BWW Review: Touching MY HEART IS THE DRUM at Village Suffers Pace and Structure
One of my favorite events each year is the Village Originals Festival of New Musicals. Each year there's at least one new show that you long to get a full staging. Back in 2014 that show was "My Heart is the Drum" with it's touching story and engaging music. It showed so much potential and I was thrilled when I saw it on the season lineup this season. And while it still shows a lot of promise it still needs a lot of work to make it a tighter narrative and paced better.
Jennie Redling, Phillip Palmer and Stacey Luftig's show takes us to a small village in Ghana in the year 2000 where we meet the clever young woman Efua (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako) who wants nothing more than to leave her small village and attend University in the big city. But when her father decides he can no longer afford to have her not working in the fields he forbids her to go back to school and arranges to marry her off. So Efua decides to take off for the city with her cousin Balinda (Joell Weil) to meet with the man to whom Balinda has been promised. But Efua and Balinda quickly learn that the city is a hard place and Balinda's betrothed has his own sinister plans for the girls.
It's a powerful story, if not a bit predictable, but there are currently too many issues, songs and characters weighing it down and betraying its message. For example, Efua is obviously the hero of the story and is constantly referred to as smart and clever especially as she tells stories of Anansi, a clever trickster folktale character, and is called little Anansi throughout the show. But for a strong, female character she has little to do with getting her and Balinda out of the situation they find themselves in. Things don't happen because of her but to her and that saps the power of the character. Another issue is that the spirit of her Grandmother Nana keeps appearing, beautifully played by Shaunyce Omar, but never really has a payoff of why she's there or how she's helping. And that's just a few structural issues the show suffers from. Plus director Schele Williams needs to take a lot of the air out of the scenes and transitions to make the whole show a tighter property.
But it's the script and the pacing that weighs down the show and not at all the performances. Nako is thoroughly engaging and you truly want to root for her to succeed even if she's not written as strong and self-sufficient as she could be. Weil plays a lovely counterpart for the clever Efua and you can totally see the chemistry between the two and why they fight for each other. Lauren Du Pree has some stunning moments as Kanika, one of the other working girls, including her powerful song "No Control". And Jon-Michael Reese practically steals the show as Efua's intended, Edward, with his killer voice and hilarious comedic timing and expressions.
So the show still has potential and has some wonderful moments but it also needs some serious editing as it's too long and loses it's own way several times. And so with my three letter rating system I give "My Heart is the Drum" a somewhat disappointed MEH+. With some reworking this could really be something special but it's not there yet.
"My Heart is the Drum" performs at Village Theater in Issaquah through April 24th and then moves to their Everett location running April 29th through May 22nd. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.