Legacy. Household. Custom.
Audiences at a packed Birmingham bar received a deal with final evening as Alvon Reed and solid introduced a sneak preview of growing musical “Hattie Mae’s Jook Joint.” This rising present, supported by Alabama State Council for the Arts, spans three generations of Black entrepreneurs, activists and artists as they wrestle to maintain their jook joint alive and their neighborhood collectively. Final evening’s occasion was additionally supported by Eighty Eight Piano Bar, who developed two distinctive cocktails for the event – Hattie’s Homebrew, which packs a smokey whiskey punch, and Booker’s Candy Love.
Music took middle stage finally evening because the solid supplied us the present’s musical numbers. Having been fortunate sufficient to catch a script-read earlier this yr, I had some perception into the narrative of the plot, however even by themselves the songs had a strong emotional arc that carried the group alongside. Cardozie Jones’s music and lyrics have been organized for piano, bass, and drums by Courtney Jones, and the music was directed by Dee Hill.
The present opens in 1938 with a full-cast quantity “Welcome to Hattie Mae’s Jook Joint,” earlier than presenting Hattie herself (sung fantastically final evening by LaToya “Toy” Matthews), who stretched her melismatic introduction into an homage to the early goddesses of blues, earlier than enjoyable us into the jook joint’s pulsing, dancing beat.
Cardozie Jones’s lyrics hold the evening diverse, from the tender wit of younger lovers Abigail and Pigeon In Tomorrow is Coming too Quickly (“Tomorrow simply could be our buddy,” “I hoped for extra than simply buddies!”), to the complexity of Hattie Mae’s inter-generational legacy (“Typically the issues we love should be saved from those that neglect them,”), to highly effective civil rights anthems (“You name me delicate, however all I would like is to dwell in a world the place I’m protected.”) Whereas not an acted efficiency per say, the solid approached the roles with understanding and authenticity – Halo Wheeler as Abigail is especially charming towards Rodney Fomby’s candy attentiveness, and KD McQueen as Booker pulls the viewers by its heartstrings in his story of battle and survival.
For me, the primary actually stand-out quantity is a scorchingly virtuosic funeral anthem by Jackie (Elle Jai), throughout which I discovered myself laughing and weeping on the identical time remembering those that left me “Endlessly Modified.” The second is “Transfer On,” a playful tackle an ex’s love track by Charlotte (Jelisa Ransom) and Elijah (Jeremy Hill). Whereas laughter is on the coronary heart of this duet, it additionally gives an emotionally complicated parallel to the present’s query of how the previous may be balanced with the current and future. If something have been to vary, I might love one other pair of verses earlier than the break to actually play with the solid’s totally different views on life and love.
The present closes with a layered, full-cast return to the opening quantity that displays on the evening’s journey, asking the viewers to exit and make some modifications of their very own – what if this have been the final evening? Fortunately that is not the final evening, however solely the start of this musical’s time on the stage. Alabama audiences ought to look out for extra showcases, and full performances to return within the close to future. Alvon Reed is crafting a strong and very important addition to the musical theatre repertoire, as candy, robust and honest as Hattie Mae herself.