Love / Reason / Belief
Volume 4 Book 1 Part 6 of
Living in the Bonus Round

[ 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 ]

August 18, 2004.
Lindsay or Lindsey or ...
I don't know the spelling of her name so she could be Lindsay, Lindsey, Lyndsay or Lyndsey or something else so I'll refer to her as L., but what a sweet girl!! The occasion was to walk uptown to the offices of the NY Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in the David Letterman Late Show building... order to pick up our paperwork for the insurance required for us to perform The Big Voice as part of the festivities next month.

When I arrived, I met up with L. immediately and she reminded me that she had gone to Rochester to see TLS there -- and that TLS is one of her favorite shows. Turns out she's one of my favorite fans!

L. & Steve.

I wish just for a moment I could translate to you the experience I had on Wednesday, the day before the new show opened. We were at the Chelsea Studios in a small rehearsal room. I had avoided all of the rehearsals up until this point because I wanted to see it with fresh eyes after the new script had been fully worked out.

The room was small. I walked in and Jimmy signaled me to join him at the director's table. The cast performed the show right in front of me, "full out," not five feet away. The sound hitting me in that acoustically live room, all those voices, everything brand new -- it was phenomenal.

How many people ever have the chance to have a Broadway-level group of singers and dancers perform a brand new musical just for you? And a crackerjack five piece rock band led by a man who once worked with Leonard Bernstein in Austria? And you're the audience.

I started crying during the second song and after it was over, I was completely drained, exhilarated and proud of them all.

AUGUST 19, 2004.
The Pied Piper.

She's the Pied Piper.

That's all I could think of at the opening performance of "Africa & Plumbridge" at the NY Fringe Festival.

Picture this, it's 4:00 in the afternoon. We are down in Greenwich Village at a space called The Players Theatre. It is the epitome of how you'd picture a rundown New York Village theatre space. Low ceiling, long narrow room raked with ancient velvet seats narrower than those you'd find on China Airlines. Just enough lighting instruments to keep the stage warm.

We had a smattering of an audience but, like most shows competing for audiences in the Fringe, the earlier shows usually start sparse and then pick up depending on word of mouth. The cast sounds great, though. For all the room's deficiencies, the sound was present and perfect.

Suddenly, during the third song, I heard a commotion behind me. Scuffling, voices, swooshing. In my little seat I could barely turn around, but when I did, I saw at least 50 kids, all African American -- ages 6 to teen -- all piling into the seats. I don't think they quite knew what they were there to see. They loved the singing, but started making noises during the dialogue. Then it hit me. They think they're at a concert. They're just waiting for the next song.

Soon, however, the lead character, Africa, begins to draw them in to her story. At the end of act one, when a violent confrontation occurs, the kids were totally shocked. The stage went black;then house lights up. And the entire audience went dead quiet as they looked around totally puzzled.

I looked at them from my seat and said, "There's another half. The story continues!"

Turns out this was a group of kids from a home for abandoned or abused kids. This was their story on that stage. When Act Two started, they were riveted. Unlike the noisier first act (which they were late for), they were didn't move a hair during act two.

Outside, Sue stood with her daughter and the kids all were whispering, "That's the real Africa!"

It was quite a moment (and I have pictures on the way).

The last thing we did before heading home was to drop in on an old friend, Amy Coleman who played Vicki in the NY production of TLS. She was totally surprised and, by god, she just doesn't age. It was so fun to catch up on her goings-on and to just sit and chat. We love us some Amy.

AUGUST 20, 2004.
First Adult NY Theatre Audience.
By Friday, the time had come. There were lots of people lined up outside the theatre we share with several other productions. They were there to see us! It was our first real test because it would be the first actual adult New York theatre audience to see the show. And in New York, you never presume anything.

For the first 15 minutes Jimmy said he could tell there was a real, "Show me!" attitude in the room. Most of the people sat in the middle to the rear of the room (rather than in the front seats), few of them knew what they were about to see (since the show is based on a completely original story), and we had no way of knowing how they would take it.

And this being the Fringe, the first thing that happened in act one was the light board went all kookoo on us. Poor Jeff the stage manager totally freaked out because the preset program had crashed, but luckily someone there jumped in and took over, bringing the lights back up and lighting the show on the fly. It was a heroic rescue.

Didn't hurt the show one bit, though. They were moving around in the dark for a moment but I think people expect this sort of thing at the Fringe. Anything can happen!

And how did the audience take it? After intermission several people moved forward into the front rows. The response got bigger and bigger. Every song became a showstopper and by the end, the audience was on its feet cheering. And the cast! The cast kicked ass BIG time!! The band was rocking out the house.

The next day on the theatre message boards appeared this post from "ncassadine":

Nowadays, many theatre fans find themselves torn between "artistic value" and "production value". What is compromised by a big cast? Can you still be entertained by a show with values?

"Africa and Plumbridge", currently playing at the NY Fringe Festival, manages to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

The show is about a young girl, Africa, with a terrifying past (played with grace by Janeece Aisha Freeman), who comes to terms with herself through the love of a stranger (Liz McConahay) who is just as lost as she. The story catapults through two hours with incredible musical numbers, penned by Sue Carey, whose true story inspired the show. Added with the quick wit and depth of Jim Brochu's (The Last Session/The Big Voice) book, the experience is unforgettable. The amount of talent on stage is undeniable; many of Africa's peers are played by newcomers, including stand-outs Eric Anthony, Rachel Cerrone and Leopolian Henderson, Jr. The exude a love of the show and the theatre that is hard to come by these days.

The show isn't without fault; many of the issues that the show deals could be explored with greater depth, and the relationships between the characters should be more developed. Not to worry, this will come with time. This is a cast that has been together for so little time; three of the leads, including the incomparable McConahay, joined the show last week, on its arrival in New York, from a sold out Chicago run.

I left the theatre energized last night. The rhythms of the show are heartbreakingly beautiful, had me clapping and stomping along, and reflecting, in the show's quieter, and powerfully dramatic moments.

Highly recommended.

In fact, the only negative note I've received from anyone is that they find the title confusing. One person thought it was about an explorer named Plumbridge and his encounters on the continent of Africa. (So, there's talk about finding a more immediately identifiable name for the piece). But, hey, if the worse thing anyone is saying is that they're confused by the name or that they want to see a little more indepth exploration of the characters, we're flying high.

On another posting board at

FRINGE: Africa & Plumbridge's magnificent cast
Posted On:8/21/04 at 12:07:48 PM

Janeece and Liz tore it UP. I was teary from Liz's first number, and pretty much hysterical by the end of the show. Those two gave really powerful performances.

The caliber exceeds that which is expected from a Fringe show. Go see it if you get a chance!

re: FRINGE: Africa & Plumbridge's magnificent cast
Posted On:8/21/04 at 12:30:17 PM
Dawg agrees wholeheartedly. I saw the show the other day as well. I have also seen a bunch of other Fringe musicals this year. They so often are disappointing-"Africa" does anything but. The cast is first rate, as is the score. This is quite clearly, in my eyes anyway, one of this year's best.

All of us were so relieved! New York theatre audiences are the most discerning in the world and it appears, if we gauge by this group of total strangers, that we might truly have something big on our hands. Oh, I hope so. I really do.
[ 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 ]

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