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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Ray Charles Live!
Blind bards have carried the stories of their race since medieval times. Charles, who lost his sight in childhood, stayed true to his vision of being not just a musician but a famous musician. This production, initiated and presented at The Pasadena Playhouse, is directed by its Artistic Director, Sheldon Epps, with a book by Pulitzer-Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks.
Parks, in her first libretto, wraps the events of Charles's life around the songs he wrote or made famous, conceptualizing Charles making a last album which encompasses the facts and major figures in his life. This earnest endeavor hampers the avant-garde creativity which is Parks' hallmark, though in the Second Act she fares better, breaking through the chronological structure in an attempt to show how the early death of Charles's mother, his one supportive presence, affected him all his life.
Brandon Victor Dixon in the title role has Ray Charles' mannerisms down pat and can certainly sell a song, though he doesn't sound like the Ray Charles of recent memory. Epps has assembled a sizzling supporting class, including Wilkie Ferguson, dynamic as Young RC, the boy who, sightless and alone, came to the city and clawed his way up by sheer talent.
One of the most touching songs in the production is "I Can't Stop Loving You", sung by the three main loves of Ray's life: his wife Della (Nikki Renee Daniels), lead singer Mary Ann Fisher (Angela Teek) and back-up singer who moved to first base, Margie Hendricks (Sabrina Sloan). The blend is perfect and their passion fills the air. A fourth woman, Yvette Cason, gives a memorably touching performance as Ray's mother Retha Robinson. Harrison White is warm and poignant as Jeff Brown, Charles' first manager who, with others, is dumped when the singer hits the big time and Rickie Vermont is a dapper presence as bandleader Lucky Millinder, among other parts.
Epps' smooth and dynamic directing style is augmented by Kenneth L. Roberson's choreography which is true to the period and uses the stage as a spotlight would. Riccardo Hernandez has created a brilliant neon-lit scenic design that reinforces the concept that Charles, the showman, is telling you his story from the milieu that was his real home.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide