Review Roundup: JUBILEE at Arena Stage; What Did The Critics Think?
Inspired by the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers, this uplifting new work chronicles the bold African American ensemble as they travel the world, captivating kings, queens and audiences with hymns and spiritual songs supported by their rich voices. Written and directed by Thompson with vocal arrangements and music direction by Dianne Adams McDowell, Jubilee runs now through June 2, 2019 in the Kreeger Theater.
In addition to Thompson, the creative team includes Vocal Arrangements and Music Direction by Dianne Adams McDowell, Set Designer Donald Eastman, Costume Designer Merrily Murray-Walsh, Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel, Sound Designer Fabian Obispo, Projection Designer Shawn Duan, Wig Designer Anne Nesmith, Fight Director Ron Piretti, Casting Directors Victor Vazquez and Geoff Josselson, C.S.A., Stage Manager Kurt Hall, Assistant Stage Manager Marne Anderson and Production Assistant Paula Fritz.
Jubilee is generously sponsored by Exelon Corporation, Altria Group, AARP, Inc., Comcast NBCUniversal, Andrew R. Ammerman, R. Lucia Riddle, Dr. Donald Wallace Jones, Dr. Betty Jean Tolbert Jones and Tracey Tolbert Jones.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Roger Catlin, BroadwayWorld: The ensemble moved exceedingly well throughout, and since there is no choreographer credited, we can assume that is also the work of Thompson, for whom this is his 20th work for Arena. Robert Wierzel's lighting had a glow that seemed from the early days of electricity; there was also a stark, silhouetted segment that brought to mind the vivid work of the artist Kara Walker.
Nelson Pressley, Washington Post: The show provides thumbnail biographies in an extended section during the second act, after a triumphant yet awkward performance before Queen Victoria (the awkwardness comes from the queen's response). The underscoring for the scene is "Wade in the Water," and the setting beautifully becomes a ship returning to America. Briefly, we see flirtation between Georgia Gordon (an amusingly smitten Zonya Love) and Frederick Loudin (a smooth Sean-Maurice Lynch), and hear quick backstories from Jennie Jackson (a slightly haunted Joy Jones), whose mother told her that her voice would do good in the world, and Edmund Watkins (Jaysen Wright), who as a runaway kid once spent months hiding under a schoolhouse. Eventually, we hear from everybody.
Michele Simms-Burton, DC Metro Theatre Arts: But, the beauty in the production are the songs. Because of the Jubs, the spirituals of an oppressed people did not vanish into the dustbins of memory. The Fisk Jubilee Singers did more than save a university, they indelibly marked American music with Negro Spirituals that survived and can be heard in many Black churches on Sunday morning. For this, and this alone, Thompson's ability to transform this history to the stage and acquaint a broader audience to the accomplishments of this historical singing group is worth the price of the ticket.