Sunday, March 17, 2013

Theatre review: "Breath & Imagination" at City Theatre

You’ll hear wonderful songs and witness superb performing at City Theatre in its co-produced world premiere of Daniel Beaty’s play with music called Breath & Imagination. In ninety or so minutes this tells the self-narrated story of real, world-famous African-American concert singer Roland Hayes.

But don’t think of this as a recital of simple facts nor as a song recital. Beaty’s script calls for genuine acting and for a range of many kinds of songs, with more of an emphasis on how they relate to the narrative than heard for their own sake. This most concerns Hayes evolution as an artist and how his career took shape, with racism constantly darkening of the story, seen more as a fact than as creating major drama.
Jubilant Sykes glows with warmth and depth portraying Hayes, making the man live and breathe while singing with beauty and soul. His vocal strength and his range enrich the experience but you never get the feeling that this is a showcase for Sykes’ talent. Rather he makes Hayes come alive with assurance and sincerity. Kecia Lewis as Hayes’ mother, named Angel Mo,’ has a voice and characterization that grabs you and holds you equal to the force she displays shaping and bending Hayes’ life. Angel Mo’ has an attitude and, while you smile, don’t you forget it,

Director Darko Tresnjak has staged this imaginatively, getting the best out of David P. Gordon’s inventive set, most noticeably when Hayes is seen as a child.  Angel Mo’ towers over him as he squirms and wiggles on steps below her, Sykes’ playing these scenes with believable charm.  

Actor/pianist Tom Frey adds to the constant appeal and interest as seven people intersecting Hayes along his path to fame, while, at the same time, playing the music impeccably.     

As for the songs, only a few are arias from opera or art songs. Most seem to be spirituals. Unfortunately, if you want to know more, for example to search for them and hear them again, you’ll find nothing in the program book to help. And many sound worth hearing again.  

FYI: Evidently Hayes made few recordings in his best years. You can learn more on-line at San Francisco Classical Voice ( It reports that the only CD currently available is Preiser Records’ 2-disc set, The Art of Roland Hayes: Six Centuries of Song, consisting of Old English folk songs, and those of Dowland, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and Wolf, as well as Hayes’ arrangements of what he called “Aframerican” folk songs, along with Negro worksongs and spirituals. It would have been valuable to say this also in the program book because this fresh exposure to Hayes leaves an indelible impression.

Breath and Imagination continues through March 31st at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street South Side-412/ 431-CITY (2489) and

After I posted this I was told by City Theatre that Mr.Beaty preferred to not have the songs listed because, having written some of them, he felt it was presumptuous of him to take credit given the sources of the other songs. 
Nonetheless, here is a list of those songs, with City Theatre's permission:
Opening/Give Me Jesus [Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) from Les Berceaux
Plenty Good Room/Give Me Jesus (reprise) [Traditional Spirituals]
Let’s Have a Union/Witness [Traditional Spirituals/Daniel Beaty]
Golden Slippers [Traditional Spiritual]
Roland Preached [Daniel Beaty]
Over My Head [Traditional Spiritual]
Round About De Mountain [Traditional Spiritual]
Hold On [Traditional Spiritual]
Chattanooga [Daniel Beaty]
I Hear Music [Daniel Beaty]
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian [Traditional Spiritual]
Roland, an Artist [Daniel Beaty]
Ich grolle nicht [Robert Schumann (1810-56) from Dichterliebe -
Text by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)]


Opening (reprise) [Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) from Les Berceaux]
Never Leave Me [Daniel Beaty]
Ich will meine Seele tauchen [Robert Schumann (1810-56) from Dichterliebe-
Text by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)]
My God Is So High [Traditional Spiritual]


No comments:

Post a Comment