BWW Review: A WONDER IN MY SOUL at Baltimore Center Stage - It's Powerful, Provocative, and Poignant

BWW Review: A WONDER IN MY SOUL at Baltimore Center Stage - It's Powerful, Provocative, and Poignant

When I heard about the topic of the new Baltimore Center Stage production of A WONDER IN MY SOUL, I initially thought it would be a female version of the film "Barber Shop" Well, let me tell you, it is NOT!!!!

Yes...it is full of laughs. But it is much more than that.

Playwright Marcus Gardley has transported the play from its location in Chicago where it held its World Premiere at the Victory Gardens Theatre last year to the streets of Baltimore. I will admit it's fun picking up the local references.

Directing this clever and entertaining project is Daniel Bryant, Community Programs Director and Artistic Producer at Baltimore Center Stage. I was able to get a sneak preview of the play during a rehearsal and enjoyed watching Bryant enjoy his stellar cast perform. He has a great future here.

Making her Baltimore Center Stage debut prior to the performance was the new Artistic Director Stephanie Ybarra. She said a few words. She also discussed her knowledge of playwright Gardley in the program. "Having followed Marcus Gardley's career closely for over a decade now, I can say unequivocally, Marcus is one of the great storytellers of this generation. His ability to capture the complexities of the human spirit with linguistic precision, poetic sophistication, and sheer joy is a gift to our art form.. The fact that Marcus has revised aspects of this play to reflect Baltimore is a tremendous act of generosity and also exactly the role of an artist inside a community."

WONDER IN MY SOUL concerns a beauty shop in a downtown African-American community (Old Town). It has been a huge part of the neighborhood but due to gentrification the rent has been skyrocketing and they face a sale of the building. The story reminded me of the musical IN THE HEIGHTS which like here dealt with gentrification in New York's Washington Heights and related the story of a beauty shop having to move to the Bronx due to high rent.

The play set in 2008 demonstrates the love of the two shop owners, Swann Park Sinclair (the always terrific Harriett D. Foy) and Gwynn Oak Falls (played by Wandachristine). Notice the local references here? They have been friends their whole life and the play goes back in time to show snippets of that life. Young Swann is played by Anastacia McCleskey and Young Gwynn by Kalilah Black. Black also plays "Pen Lucy" and McCleskey also plays "Cherry Hill". (Notice more local references??)

Just like the theme in the classic RAISIN IN THE SUN, a family member (here Gwynn's son Andrew (Stanley Andrew Jackson III) runs a nonprofit organization and is charged with embezzling money he got from a loan given by his mother Gwynn and Swann..

Gwynn also has a daughter (McCleskey) who is a Baltimore City cop and has a voice that thankfully she gets to demonstrate.

Playing a wealthy Republican who loves the salon and commutes from Baltimore County is "First Lady Cedonia Mosher" played by the terrific Alexis J. Roston.

Director Bryant does a masterful job pulling this complex story together and he has amassed a masterful group of actors. Enhancing this production is Scenic Designer Wilson Chin, Costume Designer David Burdick, Music Director Jarel London, Kathy A. Perkins (Lighting), Mikhail Fiksel (Sound Design), and there are great projections by Alex Basco Koch.

The two-hour show (including an intermission) flies by. I wish there was more. I also wish Chin's wonderful portraits of famous Baltimoreans on the rear of the stage were labeled in the program. It's fun trying to figure out who they are.

A WONDER IN MY SOUL continues until Dec. 23. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.

THIS AND THAT

On December 2, 2018, the Kennedy Center held its 41st annual national celebration of the arts - The Kennedy Center Honors. Artists honored in 2018 include singer and actress Cher, composer and pianist Philip Glass, Country music entertainer Reba McEntire, and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.

This year, the co-creators of Hamilton-writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director Alex Lacamoire-received a unique Kennedy Center Honors as trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category.

In a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, the 2018 Honorees where be saluted by today's leading performers from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world through performances and tributes.

Set your DVRs: The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 41st consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Wednesday, December 26 at 8 p.m. ET.

The Kennedy Center hosts MISS SAIGON Dec. 11 to January 13 and the hysterical British comedy THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG: Dec. 18 to January 6.

It was just announced by the Kennedy Center that Jessie Mueller will be playing Marion Paroo in the Broadway Center Stage production of THE MUSIC MAN running Feb. 6 to Feb. 10, 2019. Norm Lewis will be playing Harold Hill

The National Theatre has BEAUTIFUL, THE Carol King MUSICAL through December 30.

Signature Theatre continues with BILLY ELLIOT until January 6, 2019 and MOTOWN: THE REPRISE until Dec. 22.

A Christmas Carol at both Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre in Baltimore, Ford's Theatre in DC, and Olney Theatre Center which also presents the musical ELF (until January 6).

Metro Stage has CHRISTMAS AT THE OLD BULL & BUSH until Dec. 23.

Toby's Dinner Theatre continues with DISNEYS' THE LITTLE MERMAID until January 13.

Round House Theatre has August Wilson's GEM OF THE OCEAN has been extended to Dec. 30.

Theater J has TALLEY'S FOLLY running Dec. 7 to Dec. 30.

Arena Stage has the musical ANYTHING GOES until Dec. 23 and INDECENT until Dec. 30,

Studio Theatre has CRY IT OUT to be followed by KINGS beginning Dec. 12 in Studio X

Everyman Theatre has THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST until Dec.30.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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