Let Me Sing
aired on WFAE
Let Me Sing is a musical gift to the world of music. It is absolutely terrific. Created by Charlotte Rep’s own Michael Bush, with the help of his friends Michael Aman and Joel Silberman, it is both a piece of history and a work of art that traces the journey of the American musical comedy from 1900 to World War II.|
It’s a Broadway quality cast, literally. (I bet the one who hasn’t been there yet will be there soon.) As a group, they’ve won the Tony, Ovation, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Awards. There are six characters, who each represent a slice of the American musical pie. We meet them in 1900, and watch how they evolve within the context of four decades of theatre. Though music forms the core of the show, racial tensions, economic realities, and cultural trends are reflected in the choice of songs.
George, fresh off the boat from Russia, is thrilled at the chance to be an American. Played by Danny Gurwin, George slowly loses his accent as he performs songs that include "Hello My Baby," and "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," as he heads off to war.
Randy Skinner plays Buddy, whose feet tap with the ferocity of professional fingers on a manual typewriter. Skinner is also the choreographer of the show. The audience burst into applause every time he danced, partly because he is fabulous, and partly because tap dancing is such a rarity these days. He is delightful.
Andre De Shields plays Bill, a black man whose first memorable line is "They took this music from me, but it’s not me." In another scene he alludes to blacks writing the songs for which white men became wealthy. In a powerful scene about Ziegfield Follies, De Shield’s plays the venerable Burt Williams, a wildly popular star who we watch apply blackface with a burnt cork before he sings "Nobody." In a 1932 depression scene, Bill and George are equals as they sing, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
Gretha Boston plays Ethel, a black woman who sings Ma Rainey’s "Prove It On Me Blues," and pairs up with Bill to sing "Positively No," as part of the Vaudevillian act called Butterbeans and Suzie. Boston also sings a somber rendition of "Suppertime," and a soulful duet with Irene, played by Marla Schaffel, of "Someone to Watch Over Me," that segues into "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man. "
While the culture is reflected truthfully, the unifying and liberating power of music always overrides the distance between peoples. Some of the revelations are sobering, but they never overcome the pure emotion brought forth by the songs.
Stephanie J. Block plays Molly, a Yiddish woman who declares, "Vaudeville is like democracy, anyone from anywhere can get an act." Her forte is comedy. She sings, "You’ve got to Be Loved to Be Healthy," with the conviction of a streetwalker.
The show was born from Bush’s passion for the American Theatre. And it is appropriately being performed in the Performing Arts Center's Booth Playhouse, in the same airspace where, as a child, Bush shopped for an original cast recording every Christmas with his father.
Lynn Trenning, January 15, 2003