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BWW Review: Savion Glover Directs/Choreographs Micki Grant's Landmark DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE

Coming in at the heels of landmarks like AIN'T SUPPOSED TO DIE A NATURAL DEATH and INNER CITY, composer/lyricist Micki Grant's DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE was an important part of the early 1970s surge of Broadway musicals that were not only about African-American experiences but were written and directed by African-Americans as well.

BWW Review: Savion Glover Directs/Choreographs Micki Grant's Landmark DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE
Aisha de Haas (Photo: Joe Guttridge)

The contemporary issue-oriented revue made Grant, who won a Grammy for her score, the first woman to fully write the music and lyrics of a Broadway musical and Vinnette Carroll the first woman to direct one. The original production's 1,065 performances, a whopping number for that time, proved that there was substantial audience support for more diversity in commercial theatre.

Savion Glover directs and choreographs the Encores! Off-Center concert production, and despite updated references to Trayvon Martin, Roseanne Barr and the Obamas, and a significant knee-taking moment, the 75-minute presentation of blues, funk, gospel, calypso and spoken word, presents its themes with that very 1970s mixture of heart-on-sleeve sincerity and arch commentary.

"A storm is raging in the west," recites the voice of now 77-year-old Grant, heard by the audience before the curtain goes up. Her poem "Universe In Mourning," is a call for "a glimpse of a new world aborning."

"The front page shows the frightened face / Of a high school soldier dying / He gladly gave his life, they say / I think someone is lying, someone's lying."

The curtain then rises on the full company, including music director Annastasia Victory's five-piece band and a thirteen-member singing and dancing ensemble. Singing acapella, Wayne Pretlow echoes the poem's sentiment with the profound spiritual lyric, "I'm a long way from where I've been / But I've gotta keep movin' till I move on in."

BWW Review: Savion Glover Directs/Choreographs Micki Grant's Landmark DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE
Wayne Pretlow (Photo: Joe Guttridge)

Later on, Pretlow sharply delivers some of that arch commentary in "Looking Over From Your Side," where the resident of a crumbling, rat-infested tenement observes how potential gentrifiers may see his building as historic and quaint.

James T. Lane brings down the house with a passionate performance of "My Name Is Man," a defiant declaration of dignity. In "Billie Holiday Blues," Aisha de Haas elegantly expresses similar sentiments. (It takes a whole lot more to win / When the world can't see beyond / The dark Brown wrapper that you're in.) Dayna Dantzler does lovely work with "Questions," about searching for your own answers when surrounded by advice-givers.

A rousing gospel sequence is followed by the show's title song, an acerbic comparison of a therapist's analysis with the realities of African-American life.

Even more clever is a rhyming riff that describes how "Somebody started a rumor that / Socializing with blacks could be fun, / And pretty soon, as the word got 'round, / Every cocktail party had one." The concluding couplet, presented with a wink, brings home the message that America still has a lot to cope with.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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