Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Fun Home
The first act begins with a quick salute to the season, then an introduction to many of the major groups that made up the Motown roster, with our cast recreating their big, non-seasonal hits. I find this section unnecessary when it takes up half of the first act, and these tunes fit nicely into many of WBTT's musical salutes. Next are more Christmasy tunes, which include "My Christmas Tree," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Jingle Bells," "Jingle Bell Rock," and a few others, ending high with a soul version of "Joy to the World."
Act two starts with a Nate Jacobs original, "We Rejoice," and a Motown original, "Little Bright Star." Then it's on to the traditional songs, sung Motown style. "Little Drummer Boy" features a sensational dance routine by the always wonderful Derric Gobourne, Jr. and Chakara Rosa. I keep thinking that Mr. Gobourne will not be able to rise to new heights and he keeps proving me wrong. He does several leaps with a split that wow the audience, pictured above. I first saw Ms. Rosa featured in artist showcases by Christopher Eisenberg and Alyssa White and thought her an interesting dancer. This past year she has begun to be featured in WBTT mainstage productions and, as choreographed by Donald Frison, she also just keeps getting better and better. Her role in dances tied to Rudolph (you all know the rest) and "Little Drummer Boy" show her with excellent technique plus a sense of humor to share with the audience. Highlights of the act are Motown originals "I Want to Come Home for Christmas" (Brian Boyd), "Give Love on Christmas Day" (Ariel Blue and Michael Mendez), and a Christmas medley taken from the Isley Brothers. The big finale is "Go Tell It on the Mountain" combined with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," led by Brian and Tarra Conner jones.
Heading the female cast are Tarra Conner jones, back after a year away, company stalwart Ariel Blue, and Joanna Ford. All three have wonderful voices and years of experience for relative newcomers Ashley D. Brooks, Carmilia "Carmi" Harris, and Ms. Rosa to draw on. Ms. Brooks is particularly charming in her paean to a "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree, "My Christmas Tree." Heading up the men are Leon S. Pitts, II, Michael Mendez, and Nate Jacobs, making a now too infrequent appearance. Also strongly featured are Brian L. Boyd and Raleigh Mosely II, with Joey James and Mr. Gobourne, Jr. rounding things out. Mr. Boyd's voice caught my ear in such a way that I wonder what might happen if he were to attempt a more legitimate (not mic'd) repertory. Mr. Mosely makes a great impression as well. Each of the men's voices is so fine that I wouldn't mind spending an entire musical evening with any one of them. No other local company can field a cast always so laden with exciting talent.
James (Jay) Dodge, II does his always exemplary job leading the band, one of the reasons all WBTT shows are so crackling with energy.
Direction by Nate Jacobs keeps everything moving, and choreography by Donald Frison with the dance numbers mentioned above keeps pushing this company to new heights. New scenic design is by Michael Newton-Brown and an improvement over the earlier version. Costume design is credited to Adrienne Pitts, but based on pictures from two years ago and my memory, there is a lot of carry over from when Christy Owen designed the costumes. Either way, they are stunning. Lighting design by Nick Jones makes everything more colorful. Company regulars Annette Breazeale (property master), Shane Streight (technical director), Juanita Munford (production stage manager), and James E. Dodge II (production manager and music director) are all on hand to make sure that this production is up to the exalted levels I have come to expect from WBTT.
A Motown Christmas is the kind of gift I best like to receive for the holidays: wonderful music and great theater. In the lobby I heard a rumor that the entire run is already sold out, not unusual for a WBTT musical revue, but maybe putting yourself on a waiting list might net you a couple of scarce tickets and a night of great entertainment.
A Motown Christmas, presented by West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, through December 23, 2017, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Cast (in Alphabetical Order): Musicians: