Love / Reason / Belief
Volume 4 Book 1 Part 3 of
Living in the Bonus Round

Musician/asst. musical director Deb Lewis
as dressed by Jim Brochu.
[ Book 3-10 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Book 4-2 ]

July 23, 2004.
Opening Night for "Africa."
This diary entry is mostly pictures so you can meet more of the folks we have been playing with here. Friday night, opening night, the house was packed to the rafters, oversold out. John Sparks said they were all paid, too. (Usually on opening nights for new shows, a significant number of seats are "papered").

Sue Carey is well known in Chicago for her community work. This project, her story, has been over 10 years in gestation. It's a beautiful story. How a "society lady," in supporting youth shelters and creating programs to help abused street kids, ends up adopting a girl named Africa who she felt was misunderstood and re-abused by the system.

It's been a revelation to watch the rehearsals of this show because it's the first time I've been around a lot of "show business kids." And I have to tell you, if you have a negative preconception of "child" or "teen" actors, one day with this group will change your perception forever. I never heard of a single one of them ever being late, ever disrupting the rehearsals, or ever being anything more than thrilled to be in a show.

And stage moms? Forget it. These kids are dragging the parents around. Though it's a lot of work, it's really a great big playground. You get to dance, sing, act, dress up... I mean, isn't that what kids love to do?? (It is for the big kid writing this diary.)

Chipper Cooke arrives with his wife, Tanya who is also a great singer.
We plan to get together in NY and sing my new songs.

Deb Lewis being all glam.

Deb Lewis hugs composer Karena Mendoza.

Speaking of glam, Sue Carey.

Rachel, Folin & Giselle in the big party scene.

Sharyon Culberson is the spirit of "Nana Thandi."
Janeece Aisha Freeman (Africa) with Monique Whittington.

Janeece with Susan Powell (who plays Susan Plumbridge).
Susan is an former Miss America with a fabulous operatic voice.

Back: Sharyon Culberson, Gerald Richardson, Rachel Cerrone, Lipolion Henderson Jr.
Front: Jasmine Randle, Folin Ponce De Leon.

The audience response was emotional and overwhelmingly positive. Toward the end of the show, there was unexpected applause as the plot unfolded as the character of Africa begins to bond with Sue Plumbridge and they face down the system in the persona of "Dr. Spence" played by Richard White, who was the voice of Gaston in the movie of "Beauty and the Beast."

This audience acceptance is the first step in the process. Already, Jimmy has started his rewrites based on how they are understanding and following the story. Also, friends we made here in Chicago the last time have been coming up and asking great questions, helping to clarify what story points they're getting and which ones they aren't.

The good news, as I stated before, is that the overall story arc works very well. Also, that audiences are truly feeling something for the characters and are finding themselves emotionally involved with their fates. This means in the rewrites Jimmy can focus on details rather than the daunting prospect of having to restructure the whole thing (as so many musicals on the road to completion have had to do).

After the show, the lobby was buzzing with excitement. I went around snapping pictures at random.

Speaking of glam (again), Janeece Aisha Freeman.
"Africa" in Africa & Plumbridge.

Lepolion Henderson, Jr. (chorus) & Chipper Cooke ("Akabar").
Is this a gorgeous cast or what?

Asst. musical director John Fischer, Lepolion, Deb Lewis.

Rachel Cerrone ("Skinny"), Folin Ponce De Leon ("Lamia"), Africa Carey.
Africa & Steve.

Jean is Karena's partner. We're "the wives."

Rosa & Isuara work for Sue.

Finally, after the show we went back to our apartments and hung out with the musicians, John, Deb & Mark.

Sheet class!
(Dressing Deb up as a southern belle. Those are coffee filters on her wrists
and pillows tied her her waist.)
The thing we talked about -- something we discuss over and over -- is how beautifully this team works together. Mark, John and Deb are incredible musicians. They are also funny. We laugh a lot.

No, I mean we laugh a LOT.

We are seriously trying to figure out ways to work together permanently. Since few of you reading this diary have seen "Africa" it's helpful to understand that the musical truly is about family, how everyone needs family -- and how, if you don't have one, you make one.

This team, including Karena and Sue... well, we feel like we've known each other forever.

My belief is that if this piece were a finished piece, tonight's opening night would be considered a great success. But for a workshop, for the first time to see it right out of the typewriter, it's an extraordinary triumph.

If it sounds like I'm speaking in "qualifiers," I suppose I am. It's not that I don't think the piece, as it is, isn't a wonderful and inspiring night in the theatre. It absolutely is. But it's also a workshop. I recalled to Sue that we also loved the first draft of The Last Session. But by the time we got to New York, Jimmy had literally rewritten 95% of the dialogue. The rewrite is where the real magic happens.

Still, this knowledge has not kept me from celebrating this little miracle in Chicago. A full scale musical with 16 actors, a five piece band on a near bare stage, all created from scratch in three weeks? Impossible!

Unless, of course, you actually do it. These kids, these creators and these producers did it.

And it only gets better from here.

[ Book 3-10 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Book 4-2 ]

1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.