Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Breath and Imagination
Helping Hayes every step of the way was his mother Angel Mo' (Daphne Gaines). She had one motto for raising her son: "Keep your focus." However, she had a different focus than her son. She wanted him to become a minister. He wanted to be a singer. They finally found a common ground in his performances of spirituals. He wove spirituals into concerts of arias, art songs and other classical music.
Elijah Rock was raised in Cleveland as Eric Myricks. He has found success as a jazz singer, a tap dancer, and a stage and film performer. Rock has the perfect tenor voice for playing Roland Hayes. He is capable of making the spirituals pull at your heart strings and making the arias evoke comparisons with performs such as Enrico Caruso.
Daphne Gaines is a great deal younger than the character she plays. She carries many of the songs in the show with a pure, clear voice that can start as a low growl and soar to the roof of the Allen Theatre.
Tom Frey accompanies the songs at a beautiful grand piano. In addition he plays minor character, male and female, good guys and bad guys. Frey is a spectacular talent. He accompanies both singers without once over powering them with volume or timing.
In fact, the three performs bring great talent to the stage.
As the story unfolds, Roland Hayes sings traditional spirituals: "Poor Pilgrim," Give Me Jesus," "Were You There?" and many others. In addition, he sings "Ich grolle nicht" (Robert Schumann), "Gia il sole dal Gange" (Alessandro Scarlatti), "O del mio dolce ardor" (Christoph Willibald Von Gluck) and others.
One story from Hayes' life dominates this 90 minute show. Hayes, his wife Alzada, and their daughter Afrika were in Rome, Georgia. Alzada and Afrika went to a store to buy shoes. When they sat in the whites-only section of the shoe department, they were arrested. Hayes went to the jail to get them and was arrested and beaten. This story is retold several times in this script. This event focused Hayes on performing for only integrated audiences.
Hayes was the first truly successful African-American soloist in the United States and, later in his career, internationally. In some years, he earned over $100,000 and that was during and after the Great Depression.
Daniel Beaty wrote a well-structured script. In 90 minutes, Beaty tells the high points of Hayes' life and includes many of the songs that were important to Hayes' career.
Breath and Imagination is a satisfying production. The cast is excellent. The set and costumes evoke the life and times of Roland Hayes.
Through March 9, 2014, at the Allen Theatre, Cleveland Play House. For ticket information, telephone 216-241-6000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Breath and Imagination
Director: May Adrales
- David Ritchey