Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

How I Got Over
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Cyrano de Burgershack, Strange Bedfellows and The Roommate


The Cast
Photo by Don Daly Photo
How I Got Over, a Tribute to Mahalia Jackson is the sizzling summer production at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Created and adapted by Artistic Director Nate Jacobs, the production is more a tribute to gospel music in general, as the great Mother Jackson is only mentioned once or twice and her particular style only comes front and center once, a stunning "Trouble of the World" sung by Tarra Conner jones. The reaction was a partial standing ovation right in the middle of the first act at the performance I attended, absolutely deserved. Other important gospel names are mentioned, both in the first and second acts, to give the audience an historical sense of the genre. The script is one of Mr. Jacobs' most effective, a fine balance between narrative and the music.

The production is anchored by Earley Dean as a Preacher and Brian L. Boyd narrating. Four star women—Ariel Blue, Tarra Connor jones, Elaine Mayo and Neyce Pierre—lead the cast, solo and in various groupings. Ms. jones is the most powerful, as she solos on my absolute favorite Duke Ellington song, "Come Sunday," a capella until a few rolling piano chords at the end. Ms. Mayo has the most authentic gospel sound since she was plucked by Mr. Jacobs from his own church. That authenticity shows when she accompanies herself on the piano and leads the ensemble in numbers like "Didn't it Rain, Children" and "Precious Lord Take My Hand." Ms. Blue is always a company favorite. A plot point has her and Ms. jones in competition in "Stop, Take a Little Time to Pray" and she leads "Something Got a Hold of Me." Ms. Pierre has the gentlest voice of the four, her best moment taking place on "His Eye is On the Sparrow." When the four are all together they blend gloriously. Rounding out the cast are Victoria Byrd, Jeffery Cason, Jr. Derric Gobourne, Jr., Joshua Thompson and Topaz Von Wood as the ensemble. They fill the role of the choir and are called upon to do lots of strenuous dancing.

Nate Jacobs directs the production, keeping everything in sharp focus, but the real hero of the production is Donald Frison, now with the title Resident Choreographer. The dancing shows much the same style as his previous work at WBTT, but this time out it reaches new heights of excellence. Michael Newton-Brown has created a church setting which makes it clear how central the institution is to African-American life. Fabulous floral dresses for the ladies in the second act highlight the work of costume designer Cristy Owen. Lighting design by Justin Morris is kaleidoscopic on big numbers such as "Move On Up a Little Higher." Music director James. E. Dodge II leads the energetic performance as always. All the WBTT regulars, Annette Breazeale, Juanita Munford, and two of the three McKinnon sisters, are in their respective places so that the high level of production that is expected from this wonderful company is in place.

How I Got Over is WBTT at its best. It was a bit disappointing to see a fair number of empty seats when I attended. I am pretty sure that once the word gets out, that won't continue.

How I Got Over, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, through August 14, 2016, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.

Cast in (alphabetic order):
Ariel Blue
Brian L. Boyd
Victoria Byrd
Earley Dean*
Derric Gobourne, Jr.
Tarra Connor jones*
Elaine Mayo
Neyce Pierre
Joshua Thompson
Topaz von Wood
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

Band:
Music Director/Bass Guitar: James E. Dodge II
Piano: Todd Bellamy
Auxiliary Keys: Jamar Camp
Drums: Donald Watts

Director: Nate Jacobs
Choreographer: Donald Frison
Music Director: James E. Dodge II
Scenic Design: Michael Newton-Brown
Property Master: Annette Breazeale
Production Manager: James E. Dodge II
Costume Design: Cristy Owen
Lighting Design: Justin Morris
Production Stage Manager: Juanita Munford*


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