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Soul Crooners 2
West Coast Black Theater Troupe

Also see William's review of Stop Kiss

Soul Crooners
Michael Menendez, Nate Jacobs (r), Leon S. Pitts II (f), Christopher Eisenberg
Soul Crooners 2, the latest production by the West Coast Black Theater Troupe, finds them firmly in the groove, doing what they do so well, presenting a high energy musical revue, this time focused on the male soul singers and groups, mostly of the 1970s. Conceived, adapted, directed, choreographed and staring Nate Jacobs, the evening pays homage to soloists from Al Green and Al Wilson to Lou Rawls and beyond, and groups such as Earth Wind and Fire, The Jackson 5, The Four Tops, and the Isley Brothers. The show is anchored by an MC, Emmanuel Avraham.

Offering up 36 certified soul classics, the cast consists of Jacobs and Leon S. Pitts II as the senior members, and well as Michael Mendez and Christopher Eisenberg, the youth contingent. All of these men have played together in previous WBTT offerings and the chemistry shows. Everyone gets lead opportunities and in the second act, a solo offering. When not in the spotlight, everyone works together on backup vocals that are tight and beautifully blended. They could all step into a 1970s-era recording studio. Nate Jacobs owns the stage every time he steps front and center, an object lesson for the youngsters who continue to learn from him. He is at his absolute best in a soulful version of "For All We Know," a song I am more familiar with through performances by Barbara Cook and Nat King Cole, among others. His second act solo on "(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don't Wanna Be Right" also thrills. Leon Pitts covers "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" with a smooth bass baritone strongly reminiscent of the inimitable Lou Rawls and a few songs later shows a strong falsetto on "Soul Man."

I always love seeing Michael Mendez as he continues to grow as a front line performer. His "Me and Mrs. Jones" is a highlight of the solo numbers in the second act. Then, in "Turn Off the Lights," he croons a falsetto riff that received applause from the appreciative audience at the performance I attended. At the ripe age of 15, Christopher Eisenberg brings great poise and stage presence well beyond his years. In the first act, his covers of two Michael Jackson songs, "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "I Wanna Be Where You Are," are excellent fits for his youthful exuberance. His second act "You Are My Starship" shows a real star in the making. "Grandma's Hands," which begins the ride toward the first act finale, shows everyone working closely together as more than the sum of the individual parts.

All the great singing described above would not be possible without a strong band in support, led by James (Jay) E. Dodge II, quite possibly the strongest musical director in the area. He is white and, though the cast has some fun teasing him about it during the show, he totally understands how these soul tunes need to sound. It is impossible to give him enough credit for the overall success of the show. He is assisted by Todd Bellamy, Jamar D. Camp, Etienne Porter and James Johnston, all of whom have done superb work in previous WBTT shows.

Sets by Jim Florek and Costumes by Cristy Owen continue to impress, quite a step up from previous seasons.

I wish that I had not used up all the superlatives in my meager vocabulary on previous WBTT shows, because this show deserves nothing less. At the end, the young ladies who run the front of the house and young star in the making Alyssa White were seen dancing, unable to contain themselves. They were joined by a number of audience members.

A few days before I attended Soul Crooners 2, I received a press release announcing next year's four very exciting productions: Purlie; a new play about relations between jews and blacks just after the Civil War, entitled The Whipping Boy; a salute to Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne; and Bubbling Brown Sugar.

Cast (in Alphabetical Order)
Emmanuel Avraham
Christopher Eisenberg
Nate Jacobs
Michael Mendez
Leon S. Pitts II

Director/Choreographer: Nate Jacobs
Production Manager/Music director: James (Jay) E. Dodge, II
Costumer: Cristy Owen
Set Designer: Jim Florek
Lighting Designer: Eric Furbish
Sound Engineer: Sean Robinson
Technical Director: Shane Streight
Stage Manager: Juanita Munford
House Manager: Myllanna McKinnon
Music Consultant: Tony Moon
Scenic Artist: John Reynolds

Musicians
James (Jay) E Dodge II: Bass
Todd Bellamy: Piano
Jamar D. Camp: Auxiliary Keyboard
Etienne J. Porter: Drums
James Johnston: Guitar

Soul Crooners 2 presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through March 24, 2013. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.


Photo: Don Daly Photo.com

--William S. Oser



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