Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Madama Butterfly
Mr. Parr's script is serviceable. The beginning informs us about Ms. Water's relationships with the important women in her life (grandmother, mother, step-sister) without any great insight, the middle could be about almost any important black entertainer of that period, and the end lets us know that she did finally find some inner peace via the Billy Graham crusades.
Jannie Jones does not attempt to recreate the original artist, but manages a decent sense of the star quality Waters obviously possessed. Often, when a performer attempts to pay tribute to a star of a bygone era, they get caught in a swamp of imitation. Ms. Jones completely sidesteps this danger and in so doing gives a sensational performance that is all her own, fine in the acting, even better on the vocal side.
Jim Prosser is on piano with music direction by Dr. Justin P. Cowan. The arrangements are faithful to Ethel Waters recordings, which helps give the audience an idea of her musical style. If a few go out and search for the actual recordings, they will be richer for it.
Kate Alexander does a fine job directing. Here her main focus is pulling a bravura performance from her star and she completely does. She is aided by Ellie Mooney as choreographer. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay's scenic design is among their best, really helping to set the period. Adrienne Webber's costumes are some of the most dazzling seen at this theater in a while. Uncredited wig design should have been credited, it is excellent. Lighting design by Nick Jones and sound design by Thom Korp complete the excellent technical elements.
I've been in love with Ethel Waters for a very long time. "Taking a Chance on Love" is among my half dozen favorite songs to share with an audience or a friend. Ethel Waters: His Eye Is On the Sparrow is an almost guaranteed hit for me. I hope audiences learn about this great lady and share my love.
Ethel Waters: His Eye Is On the Sparrow, through August 4, 2019, at Florida Studio Theatre, Keating Theater, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.