Black history as seen in a theatrical flight of fancy
| New York
The Colored Museum Revue by George C. Wolfe. Directed by L. Kenneth Richardson. ``The Colored Museum'' is a rich display of satire, sharp social comment, and high spirits. Eleven numbers (sketches and songs) comprise the ``exhibits'' of the new entertainment at the Public/Susan Stein Shiva Theater.
Writer George C. Wolfe has packed his 90-minute entertainment with comic and sometimes sardonic observations on what has come to be known as the black American experience (if he will excuse the clich'e). The guided tour begins with ``Git on Board,'' in which Celebrity Airlines cabin attendant Miss Pat (Danitra Vance) provides the cheerful chatter for a flight of fancy and history - a flight which provides its passengers with shackles en route from Africa to Savannah and the promised land beyond slavery.
Anton Nelessen accompanies this ``exhibit'' with projections of grim period prints from the antebellum era. It's typical of the way in which ``The Colored Museum'' employs visual devices for more than pictorial purposes.
Museum guide Wolfe also explores such topics as black cuisine with Aunt Ethel (Vickilyn Reynolds), one of whose specialties is grits under glass. In a photo session for a slick black magazine, sleek models (Loretta Devine and Reggie Montgomery) complain, ``We have to smile like this all month.''
In ``The Hairpiece,'' a pair of fiercely contentious wigs (Ms. Reynolds and Ms. Devine) argue over which of them shall adorn their owner (Danitra Vance) and express her current attitude.
``The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play,'' a hilarious sendup of black domestic dramas in the tradition of ``A Raisin in the Sun'' by Lorraine Hansberry, is climaxed by an apotheosis into ``an all-black musical.''
(Ms. Hansberry's prize-winning play actually was adapted into the musical ``Raisin.'')
In the emotionally overwrought ``LaLa's Opening,'' a black expatriate artiste returning to America (Ms. Devine) turbulently relives her life and encounters the child she was.
``Symbiosis,'' a more successful contemplation of changing ways, observes the attempts of an achiever with a briefcase (Tommy Hollis) to discard all mementos of the past, along with the irrepressible alter ego (Mr. Montgomery) who accumulated them.
The show climaxes with the exultant liberation of ``The Party,'' making ``The Colored Museum'' by far the liveliest cultural enclave in town.
Although it takes an insider's view of black America, this is in all respects an equal-opportunity occasion. Laughter is its business, even the laughter that has a dark and poignant side. Mr. Wolfe scores as a writer, whatever the mood.
The brilliant performance was staged by L. Kenneth Richardson, who directed the original production of ``The Colored Museum'' by Crossroads Theatre Company of New Brunswick, N.J.
Besides Brian Martin's smoothly revolving stage and panels and Mr. Nelessen's projections, designing assignments have been expertly carried out by Nancy L. Konrardy (costumes), Victor En Yu Tan and William H. Grant III (lighting), and Rob Gordon (sound).
Kysia Bostic was the important composer-arranger; Hope Clarke choreographed the occasional dances; Daryl Walters served as musical director and vocal arranger.
The stylish musical accompaniment features Ron McBee as percussionist. Have I Got a Girl for You! Musical by Joel Greenhouse and Penny Rockwell (book) and Dick Gallagher (music and lyrics). Directed by Bruce Hopkins.
``Have I Got a Girl for You!'' strikes a low even for this woebegone season for new musical comedies. Subtitled ``The Frankenstein Musical,'' the misadventure at the Second Avenue Theatre is an inept farrago of borrowings from various sources, including the movie ``The Bride of Frankenstein.''
The performance staged by Bruce Hopkins matches the material.
The preview I attended was picketed by members of the stagehands' union and quite possibly by the ghost of Mary Shelley, no doubt protesting the indignities heaped on her misunderstood monster.