BWW Review: THE VOICES OF DONNY HATHAWAY - A Stellar Premier
Austin producer Robert King and the newly re-opened Ground Floor Theatre presented an original work; THE VOICES OF DANNY HATHAWAY for an extremely limited run of just two performances. Normally we don't review such short runs, but having seen King's first original theatrical effort, FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA, which I loved, and I was intrigued by his concept.
Donny Hathaway, (Robert King) may not be a name that springs to mind when we think of music from the 1970's, but mention his collaboration with Roberta Flack (Candace Bellamy) and songs like 'The Closer I Get To You' and 'Where Is The Love' flow from memory's jukebox. The tragedy is that Donny suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and his death was ruled a suicide on January 13, 1979. The story is heartbreaking and richly ripe for the stage. King creates the Essex House Hotel bar for us to hear Donny's final performance given to a young woman, Pam (Samone Murray) who has come down from her room for a drink. Donny serenades her with his hits, conjuring a full band to back him up and playing the piano in the bar. The concept is charming and haunting in equal parts and the evening flows with beautiful music played by those who know how to touch your heart.
As an original work the show needs work to weave the story more tightly together. The opening scene is awkward and stilted and more dialogue could certainly help ease the audience into the story. The show has solid ground but could use some work on the connective scenes to stitch the songs together. The best jukebox musicals are ones that do this seamlessly, telling the story while getting your toe tapping with familiar tunes. Director Frank Benge has done a wonderful job of moving his actors well, his blocking is flawless and visually powerful. Samone Murray is a perfect foil to Donny's ego. Her dialogue is crisp and she pulls the lion's share of laughs during the performance. Candace Bellamy gives a stellar turn as Roberta Flack, I only wish there was more stage time for the character. It's Robert King as the title character Donny, that steals our hearts. He is charming and tragic in turns, captivating the audience from curtain to curtain. King is someone lovers of theatre need to keep an eye on, he is talented, creative and ambitious, a combination that spells success in this business. I can only hope that a remount of THE VOICES OF DONNY HATHAWAY is in the future, it's delight and deep message are not to be missed.
On a side note, it was lovely to be back at The Ground Floor Theatre after it's abrupt closing, the space was deeply missed. I'm thrilled that it's back, better than ever!
THE VOICES OF DONNY HATHAWAY
By Robert King, Jr
Directed by Frank Benge