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Just when the doldrums of the steamy summer sets in, Sarasota audiences can count on the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe to provide a much-needed jolt with their annual summer musical revue. “Broadway in Black” opened June 24th and runs through July 23rd featuring just over 50 musical numbers!
The cast of "Broadway in Black" (photo by Wendy Dewhurst)
The musical selections are punctuated with short interludes in which the actors share with the audience the story of the long arduous path for African Americans to make their mark on Broadway, dubbed the “great white way.” The numbers span from hits from “Shuffle Along,” the first Broadway musical written and directed by African-Americans in 1921, to “The Color Purple” both revived last year on Broadway with “Purple” winning the 2016 Tony for best revival.
As usual, the WBTT features performers with powerhouse voices who consistently hit all the right notes in some of the most famous Broadway numbers of all time. Two newcomers JoAnna Ford, an incredible operatic soprano, and Raleigh Mosely, II were absolutely electric on stage both as soloists and in their synergistic duets. The purity of their unique voices blended perfectly in the two most hopeful anthems of the evening, “Wheels of a Dream” from “Ragtime” and “When I First Saw You” from “Dreamgirls.” I hope this is only the beginning of their long careers with WBTT.
Raleigh and JoAnna paralleled the range of their voices with their ability to run the gambit of emotions in their moving solos. Raleigh transported us in “Old Man River” from “Showboat,” which Broadway composter/lyricist/performer Neil Berg recently called the most perfect Broadway song; and JoAnna gave a soaring performance in “Your Daddy’s Son” also from “Ragtime.” These numbers alone made for a memorable evening, but the hits just kept on coming in rapid fire and dynamic arrangements.
Syreeta Banks was subtle and beautiful in the classic “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” and gave a knock out performance in “I’m Here” from “Dreamgirls” among the best diva numbers in Broadway history.
The entire cast was high energy throughout the night in every number. I especially liked the fact that Nate Jacobs, director/founder, was careful to set the scene for every song taking the audience on the emotional journey with the actors even though we may not have had the benefit of seeing the entire show. The choreography was complementary to each piece, and Topaz Von Wood, who is currently studying with Alvin Ailey, graced the stage beautifully at just the right moments to highlight the musicality of the numbers. Joshua Thompson also brings a kinetic energy to the stage, and I would love to see the two perform a duet in some future production.
There is so much to love about “Broadway in Black,” especially for fans of Broadway musicals like me. It is rare for a local company to be able to pull off the star wattage that WBTT does on a regular basis, so don’t miss this exquisite summertime treat.