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Moja’s Bubbling Brown Sugar Gave A Glimpse Of Charleston’s Talent Iceberg
10/1/2014 4:25:37 PM

Cast Members of Bubbling Brown Sugar
Staff Reports

ArtForms & Theatre Concepts Sept. 25 production of “Bubbling Brown Sugar” at the Dock Street Theatre opened the 2014 Moja Arts Festival and truly captured the spirit of the festival that began in 1984 with a raucous, talent-laden performance.

The cast and crew of Bubbling Brown Sugar gave meaning to this year’s festival theme: ‘A Celebration of African American and Caribbean Arts’ with the production that embodied the heart, soul, creativity and talent of local artists and performers. Those artists and performers stamped their names on the Loften Mitchell musical based on a concept by Rosetta LeNoire which took a time traveling couple back to the Harlem Renaissance featuring the music of numerous Black artists.

Art Gilliard, founder and artistic director of ArtForms & Theatre Concepts who directed the performance, said music was the foundation of the performance and set its flavor. More true words never were spoken. With a cast that highlighted the talents of musical director Howard Brown and the voices of some of the community’s best singers, the production showed a tip of the iceberg of talent that floats in the sea of creativity that is Charleston’s artistic community.

From the opening number, ‘Bubbling Brown Sugar’, the production was off on a trip the audience could not forget. Howard Brown, whose piano was part of the on-stage set, demonstrated a mastery of the instrument moving whimsically, almost magically, through tunes that flowed between blues, ballads, swing, gospel and big band sounds.

Leroy ‘Smiley’ Smalls’ saxophone and Hamadi Alexander’s trumpet supplied the melody as bassist Jeffery Holt and drummer Leon Staggers kept the beats. But it was Brown’s ivory tickling, foot-stomping swaying over the keyboard that took the musical performance over the top. The cadre of musicians are no strangers to Gilliard’s productions. Their performances showed that experience.

Although the musicians played up a storm, the vocalists didn’t get blown away. The cast was knee-deep in vocal talent. Not the least of which was Timberly Simmons whose lead character also led the pack with multi-octave vocals on tunes like ‘What Harlem Is To Me’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. She left this audience member simply attesting, “That girl can sing!”

Sonja Deas-Reed’s rendition of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ was classic, but Ashley Hales’ awesome alto vocals on ‘God Bless The Child’ and “Eye On The Sparrow’ were the best this wannabe musician/performer/writer ever has heard. Fifteen-year-old Jasmine Jackson who led a harmonic group of the female vocalists and whose melancholy on ‘I Got It Bad’ insures she’s a talent to be reckoned with in the future.

If there is anything negative to say about the performance it has to be the about the ladies’ ill-fitting costumes. Gilliard explained that Charleston produces some healthy women and the troupe’s budget didn’t allow for custom fits. The budget also didn’t allow for a choreographer. The productions’ several dance routines left a little something to be desired.

The production’s male cast members almost made up the difference. Ernest Brown, whose lead role was bolstered by his excellent tenor voice, sang away any shortcomings left by his acting. But as Gilliard offered, music was the foundation of the performance.

College of Charleston Theatre major Joel Chapman, a graduate of the Charleston School of the Arts, also demonstrated a gift of voice and passion for interpretation on the moving ‘Sophisticated Lady’ that had the audience spellbound by Tiffany Summers’ silent comedic tragedy played out in the background.

Tyrone Reese’s rendition of “Pray For the Lights To Go Out’ almost sunk the guys’ performances total score, but by then the audience just was having too much fun. Ciel Blodgett, Geoffrey Debach and Joshua Murray rounded out the cast and gave credible performances. All in all the production was very entertaining and most enjoyable. Go see it if it comes around again.

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