Multi-cultural theater is doing swimmingly well in the suburbs.
A good case in point was the new musical “Sunfish” at Stoneham Theatre. Based on one of Korea’s most famous folktales, “Sim Chung, the Dutiful Daughter,” this world premiere featured the considerable talents of Hub-trained African American actor-singers in an inspiring story of love and sacrifice.
Though the musical could do with some trimming and a stronger book, the solid cast, under the generally sharp direction of Caitlin Lowans, performed with winning energy and resonant singing.
“Sunfish” compelled attention early on with the affecting love of a poor blind widower known as Father and his devoted daughter Aheh for each other. As they constantly struggled to find food and shelter in their village, Aheh discovered a highly unusual option that could mean restored sight for Father. By the end of the first act, the undaunted daughter risked her own life at the bottom of the sea on the way to a miracle for her father. Composer Hyeyoung Kim and lyricist Michael L. Cooper depicted family unity, boundless paternal caring and a daughter’s remarkable sacrifice with spirit.
Still, their collaboration needs to do more about Aheh’s resourcefulness as she meets and falls in love with a handsome young ruler simply called King. They also needed to make the book tighter and give Father more to do as he is waited for the return of Aheh.
Fortunely for theatergoers, there were ample reasons to stay with “Sunfish” despite such shortcomings. Lowans has given the folk-tale based musical an elegantly spare design. Credit Christopher Ostrom, and music director John Howrey for catching the optimism and snappiness of much of the score.
Matthew S. Waldron’s enhanced the musical with miniature and large size puppets that help advance the story and supply wit and humor appealing to adults and children alike.
Most of all, there was a strong ensemble. David L. Jiles Jr., an African American Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory student, sang with rich tones as Father, whether on the tender “Lullaby” or in duet with Rocio Del Mar Valles, who maked Aheh properly loyal and spunky.
Ara Morton, a recent African American Boston University School of Theater graduate, found all of King’s heart and understanding. Vanessa J. Schukis was scene-stealingly entertaining as Madame Bang Duk Omi, a self-centered villainess who leads on blind men with her wiles — most notably in a catchy solo entitled “Who’s As Lucky As Me?”
Boston born and bred R&B artist Lovely Hoffman, also African American, displayed an excitingly big voice in a funky gospel ensemble as King and Aheh are married.
Early in the second act, Aheh is treated to a makeover that tops those on reality show television. The result is a queen as regal as her efforts for Father. In the case of “Sunfish,” careful tweaking could do the trick. Even so, there is rich diversity on display in Stoneham Theatre’s lively premiere.
The best productions and performances of any given year can be a barometer for the health of local theater. The same goes for the diversity of plays and players. Considering the quality and variety of the finest area work during the last 12 months, 2010 was a good year.
Lydia R. Diamond, already acclaimed for her adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel "The Bluest Eye" established herself as an important Hub playwright with her visceral family drama "Stick Fly," premiered with real heart by Huntington Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.
The risk-taking black dramatist pushed the envelope of political correctness by having African American maid Cheryl challenge the facile assumptions of the wealthy Martha's Vineyard black family at the heart of the play. Kenny Leon, who directed Huntington's masterful revival of August Wilson's "Fences" last year, followed suit with "Stick Fly." Amber Iman's insinuating Cheryl and Wendell W. Wright's enigmatic black patriarch Joe LeVay were the standouts in a strong ensemble. More »
While it's often said that art has a way of imitating life, its capacity for shedding light on long-forgotten and dark parts of history is sometimes overlooked. "Voyeurs de Venus," the play that kicks off local theater group Company One's 10th season, examines one troubling piece of history that still affects the black psyche today - the tragic tale of the "Hottentot Venus."
The play revolves around the story of Sara Washington, a black cultural anthropologist and college professor who is writing a book about the Venus, a 19th-century sideshow sensation whose real name was Saartjie Baartman. More »
"The Bluest Eye," Toni Morrison's landmark 1970 novel, is a hard story. Its sharp emotional resonance makes it difficult to read, difficult to feel, difficult to let inside your head and your heart. But playwright Lydia Diamond's theatrical adaptation of the book, and local theater group Company One's fantastic production of it, not only do the legendary author's work justice - they give it new life.
Set amid racial turmoil in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, in 1941, it is the story of Pecola (Adobuere J. Ebiama), an ugly young black girl born to ugly black parents Cholly and Pauline Breedlove (Christopher Long and Talaya Freeman) in an ugly, fractured black marriage marred by drunkenness, violence and the hateful perversion of what once was love. More »