Turn of the 20th century in NYC; a simmering caldron of ethnic groups fighting for their economic survival, their ability to assimilate into a rapidly changing society and the essential need and cause célèbre to maintain their integrity.
America was governed by an entrenched white - and to a large extent, bigoted - political structure; uneasy with minorities demanding their rights and unbowing in their prerogatives for power and position.
Having seen the show a few times, I still cannot fathom why it needs the characters of Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and JP Morgan, real life titans of this late Victorian Age. The central characters sufficiently speak to this Coming of Age of America.
The quintessential American experience represented by 3 quite diverse characters: the black Coalhouse Walker, Jr (Darryl Thompson; the waspish Mother (Barbara Hartzell) and the Jewish immigrant (Patrick Ruegsegger).
Ruegsegger had a consistent Central European accent and brought a strong voice and humility to his character ( while sporting a particularly askew and unshapely beard circa Ellis Island.)
Hartzell is blessed with a beautiful voice and an emphatic demeanor. Her "What Kind of Woman" questions a mother who would abandon her own child, provoking more than a few tears in the opening night audience. The wonder and spirit of the show is that we are soon to find out just what led to this decision.
Thompson has a strong, warm and embracing baritone...and is provided every opportunity to show it off. He exhibits great stage presence and there is palpable chemistry between he and Sarah (Genevieve Van-Catledge), who herself sings a plaintive "Your Daddy's Son", the most well known tune from the show.
The chorus was spirited, energetic if a bit raw. For actors still in school, this is a provocative educational experience; resonating on the bigotry in our land not so very long ago. The most spirited production number was the Act 1 closer, "Till We Reach The Day". In many of the production numbers the harmonies were gorgeous.
The entire production was under rehearsed, showing most evident in the production numbers. Dancers were out of synch as were the arm movements of the singers. Aisle Say was sitting on the right side aisle. Through the entire show, the traveler curtain separating the actors from the back stage live orchestra was open 3 feet. Periodically there would be individuals walking back and forth. I was looking at the keyboardist while Sarah is singing my favorite, "Your Daddy's Son".
This is a first in my theatre experience. This is unacceptable in any theatre and any level.
Through February 10 WilmingtonDramaLeague.org 764.1172