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BWW Review: Ahamefule J. Oluo Combines Jazz and Stand-Up In Bio-Piece NOW I'M FINE

In these days when an evening out at a comedy club is a standard option for nightlifers across the country, it might be hard to believe that there was once a time when the best way to catch rising stand-ups like Lenny Bruce and Godfrey Cambridge was to pop into a city's top jazz club, where comics were frequently seen indulging in their verbal riffs between music sets.

Ahamefule J. Oluo (Photo: Kelly O?)

It's a natural combination, with both art forms relying, in varying degrees, on improvisation and rhythm. So when comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo brings his captivating NOW I'M FINE to the Public Theater's Under The Radar Festival, his time is divided between performing autobiographical monologues and conducting his own jazz compositions played by a 17-piece orchestra.

Dressed in a snazzy suit and bow tie combo, his storytelling pieces, accented by a string ensemble, are casual remembrances of childhood hardships and adult difficulties that can be looked on humorously because, well, now he's fine.

Oluo was one month old when his Nigerian father left his American mother to live in his homeland. Their first communication came sixteen years later in an overseas phone call where the absent father expressed disappointment at his son's ambition to be a musician.

When it came time for him to be a father, things were going to be different.

"By the time I was 19, I had a daughter. By the time I was 21, I had two daughters. By the time I was 22, I had a vasectomy."

While his marriage didn't last, Oluo was determined to be a responsible, providing father while still finding outlets for his creativity. His muscular, brass-driven compositions, with vocals sung with ethereal passion by lyricist okanomodé soulchilde, arrive to the ear as gutsy expressions of what he cannot say with spoken word. He conducts with his back to the audience, but his exuberant physical movements convey a spiritual emotional release.

The story takes a turn that resembles science fiction when he explains how a reaction to an antibiotic, intensified by the treatment of an inept doctor, resulted in a hospital stay because his body was dissolving its own skin. A specialist told him that he could be dead very shortly unless his body adjusted to the situation and reversed the process.

Obviously, Oluo lived to tell the tale, but not without enduring the painful process of his body's natural recovery.

While Oluo's personal survival and ability to create art from his pain may be taken as an inspiration, NOW I'M FINE, as he explains in an epilogue, is not exactly meant to be uplifting. Its message is simply an appreciation of contentment. Life will always be throwing hardship at you, so be happy with the uneventful breaks in between.

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From This Author Michael Dale