Off Broadway Reviews
I am writing this on my cell phone on my way home from the first show on Wednesday night. The last one is tomorrow night. For all I know it might already be tomorrow as you are reading this. It is, however, as close to a must-see for anyone who appreciates the world inhabited by the likes of Kurt Weill, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, or Lewis Carroll, to whom a reference to a game of croquet late in the show is surely a nod of appreciation. You may even be reminded at times of Candide or The Cradle Will Rock. If you are a fan of this kind of theater, then I urge you to stop reading immediately and arrange for a ticket. The last time it was on stage in New York was in a humble rushed-into-production benefit concert in 2010. This one is first class. Don't expect to see it reappearing anytime soon.
Asking what Promenade is about won't get you very far, but here is a brief synopsis. Two prisoners (James T. Lane and Kent Overshown) escape from their cell and are able to evade the buffoon of a guard (Mark Bedard), who chases after them for the rest of the show like a Keystone Cops version of Javert from Les Misérables. Along the way, the escapees mingle with a group of very wealthy socialites, who very much live up to one of the song lyrics that says "riches make you dumb."
But don't worry about the plot. To quote the aforementioned Lewis Carroll, "take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves." The sense of the show is conveyed through the nearly non-stop stream of songs, for which Al Carmines has provided a score that draws on just about every musical form you could imagine, from patter songs to operatic arias to military marches to melodramatic numbers about lost children. From the moment the main theme starts things up and the glitterati come sashaying across the stage dressed in their glitzy costumes designed by Clint Ramos, you can tell you are in exquisite hands.
The cast gleams even more brightly than their costumes under Laurie Woolerys direction and the choreography by Hope Boykin. Ms. Woolery is the director of Public Works at the Public Theater and Ms. Boykin is with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; both bring years of experience and talent to this production, and it shows. But bless the cast, who have fully embraced the delicate balance between off-the-wall absurdity and an underlying genuine understanding of and sympathy for the human condition that is conveyed throughout Promenade.
Everyone contributes so much to the show's success, but if I must single out a couple of the performers, I will give a special tip of the hat to Soara-Joye Ross and Carmen Ruby Floyd, both of whom bring soaring coloratura soprano voices to their singing; Bryonha Maria Parham, who is perfection in the role of a serving maid whose life crosses both the worlds of the rich and the poor; and Bonnie Milligan, who brings her big Broadway belt into play as Miss Cake. And do let us give a rousing round of applause for the eminently talented musicians, under the direction of Greg Jarrett. What a joyful way to honor Encores! Off-Center's commitment to producing high quality revivals of rare old Off Broadway shows.