Theatre Review: Purlie

Theatre Review: Purlie at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

 Purlie at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

Powerful voices, high energy and music to make you move!

“Something’s rotten in the cotton.” -Purlie

At 7:45pm on a Tuesday evening, the Westcoast Black Theatre is full of people waiting in anticipation for the musical Purlie to begin. The musical is a version of the play, Purlie Victorious which opened on Broadway on September 28, 1961 and ran for 261 performances. Purlie had it’s debut on Broadway in March 1970 and was nominated for multiple Tony Awards and is the 2013-2014 season opener for WBTT.

Like every show, an announcement is made to thank the sponsors and to talk about housekeeping. This particular musical, we were informed there would not be an intermission for 82 minutes. That is quite a long time for most people and after experiencing it, would not recommend they do it again. A handful of chairs remained empty after the first intermission.

“The purpose behind is “to point a mocking finger at racial segregation and laugh it out of existence.” Ossie Davis

The action of the play takes place in south Georgia, not too long ago. They play opens and closes at Big Bethel, a country church, and in between moves from a shack on the plantation to outside the Ol’ Cap’n Commissary. A stage full of people attend a funeral for a man that made their lives miserable. “Walk Him Up the Stairs” opens the show, a beautifully performed, upbeat, gospel blues number sung by the entire company. It happened to be my favorite song in the show, and when it’s my time to pass, I’m convinced this is the song I want sung at my funeral.

I’ve been to this theatre numerous times and am used to seeing familiar faces, however this particular musical seems to involve mostly a whole new cast. Earley Dean Wilson who plays Purlie Victorious Judson, is one of the original cast members who has been mentored by Nate Jacobs (founding director) since he was eight years old. Directed by Jim Weaver and under the Music Direction of Michael Sebastian, Wilson plays a traveling preacher who returns to his small Georgia town to shake things up and changes lives during a time when many southern sharecroppers still lived under the Jim Crow laws. His performance is nothing less than brilliant, I am always impressed when an actor can get through a performance without stumbling, especially when they have an abundance of lines to deliver.

Lutiebelle Gusssie Mae Jenkins played by Gia McGlone is sought out by Purlie in hopes to fool Cotchipee into giving her $500, an inheritance due to his long-lost cousin. McGlone; a new comer to WBTT, graced the stage with beauty and a standout performance.

John Hetherington in the band caught my eye. He plays the auxiliary keyboards with such passion and confidence, making it just as thrilling to watch as the musical itself. The band at WBTT always leaves a last impression on the theatre goers.

Purlie is heavy and racially driven leaving some viewers uncomfortable, while others get a lesson in history. I had a fantastic time. All of the shows I attend at WBTT allow me to lose myself in the story line. The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez premiere’s January 02 – February 02, 2014. Tickets can be purchased at www.wbttsrq.org.

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