BWW Reviews: The Ensemble Theatre's FROM MY HOMETOWN - An Energetic and Effervescing Summer Sensation
The writing for the show keeps dialogue to a minimum, presenting the musical more as a concert that tells an uplifting story. The show is mostly set in and around Harlem's Apollo Theater in 1980. There three men, with distinct personalities and backgrounds, meet for the first time at auditions. They quickly realize they all have the same dream and begin an unlikely and heartwarming camaraderie. As they sing and dance into the hearts of the audience, they share their pasts, presents, and futures with one another. Moreover, the music in the show is nothing short of incredible, featuring 5 catchy original songs and 25 soul favorites from the repertoires of Motown, Stax Records, Philadelphia International, and others.
The Direction and Choreography by Patdro Harris focuses on bringing the house down again and again with entertaining and exhilarating performances. From the opening number to the final bow, he never misses an opportunity to elate audiences with larger-than-life showstopping displays of sheer talent, charisma, and astonishing choreography. Every moment of the show is performed with tangibly infectious energy, passion, conviction, and pride. Standout moments include the Stepping during the mash-up of "Working In A Coal Mine" and "Chain Gang," the consummately powerful rendition of "Try A Little Tenderness," the endearing and evocative "Giving Up," and the rousing finale sequence, featuring the original number "I Want You To Stand By Me (Unity's Theme)."
Carlton Leake's Musical Direction fills the auditorium with the dulcet tones of soul and layers in pristine showmanship as well. Each member of the cast, whether principle or offstage backup singer, performs each number with subtly and rich complexity, ensuring that every performance is spectacular and stunning.
As Memphis, Anthony Boggess-Glover is perfectly southern, soulful, and enigmatic. He sings with insurmountable enthusiasm and immense vocal prowess, bringing the house down with "Try A Little Tenderness," "Working In A Coal Mine," and "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay." Anthony Boggess-Glover also astounds the audience with his unbelievable bodily control, making his flawless dancing appear effortless.
Ron Johnson is charming and often hilarious as the spastic but loveable Philly. His character is a complete goofball, but his heart is in all the right places. He amazes audiences with his expressive instrument and dazzling falsetto on numbers like "Me and Mrs. Jones," "Chain Gang," and "I Want You To Stand By Me (Unity's Theme)." His dancing is usually silly because of his character, and he does a skillful job portraying someone who goes from being almost rhythmless to a hoofer with a strong sense of the beat.
Portraying the arrogant and street savvy Detroit, Jobari Parker-Namdar makes Frankie Valli look like a guileless amateur. He expertly wails in his gorgeous tenor and flips into his pristine and sparkling falsetto with striking ease and control. Likewise, Jobari Parker-Namdar flawlessly dances through each number, capably moving his arms and legs with such precision that every move reads as sublimely natural. His renditions of "Hold On I'm Comin'," "Sunny," and others are simply divine.
Scenic Design by Jodi Bobrovsky is minimalistic and versatile. She puts a lot of emphasis onto the modestly used details in the design to illustrate location, but the main canvas of her work keeps the focus on the performers.
Costume Design by Macy Perrone highlights the characters' unique pasts, and where they are coming from. The design is cleverly evocative of each individual personality. The final scene has the cast dressed in stunning and flashy silver suits, with matching shoes, and luxurious red silk shirts. My only complaint in the design is that Philly wears tap shoes for the finale, but never gets to really use them.
Lighting Design by Eric Marsh skillfully utilizes the upstage cyclorama to emphasize emotionality with keen color washes. Also, special effects from intelligent lights are added to really spice up the performances with some mesmerizing, Broadway-like light shows.
Sound Design by Adrian Washington blends the vocals and the music well, ensuring the audience hears everything. Sound effects from New York City's streets are mixed in well too, really giving the audiences the auditory sensation of being on 125th street.
Hair and Makeup Design by Derrick Nash and Property Design by James V. Thomas both look realistically believable.
The Ensemble Theatre's energetic and effervescing production of FROM MY HOMETOWN is a wonderful season finale and a fantastic way to kick off the summer. "If you love music, you will love this show. It will be a treat for the young, old, and all in between," says Patdro Harris, and he couldn't be more correct.
FROM MY HOMETOWN runs at The Ensemble Theatre through July 28, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.ensemblehouston.com or call (713) 520 - 0055.
All Photos by David Bray. Courtesy of The Ensemble Theatre.
L to R: Jobari Parker-Namdar (Detroit), Ron Johnson (Philly), and Anthony Boggess-Glover (Memphis)
L to R: Anthony Boggess-Glover (Memphis), Jobari Parker-Namdar (Detroit), and Ron Johnson (Philly).