Review: THE DREAM AND BEYOND at ShadowBox Live

Shadowbox Live offers a epic musical about the effect of MLK's speech

By: Jan. 31, 2024
Review: THE DREAM AND BEYOND at ShadowBox Live
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“We Shall Overcome,” the song most associated with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, is missing from Shadowbox Live’s presentation of THE DREAM AND BEYOND.

In a much smaller way, the gospel tune became the troupe’s mantra in the opening weekend of this two-hour, two-act musical epic. The show will be performed 7 p.m. Thursdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 14.

Days before their opener on Jan. 25, the metaperformers learned drummer Brandon Smith was hospitalized and wouldn’t be able to perform the opening weekend. Director Julie Klein considered moving the first few shows back until Smith could return to his drum kit.

Instead, the cast improvised, using Smith’s drum tracks that had been recorded earlier for rehearsals. The band and the cast carried on and no one missed a beat.

The multi-media experience explores King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and its effect on 11 individuals associated with the Civil Rights movement. Some names – John Lewis, Shirley Chisolm, Muhammad Ali, and Gloria Steinem -- are familiar to those who passed their history classes. Others –Pauli Murray, Madonna Thunder Hawk, Bayard Rustin, Randy Wicker, Joseph Lowery, Delores Huerta, and Brenda Howard – create deep dives into the internet to find out their significance. The vignettes are divided up among Brandon Anderson (who relays the stories of Wicker and Lewis), Noelle Anderson (Lowery), Stacie Boord (Steinem and Thunder Hawk,) Tom Cardinal (Huerta, Howard, and Rustin), and Michelle Daniels (Ali, Chisom, and Murray)

Shadowbox Live reached deep into their skill sets to celebrate the 11 leaders’ achievements through art, words, dance and song while educating the audience on their significance.  

Unlike PILLOW TALK, Shadowbox Live’s other offering this season, moments of levity are hard to find in THE DREAM AND BEYOND.

However, what it lacks in laughter, it more than makes up for it in arm hair raising, moving moments. Midway through the first act, Noelle Anderson’s acapella delivery of “Dixie” paired with Stephanie Stull’s solo performance of “Strange Fruit” is hauntingly beautiful as is Nyla Nyamweya’s soft reading of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Going to Come.”

It is refreshing to see the acapella choir of Noelle Anderson, Gordon Perkins, Boord, Shull and Breanna Romer tackle Louie Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” as a symbol of hope rather than being offered as an ironic punch line as it is in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM or THE SIMPSONS.

However, this is not a soft rock symposium by any means. Musical director Matthew Hahn (guitar), Jack Walbridge (guitar), Buzz Crisafulli (bass), and Rick Sorriano (keyboards) charge through a catalog of blistering rockers including Creedence Clearwater’s “Fortunate Son,” (fronted by Andy Ankrom and Brandon Anderson), Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” (Cardinal) and James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’(M) Black and I’m Proud) (Brandon Anderson). Each of those songs are punctuated with video footage from their era that were compiled by Zachary Tarantelli and David Whitehouse .

The show is not devoid of humor, but it is more of the “I can’t believe people said that” variety.

If they gave Tony awards for eye rolls alone, Shadowbox Live might sweep all three of the nominations in THE DREAM AND BEYOND.

The eye roll can convey so many different meanings. For example, Brandon Anderson’s reveals disappointment after Mike Wallace’s excerpt about “the secret dangers of homosexuality.” Boord’s shows disgust after a montage of misogynistic, demeaning ads from the 1960s and 1970s. However, the winner of “The Best Eyeroll in a Musical” goes to Noelle Anderson during her delivery of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.” The singer is told she must wait for change to come, Noelle Anderson sings “They keep on saying, ‘Go slow’/But that's just the trouble, Washing the windows/Picking the cotton, You're just plain rotten/You're too damn lazy/The thinking is crazy.” A group of backup dancers in cotillon dress punctuate each verse with “Too Slow” complete with hand motions. The image of the old Mississippi state flag, replete with a Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner, flutters on the screens.

The fact that the old Mississippi flag was replaced in 2020 kind of echoes the theme of the show – things change very slowly, if they ever change at all.

THE DREAM AND BEYOND is a noble attempt to educate audiences about the many paths on the march to social justice. They covered a lot of ground, but, sadly, not all of it. It is difficult to include everyone’s story, such as the prejudice Asian, Jewish, and Muslim Americans experienced in a two-hour one. The end result is THE DREAM AND BEYOND makes its audience realize we have overcome much but we have so much further to go to fulfill King’s dream of being able to say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.”


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