivers. The situations and emotions when they are not being undercut, create feelings of real anger at the injustices perpetrated upon, not just these characters, but large swaths of our countries population. It’s a fatal flaw something that creates such visceral empathy one moment, becomes so utterly unengaging the next. These are important issues and subject matter but it feels as if NPR produced a musical. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I think if you see it, you’ll understand what I mean.
If the musical as I described it, sounds like the sort of thing you like, then there is a lot more to like in this show as well. There are a few moments here and there where the music doesn’t seem to be working against the material. One is in the third act when Jay let’s loose, the disbelief and anger over the not guilty verdict in the trial of the officers who beat Rodney King. In that moment we get some elements of rap creeping in, the music becomes much more aggressive and discordant which actually supports and enhances what the character is experiencing. As I mentioned, the cast is great as are the musicians, everyone brings their all to the project. Roland Hawkins II is Julius and has an amazing vocal range, seemingly equally comfortable with the high and low registers. Erin Nicole Farste is Ruby who plays the pain, anger, and fear of being the mother of a young black man who has been beaten by the police all in the same moment. Showing us how all of these emotions are shadings and aspects of a life lived in the ever present shadow of racism. Ronnie Allen is Jay, and it’s in his Act that the show somewhat successfully overpowers the music, or at least the music stops trying to be in direct conflict with the characters and their story. Allen is really well cast as a performer, he shows us Jay’s rage in a moment that mirrors our own sense of outrage, giving voice to all of our collective souls. He also delivers a grounded portrayal of someone who has been beaten, who is always conscious of his role in his mother’s life, but also can feel the strains of an overprotective mother. Finally, Bradley Johnson hot off his role as Satan in Analog and Vinyl, gets to portray two racist authorities in the the first two Acts and then Jay’s white college roommate with the too on the nose name of Scooter in Act 3. There’s not a lot for Johnson to do, but he lends his voice in song and gives us the focal point we need to direct our anger at in those first two Acts.
While I can’t really recommend the show, I do admire the talent that went into the production. Sarah Bahr has created a sleek and impressive set. The back panels of which act as screens for the projection designs of Kathy Maxwell, which effectively transport us to different locations as well as a couple of montages which are quite effective. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.latteda.org/we-shall-someday This is the perfect show to check out what my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers thought, as I’m certain out opinions will differ on this one. Watch for a round up in the next week or so, to see that follow us on FB at @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers
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