Friday, August 30, 2013

That Long Ago Day...Unlikely Friendships...And a Nine-Piece Band...

On a hot summer day, they assembled in our nation's capital, under the shadow of the great emancipator, to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress and to awaken America's long-slumbering conscience...President Barack Obama
This week, the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's famous August 28 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Naturally, as an African-American and a person who believes that everyone should be treated fairly and equally, I reflected on the past and thought hard about the future. I also continued to partake in one my favorite pastimes - the Arts. I didn't intentionally seek out pieces about our nation's history, but I was reminded about it over and over in the ones I experienced. 

First up...Broadway's Soul Doctor about folk singing Rabbi Shlomo Carleback (January 1925 - October 1994) and his unlikely friendship with singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone (February 1933 - April 2003). Soul Doctor receives a paltry C- consensus rating on Stagegrade and there have been some unsettling articles about the title character. In fact, I don't think that the musical will remain open for much longer. Regardless, there were aspects of the show I really enjoyed. I loved Amber Iman's performance as Nina Simone and thought that the scene where Shlomo and Nina meet for the first time and connect because of thier respective struggles was one of the most memorable scenes I've experience at the theater recently.  


Next Netflix film of the week, the biopic film 42 about Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player. Today, black athletes may be common. But not in 1947. Very interesting film about Robinson's experiences and the Brooklyn Dodgers manager who signed him. I could however have done without the excessive use of the n-word.

Then, Will Power's play Fetch Clay, Make Man at NYTW about the unlikely friendship between boxing legend Muhammad Ali and the first black actor to ever receive a screen credit - the cringe-worthy, Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Perry - May 1902 - November 1985). 

Now, I don't understand it when people play mindlessly with their smartphones during intermission at the theater. I usually use this time to chat about the first act, read up on the actors in the program or playbill, or just reflect on what I've just experienced. However, at Fetch Clay, Make Man, my theater companion and I immediately pulled out our smartphones and began googling the real life characters in this fascinating play. We wanted to know: Did this unlikely friendship really exist? Are there actual photos? What happened to Lincoln Perry? How long were Sonji and Ali married? And what eventually happened to her? I noticed the woman sitting next to me was also doing the same thing. We just had to know.    

Needless to say, the googling and youtubing continued at home and we cringed some more as we watched Stephin Fetchit clips, a stain on the image of Black America. 

Finally, there was the music show Kenny Brawner is Ray Charles at Joe's Pub. And what a show it was - a nine piece band, three soulful back up singers and Ray Charles (September 1930 - June 2004) incarnate in cozy Joe's Pub. Those who know Ray Charles' story know that he crossed over and integrated music. Between hits, Kenny Brawner delighted the audience with anecdotes of Ray Charles' life including when Charles cancelled a 1961 performance in Georgia after learning that that it would be segregated.

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