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
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
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
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.
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.)
wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a “Soul Crooners 3” in WBBT’s future.