Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Show Boat
West Coast Black Theater Troupe has fielded a very strong cast, every important role well filled. Early Dean, a founding member of the company, shines in the title role of Purlie Victorious, self-acclaimed "New Fangled Preacher Man." His Purlie is never one to speak when he can preach, or walk when he can strut. He owns the stage as he should. This is a role that won a Tony Award for Cleavon Little and really pushed his career forward. Gia McGlone, new to the company, plays Lutiebelle Gussie May Jenkins, the Tony Award winning role for Melba Moore. Ms. McGlone is completely believable as a naïve 17-year-old country girl, growing in personal strength in the second act. Her singing is spectacular throughout, especially her two solos, "Purlie" and "I Got Love." (I sort of remember a brief encore of "I Got Love" in the original production and I felt a bit cheated when it seemed to be missing in action.)
Ariel Blue as Missy and Emmanuel Cadet as husband Gitlow (brother to Purlie) both offer solid performances in important supporting roles. David Abolafia is brilliant as Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee, finding all the humor in the part and yet still offering an undercurrent of fierceness. I was not familiar with his work except for a brief appearance in WBTT's A Raisin in the Sun a few years ago. I hope this is about to change. Lawrence M. Mazza as son Charlie and Dr. Lonnetta M. Gaines as family servant Idella are both strong.
Purlie opens with a gospel solo, here performed by Zelda Mercado, mother of Syesha Mercado who made it into the finals of "American Idol" in 2008 and has since had a string of successes as she builds her career. In this case the tree does not grow very far from the very talented apple. Santoy Campbell, Nerlynn Etienne, Wellington Fordham, Adrienne Pitts, Whitney Reed, Henry Washington and Kristen Wilson, although few in number, do yeoman's work as the ensemble.
Jim Weaver has directed a very tight production. All three locations called for by the script are clearly delineated and set changes are very smoothly realized. One of Mr. Weaver's greatest accomplishments is the pacing between dialogue and music. In the past this has not been one of the WBTT's great strengths, in productions such as Blackbird, although the book for that piece was not strong. Here, dialogue is crisply delivered (I did not remember how strong the book is, dated but effective). The sets by Michael Newton Brown are superb, it seems that every season WBTT raises the bar. Costumes by Cristy Owen and Mydra McKinnon are also very effective. Many of the usual faces, including James Dodge, II as production manager and Juanita Munford as stage manager, are in their accustomed places doing their usual exemplary jobs. Local favorite Michael Sebastian is music directing from Keyboard I, leading a fine six-piece ensemble. Michael was the perfect choice for this show, as he is one of the most reliable conductors in the area, always keeping the pace lively. Unfortunately, Sarasota will be losing him to Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina. I wish him great success.
Purlie is sure to be remembered as one of the best productions of a musical this year.
Purlie, presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through December 15, 2013. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.
Director: Jim Weaver**