SIDEWALKS’ Jeanne Powell reviews the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s latest offering “REJOICE! A Musical Celebration” in San Francisco (now running through Dec. 31, 2011).
The Christmas season is approaching and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre surprises us with a theatrical gift, one of several gifts their audiences have received this year.
In addition to a new artistic director, new directors on the board, and a convenient venue near Union Square, the LHT gives us a completely revamped musical celebration of Christmas.
I knew I was in for something different as soon as I walked into the theatre for the opening of “Rejoice!” The actress who usually plays Mary in the LHT gospel celebration of Christmas was in the lobby enjoying a beverage. “Why are you here?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you be backstage?” She laughed and said there was a new version of the play for me to enjoy. And so I did.
Award-winning actor Margo Hall continues to impress with her directing talents. Previously she directed “Sonny’s Blues,” a Word for Word production of a James Baldwin story, co-directed “Bulrusher” with Ellen Chang’ and directed five plays for Chabot College. She made her debut as a director with the premiere of “Joyride” from a novel by Greg Sarris
Thanks to artistic director Steven Anthony Jones, LHT this year is offering the world premiere of “Rejoice!” by Ron Stacker Thompson and Nolan Shaheed. Thompson is known as a commercial film producer for such features as “Sister Act 2” with Whoopi Goldberg and “Hoodlum” with Laurence Fishburne (a film I especially appreciate). His television production of “America’s Dream” on HBO won multiple awards.
However, Thompson received his career start in stage work. He was founder and artistic director for the Oakland Ensemble Theatre, where he produced and directed more than 50 plays. He also has produced plays at the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center and the Apollo Theatre.
Nolan Shaheed has been involved in music for more than three decades. He was musical director for Marvin Gaye for two years. He played trumpet with Count Basie for three years, and has performed and toured with major names such as Diana Ross, Natalie Cole and Stevie Wonder. Shaheed is a top studio musician and music producer in southern California.
In this refreshing new musical, the writers and director have maintained LHT’s unique mix of rich voices celebrating the Christmas story along with lively lyrics highlighting humorous aspects of life. This time we see Joseph and Mary – Carrietha Ball and Reggie White — before they become husband and wife, before the long journey to reach Joseph’s home village so that he may pay the required Roman taxes. The three wise men have a much higher profile – Rudy Guerrero, Terry Stanley and Luther Michael Spratt. Jeff Jones as King Herod is by turns menacing and hilarious as the object of satirical lyrics.
Choreography is by Traci Tolmaire with an assist from Crystal Noelle. Musical direction is by Jacqueline Hairston and Cesar Cancino. Excellent costume design is by Joan Raymond.
This is a completely new version of “go tell it on the mountain,” to use the lyrics of a classic gospel song celebrating the birth of Jesus, and worth your while to attend, appreciate and enjoy.
The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre continues its season into May 2012. For more information on this production and other plays, please visit its Web site, http://lhtsf.org.