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AISLE SAY Florida

SOUL CROONERS 2

Conceived, Adapted, Directed by Nate Jacobs
Musical Direction by James (Jay) E. Dodge
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
WBTT Theatre, 1646-10th Way, Sarasota, 941-366-1505
February 22 through March 24, 2013

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker 

A follow-up to a previous season’s sold out celebration mostly of ‘70s soul music, “Soul Crooners 2” has host Emmanuel Avraham giving brief explanations of the movement between sets after a nice welcome. But song lyrics mostly show history and themes, even if secondary to the first “Soul Crooners” show that featured most of the biggest of  relevant classics. Nothing secondary about the new performances though, which couldn’t be delivered with more pep, personality, pizzazz..
 
Act 1 goes from the cast of four harmonizing or soloing-with-backup in turn on “Sing a Song” and “On Your Face” to  Nate Jacobs doing Donny Hathaway with “For All We Know” and fronting the others like Al Green with “L-O-V-E.” In the main, the music is pop soul stressing romantic love though the cast does wonders with the highly narrative “Grandma’s Hands.” The older singers like Nate and Leon Pitts dominate this half of the program singing as the younger two handle background, especially choreography, with undiminished vigor. The gorgeous (really) Michael Mendez creates his own miniature Heatwave with “Always and Forever” and sums up all the Friends of Distinction while “Going in Circles.” He has hearts fluttering when he focuses on audience members close-up. Christopher Eisenberg, at age 9 one of the original “Soul Crooners,” now at 15 is promise fulfilled with Jackson 5 hits “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are.”
 
Act 2 gets into more hard  rock and other genres, often expressing social changes and viewpoints toward them. Songs introduced in the ‘80s brought disco and funk and finally softer rock.  All are represented here, beginning with Nate and Leon collaborating on “For the Love of Money” while Michael sizzles with “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” and soon gets to the famed “Me and Mrs. Jones.” Chris’ early “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time” leads all the way into “Play That Funky Music.” Up to this, Act 2 comes through much more choreographically subdued than Act I, spending more time on solos up front.  With the Cast joining on “Give Up the Funk,” the end comes with near-ferocity of emotion and movement. Lots of audience toe-tapping and clapping too. Like an old time revival meeting.
 
Christy Owen deserves applause for the men’s costumes: white and blue-trimmed tux with rhinestones filling the slits on the outside of the trousers above white shiny shoes in Act 1. The men return with black sequined jackets over white shirts and straight white pants, black-belted but with rhinestone buckles. Smooth! The host changes from rhinestone-accented brownish-maroon leisure suit to Act 2’s more subdued suit yet with sunglasses.  Blue studded with almost hot pink ovals make the background throughout, designed by Jim Florek. In front of this stretch the musicians: James E. Dodge, bass; Todd Bellamy, piano; Jamar D. Camp, auxiliary keyboard; Etienne J. Porter, drums; James Johnston, guitar (and willing point of a funk joke about being white). All important lighting, designed by Eric Furbish, spikes Michael Mendez’ song “Turn Off Lights.” Sean Robinson’s sound doesn’t need so much amplification, but it seems to be the fashion these days. (I expect to see ads from audiologists and hearing aid companies in theater programs soon.) I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a “Soul Crooners 3” in WBBT’s future.
 
Juanita Mumford is Stage Manager for the 90 min. show, with Dodge as Production Stage Manager.

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