From My Hometown
A Rags to Riches Celebration of the
American Classics in R&B
Conceived by Lee Summers
Written by Lee Summers, Ty Stephens, Will Barrow
Director: Nathan Lilly
Through October 13, 2013
Producing a theatrical musical is much like fixing a casserole for dinner. Great care must be taken on deciding what ingredients need to go in the dish and in what quantities. A decision must be made as to what spices are used and how much. In some cases, vital mixing instructions need to be followed. Lastly, it is imperative that the baking time is exact; too little time and it comes out undercooked, too much time and it comes out burnt.
In regards to the Karamu production of “From My Hometown” that opened last night (Friday, September 27, 2013) this show needs to go back in the oven for about another twenty minutes.
“From My Home Town” has a lot going for it. You have three young and energetic singers/dancers/actors who harmonize very well. Between the three you have an incredably wide range of vocal versitility from high falsetto to deep base. You have a solid story line of three strangers (who later discover they are distant cousins) coming together at an Apollo Theater audition for “their big break”. You have a long list of R&B and Motown hits for the audience to recognize as well as some well written new songs. The problem lies in the complexity of the work. The rule for musicals is more music, less dialog. Otherwise the musical turns into a play which is what you want to avoid at all costs.
“From My Hometown” was conceived and written by Lee Summers with writing help from Ty Stephens and Herbert Rawlings, Jr. It stars Tyrone Gordon, Jr. as “Philly”, Joel Furr as “Detroit” and Miguel Osborne as “Memphis. It has 32 songs, a lot of dialog and a fair share of costume changes, but what it needs is simplicity.
To begin with, the doors of the theater did not open until well after 8:00 p.m. (the advertised start time). Once the show did begin it was like a huge train trying to start up and pull a long line of cars. It was not until the seventh song on the list that the three performers started to come up to speed then it seemed rushed like they were trying to catch up. With a show like this you have to hit the ground running with a pacing that is easy for the audience to follow.
On top of that, three early songs were either skipped or passed by so fast that they did not register. Later in the show another song went totally AWOL. At times the singing was great with wonderful harmony but there were too many instances of uneven performances of these classic songs. There was also a problem with the sound that at times was painfully loud due to the actors shouting the dialog. There were quite a collection of line flubs including one instance late in the show where the actors painfully asked for a line cue that was so painfully long in coming that it completely stopped the momentum of the show. After some of the dance numbers the actors seemed too out of breath to perform. Less energetic movement might have helped.
There also seemed to be confusion in regards to the recorded music as trouble was found at times in locating the correct tracts. Throughout the work the acting seemed strained and wooden with the actors not comfortable with their lines. The dialog did not seem to match naturally to the characters. There also seemed to be a problem with quick costume changes (that included a late wardrobe malfunction).
As for the stage set, it represented the front of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and could have used a little spicing up as well. A little use of lights on the sign or maybe a spot light on it would have helped as well as working lights on the “Unity” sign used in the final numbers.
So what does one do with a casserole that is flawed and undercooked? My suggestion would be to empty the dish and start fresh. Begin with simple ingredients (story and song), add just the right amount of spice (humor), blend the ingredients together carefully (dialog) and bake for the right amount of time at the correct temperature (rehearsals until it looks natural). As in all arts (including cooking) the secret is in the preparation.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): “From My Hometown” is a complex work that seems to have been launched too soon. It needs to be scaled back and simplified with more attention to execution then content. “From My Hometown” is not a bad show, it is just that with changes it could become a great show.
To purchase tickets go to: http://karamuhouse.org/cms-view-page.php?page=main-stage or call (216) 795-7070.