Review: UAB Department of Theatre Shines with the World Premiere Musical SAVAGE at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

By: Apr. 10, 2019
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.




Existing user? Just click login.

Review: UAB Department of Theatre Shines with the World Premiere Musical SAVAGE at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

Odds are you have never heard of the name Ota Benga. It's also a slim chance you have seen the 1906 headline in The New York Times reading BUSHMAN SHARES A CAGE WITH BRONX PARK APES. Yup, you read that right. This young African man was paraded as an exotic attraction. This sheer cruelty and inhumane mindset is almost unimaginable. But then again American history has a predictably formulaic way glossing over racial autocracies. I had the pleasure to attend the striking preview of the world premiere musical "Savage". Developed right here at UAB, "Savage" rings the bell against inclusion, ignorance and grasping greed. The framework of this musical is encapsulated in the question asked in song by the bold Storyteller ( Joy Matthews) and company "What makes a man a civilized man?"

Review: UAB Department of Theatre Shines with the World Premiere Musical SAVAGE at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

This powerful musical is conceived and developed by UAB Professor of Theatre Karla Koskinen. The touching story is based on the tragically true story of the life of Ota Benga (Royzell D. Walker). He was a young African man living in a thriving Mbuti village with his child and loving wife Elima (Eboni Janae´). Tragedy leads to him being abducted by violent slavers under the command of maniacal King Leopold II of the Belgians. While on an expedition, American anthropologist and explorer Samuel Verner (Caleb Clark) purchased Ota from the slavers. His tiny height and appearance made him a perfect "specimen" to study and exploit back in America for a mad profit. Verner spared no expense to promote his new "best friend" at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. When the hype, interest, and most of all money ran its course. Verner (Clark) later caged Ota the monkey house at the Bronx zoo as The Littlest Savage. His release from the monkey cage comes at the hand of the rallying Reverend Dr. James Gordon (Gary Fuqua). His goal to rehabilitate Ota (Walker) on the road of religious teaching to salvation leads to more struggles of his bright spirit. Ota's integration into American society was not one of flags and fireworks. It was degradation as an attraction, not as a man.

Review: UAB Department of Theatre Shines with the World Premiere Musical SAVAGE at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

With little to no specific information recorded on Ota, his story was constructed based on weaving the facts with what personal motivations could have led his choices. The end result is a solid story with an abundance of creativity in song, dance and dialogue. "Savage" brings powerful dance and music composed of an entrancing blend of tribal music and a wide spread of genres. Book and lyrics by Tommy Newman and music by Jaime Lozano & Tommy Newman provide impressive and memorable songs; ranging from rock to ragtime. Direction by Valerie Accetta and Karla Koskinen deliver dramatic staging, and choreography by Roy Lightner fill the stage with a strong grasp of fluidity and emotional expression. Scenic designer Cliff Simon and lighting designer Kelly Allison provides a beautiful stage that sets a proper tone in both location and the character's mindset.

Review: UAB Department of Theatre Shines with the World Premiere Musical SAVAGE at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

After the performance, musical director Carol Violi shares with me her insights in bringing "Savage" to life. "This show has been three years in the making with a heavy emphasis on creative collaboration. Once the students read the first draft we had an amazing discussion. There was a lot of diversity in the room. Each student brought great ideas and life experiences to the table. Everyone's shared opinions that went into the process. They own this piece."

Review: UAB Department of Theatre Shines with the World Premiere Musical SAVAGE at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

What is next for the show? No immediate plans are on deck. "Savage" definitely contains all the elements to go to Broadway. "We're hoping this has a life after UAB." Viloi shares. "I know they want to go back to the drawing board. Just like with any new work. You want to make changes to the music and lines up until the last minute. (Laughs) We had changes up until two and three rehearsals ago. But the students have all risen to the challenge." Only real critique I experienced was the show runs long at nearly two and a half hours with a fifteen minute intermission. Some of the numbers could of been cut at no expense to the shows cadence and momentum.

"Savage" is a hit with a resonating cast, story and song. It runs for a limited time. Royzell D. Walker gives a perfect example of what it means to be a triple threat. Walker's emotional and fearless performance of Ota shows the fruits of his labor spending three years connecting to this layered character. Seeing "Savage" now before it eventually breaks big is a real highlight for UAB and our Birmingham theater community.

Savage

April 10-13 at 7:30pm & April 14 at 2:00pm

The Sirote Theatre in the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center

1200 10th Ave South Birmingham, AL 35205

Tickets: $15 & $20, Students $6, UAB Employees & Senior Citizens $10

Purchase tickets online HERE



Comments

To post a comment, you must register and login.

 


Join Team BroadwayWorld

Are you an avid theatergoer? We're looking for people like you to share your thoughts and insights with our readers. Team BroadwayWorld members get access to shows to review, conduct interviews with artists, and the opportunity to meet and network with fellow theatre lovers and arts workers.

Interested? Learn more here.




Videos