There are some fabulous shows onstage in Boston, right now! At the top of the list is a kick-ass production of the Tony Award-winning musical AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ The Fats Waller Musical now onstage at Central Square Theater! Trust me– you don’t want to miss this. The joint started jumpin’ before the show even began! The talented creative team decked that theater out like a Harlem supper club, low lights, red lampshades and velvet curtains hung high from a lighted proscenium, all set on the diagonal of the black box (Scenic Designer Jon Savage, Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg). That theater was alive. THEN…
… at the first notes of a score by or recorded by “The King of Stride Piano” Fats Waller, delivered by a terrific onstage orchestra with piano/conductor Dan Rodriguez– a dynamic five-person ensemble grabbed the spotlight and never let go: the lovely Lovely Hoffman runs the gamut from hilarious, to heartbreaking on tunes like “Mean to Me”; Jackson Jirard a supple smoke show of a performer lights up the house in the reefer classic “The Viper’s Drag”; vivacious Christina Jones’ ebullient moves and crazy charm barely “Keepin Out of Mischief Now” brings the house down; Sheree Marcelle’s piercing, pitch perfect soprano thrills to the bone; Anthony Pires, Jr. a deep-voiced force of nature sweeps across the stage like a tornado churning up the laughs in “Fat and Greasy and “Your Feet’s too Big.” Separately each singer/actor is a powerhouse; together they’re a lightning storm that electrifies.
Dazzling choreography springs from each number as if invented on the spot by these consummate triple threat singer/actor/dancers. In fact, they were invented by co-choreographers Ilyse Robbins and Maurice Emmanuel Parent who also directs with enormous heart and panache. It’s a glorious celebration of The Harlem Renaissance in full bloom, with the insistent joy of Fats Waller on the keyboard, his left hand leaping astride this “golden age of African-American Culture.” When, near the end of the show set a mere two generations from slavery, this masterful ensemble sits down and delivers “What did I do to feel so ‘Black and Blue,'” the pain haunts every note of that wail of a question in five-part harmony. AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ The Fats Waller Musical is an exuberant, lusty, and defiant affirmation of life in the midst of tribulation; it packs a visceral charge. You’re gonna feel GREAT after you see it!
Speaking of triumph in the midst of tribulation, get ready for a new and potent take on superheroes and a more personal arena for their powers. Black Superhero Magic Mama by Inda Craig-Galvan packs an intimate wallop! POW. Presented by Company One Theatre in collaboration with American Repertory Theater, Boston Comics in Color Festival, and Boston Public Library, the play stars Ramona Lisa Alexander as Sabrina Jackson a devoted but controlling “super mom” who’s determined to carve out space in a white world for her exceptional young Black son 14 year-old Tramarion, charismatically played by Joshua Robinson.
By day, Tramarion is a super-achieving student prepping to win a HS Quiz show called “Know Your Heritage.” Though his mom has religiously read him “Harry Potter,” Tramarion’s imagination leads him elsewhere. He and his best pal (a bad influence according to Sabrina) “Flat Joe,” well-played by Anderson Stinson III, are writing a comic book about a superhero called “Maasai Angel” who has been drawn to look like Tramarion’s mom. The stage is set for the tragedy to come– and it hit me hard.
I was gobsmacked–though it is an all too familiar and bruising reality: young Black boys shot by white police. Ramona Lisa Alexander as Sabrina renders the excruciating emotional pain and depression of a grieving mother as intensely as I’ve ever seen it conveyed. Her depression is compounded by a vulturous media who play all the usual political angles, use all the familiar language, and cycle the tragedy through the news to satisfy a voracious audience.
But the playwright propels her character Sabrina through a more personal landscape. Though the political landscape is there as a backdrop, Sabrina’s personal odyssey is primary; she claims the right to grieve her own way in her own good time in her own narrative space, and use her super powers accordingly. Act II literally finds Sabrina as the Maasai Angel of her son’s imagination in full battle array fighting her way through various enemies (whom we recognize from Act I) toward “The Entity” to find her real power –and along the way the humanity of most of the characters.
Again, Ramona Lisa Alexander’s performance anchors us in this rambunctious tonal terrain, from painful reality, to satirical commentary, to comic book fantasy, and back to reality. The video projections are pretty effective, and Monica White Ndounou’s direction makes good use of the space in the BPL’s Rabb Hall, though Act II feels a bit threadbare. Act II might also be sharpened to address the questions raised about the relationship between the private and the political; but Inda Craig-Galvan’s approach to this material is fresh, nuanced, and deeply humane, much needed in an increasingly turbulent, broad strokes, polarized world. See Black Superhero Magic Mama at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Hall through May 21!
PLEASE NOTE: A digital version of Black Super Hero Magic Mama is also available to stream anytime on demand beginning on or around May 9 through May 21. All tickets are Pay-What-You-Want.