BWW Review: Be A Lion: The Third Time's A Charm!
"BE A LION"...THE THIRD TIME'S A CHARM!
Written By: Vickie L. Evans
Triad, Trilogy...it's been said that three times is a charm. I've had the opportunity to see Be A Lion, (inspired by the Broadway musical, The Wiz) written by multi- award-winning playwright, Rory D. Sheriff, at The Blumenthal's Duke Energy Theater, for THE THIRD TIME. I am a big fan of new works production that are birth out of the heart of the playwright with its own creative spin. Be A Lion is the fictitious account of what could have possibly happened in the land of Oz, AFTER the Wiz's sudden departure. It's an urbanized depiction of the modern day lives of Dorothy, Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Lion, who is on a quest to become the next "RULER" of Oz, with his trusted side-kick Miles, The Mouse and LaDawn, the lioness.
Rory happens to be one of my favorite innovative, contemporary playwrights. A Charlotte transplant from Reddings, Pennsylvania (I won't hold the fact that he's is a Philadelphia Eagles fan against him), this gentle-giant has emerged on the Charlotte theatrical scene in a GIGANTIC way. Celebrating his 5th year in theater, Rory has stated many times, his inspiration comes from two successful playwrights that I admire as well, August Wilson and Tyler Perry. Each of these playwrights have a unique writing style that is enduring and identifiable. Rory is well on his way in establishing his uniqueness and creative genius as well which can be seen through this "FUN-titious" (created my own word), urbanized version of The Wizard Of Oz.
As I was leaving the theater, one of Rory's assistants asked, "Aren't you tired of seeing this play?" I answered, "No, because I know that in 'Live Theater', nothing is EVER the same." As a playwright as well as a contributing writer, my perspective is two-dimensional. I see through a broader spectrum...a wider lens. My focus is not only on the story-line and the deliverance...I am also intrigued by the theatrical components that makes a play successful. First, the set...what an evolution from the first time I saw it...the scenic background was projected on a mid-sized projection screen. Now, there is a full-fledged set with bells and whistles, even a makeshift taxi cab, symbolizing Dorothy's transportation to Oz. I would like to note, however, It would be nice to see the set incorporate backdrop images that are relatable to the play's spin-off components, The Wiz and/or the The Wizard of Oz, such as snapshots of the Emerald City or even imprint of a "yellow brick road", or it could be a fictitious version like "follow the purple, orange or graffitti brick road" that would give the patrons a more visual parallel of its predecessors. Scene background makes a huge impact on the overall visualization components of the experience.
During my three attendances, I've seen three different lions in the leading role, (Chadwick Pressley [the first], Tony Massey [the second] and current, Timothy Bradley). Each one are as equally gifted, have very powerful singing voices, and brought the story-line to life in their own unique way. Each were successful in taken us on the journey of the Cowardly Lion's courage-infused quest to recruit his friends (Tin Man [Graham Williams], Scarecrow [Jessica Johnson], and Dorothy [Nailyah Gardner]) to assist him in being crowned the next RULER of OZ, which was now ruler-less due to the departure of now defunct Wizard. One of the elements that adds flavor to Be A Lion is the romantic component between Lion and his Rastafarian love interest lioness, LaDawn (K. Alana Jones). It's the on-stage chemistry between the two leading characters that sprinkles the "magic" and gives us the foundation of the story-line...the next King and Queen of Oz. I must admit that this time the chemistry wasn't as equally balancing as in the previous two runnings. The past performers brought an air of funny and flirtation that were indicative of their personalities that was an enhancement to the script. I guess my expectation is that each time the chemistry would be equally electrifying or evolve to the next level. This time, the electricity fizzled a bit. I must add that I loved Jones' angelic voice (especially on the Curtis Mayfield tune The Making Of You and she looked fabulous in her lioness costume (another thumbs-up to the costume designer). I just wish I had seen MORE FLIRTATION and MAGIC between the two leads to make my heart go pitta-patter. Even when they had their disagreement that led to a temporary breakup...it was not as impressionable as before. Another new addition to the cast was Shar Marlin who portrayed Tin Man's wife, Teenie, she was hilarious and can also be commended for her singing as well. Returning to the cast is Melody Williams (I believe this is her third time) who portrays Damneesha, the evil daughter of wicked-witch, Evilene. Once again, she played the villainess with passion and so much evilness...like mother, like daughter. Combined with her team of flying crabs, her story-line is a great parallel to The Wiz's Evilene and her flying monkeys. The only part of her performance that makes me cringe is when she kills her dad (the flying monkey) by snapping his neck when she realizes that he was there when her mother was killed and did nothing to prevent it. I think a warning statement should be placed that there is some violence so that parents can determine if it is age appropriate for their children.
All in all, this was another successful running for the Brand New Sheriff Productions. I am so proud of his representation of the African American storytellers and playwrights in the Charlotte Theater Community. Yet, it's not just an African-American play...it's just GREAT writing, directing, producing...PERIOD. Rory and his Brand New Sheriff Productions is definitely setting a great example of theater excellence with a SPLASH.
*For more information on Brand New Sheriff Productions, please visit website http://www.brandnewsheriff.com