Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Trotman 'Got To Give It Up' to Marvin Gaye

Sax salutes sexy soul on Elan Trotman’s “Dear Marvin,” a collection of 10 of Marvin Gaye’s best-loved songs that drops on April 2, the late legendary R&B singer’s 80th birthday. Preceding the set’s arrival is the single “Got To Give It Up,” a vibrant reboot of one of Gaye’s funky dance tracks that is the No. 1 most-added single on the Billboard chart this week as an instrumental from the Woodward Avenue Records album produced by Charles Haynes (Marcus Miller, Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah) and Trotman.

“It’s amazing how this project came about. ‘Got To Give It Up’ has been a huge part of my live show for the past two years and has always been a crowd favorite. That is just one of the many factors that inspired me to record the song and to dig deeper into Marvin’s catalog and life story. I had no idea that his 80th birthday would be coming up around our time of completing the album, but once I found out, I knew we had to release it on April 2 to mark the occasion,” said Trotman, an award-winning saxophonist who has topped the Billboard singles chart more than ten times.

In reimagining Gaye’s catalog in instrumental form, Trotman shares the spotlight on “Dear Marvin,” with premier soloists, including Grammy-winning keyboardist Jeff Lorber, seminal urban-jazz flutist Najee, esteemed trumpeter Patches Stewart, soul-jazz-hip hop-funk trombonist Jeff Bradshaw and veteran guitarist Sherrod Barnes. Trotman strategically deploys vocals to illumine a few key tracks. Ray Greene (Santana, Tower of Power) begs on “Mercy Mercy Me”; rapper Obadele Thompson plies his come-on skills to “I Want You”; and Tim “Smithsoneon” Smith provides the cure through “Sexual Healing.” Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra enhance a pair of tracks with strings. Including Haynes, Trotman’s core collaborators are his former colleagues from Berklee College of Music: keyboardist Mitch Henry (Marsha Ambrosius), bassists Kyle Miles and Keithen Foster (H.E.R.), and percussionist Atticus Cole.        

“It’s been an honor to be able to share my interpretations of some of Marvin’s classics. As with all cover projects, I made an extra effort to learn lyrics and storylines for each composition in order to truly understand his interpretations and performances on each song,” said the Boston-based Trotman, who is planning to be in Los Angeles on April 2 for an 11am ceremony held by the United States Postal Service at The Greek Theatre to celebrate the release of the Marvin Gaye commemorative Forever stamp. 

“We, Marvin's family, heard about Elan doing a musical tribute to Marvin. We are very pleased with his album 'Dear Marvin,' and are so happy that it will be released on his birthday, April 2. The musicians are all incredible! Thank you, Elan Trotman. Job well done,” said Janis Gaye, Gaye’s second wife.

“Dear Marvin,” is Trotman’s eighth album and second on the Woodward Avenue Records imprint. The label issued the saxophone-flute player’s 2013 disc, “Tropicality,” an autobiographical album that colors contemporary jazz with native sounds from Trotman’s homeland, Barbados. Trotman curates, produces and hosts the Barbados Jazz Excursion and Golf Weekend annually over Columbus Day Weekend with the sixth edition taking place this October 10-14. Bringing that winning formula closer to home, he will launch the first annual Martha’s Vineyard Jazz Excursion and Golf Weekend in Oak Bluffs, MA on June 28-30. To support the album release, Trotman will perform at festivals, theaters and nightclubs through October beginning with the prestigious Boscov’s Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, PA on April 5.      

“Dear Marvin,” contains the following songs:

“Inner City Blues” featuring Sherrod Barnes
“Got To Give It Up”
“Distant Lover” featuring Patches Stewart
“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”
“Mercy Mercy Me” featuring Ray Greene
“I Want You” featuring Obadele Thompson
“Sexual Healing” featuring “Smithsoneon”
“After The Dance” featuring Najee
“Trouble Man” featuring Jeff Lorber
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” featuring Jeff Bradshaw

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Review: Black Super Hero Magic Mama

Kimberly Hébert Gregory

By Darlene Donloe

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. When it happens, the pain is unfathomable and, for some debilitating.  That’s exactly what happens to Sabrina when she loses her 14-year-old son Tramarion to a police shooting in Black Super Hero Magic Mama, a drama/comedy by Inda Craig-Galván, currently having its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater.

When the play opens, Sabrina (Kimberly Hébert Gregory), a single mother, is reading Harry Potter as a bedtime story to her son. She then begins to wax lyrical about how most heroes and heroines in books and films frequently encounter personalities similar to the people they already know. That would prove to be pivotal in the show’s second act.

Tramarion (Cedric Joe) is a mother’s dream. He’s a good student. He’s currently studying Know Your Heritage, the high school black history quiz show. He and his friend, Flat Joe (Noah Abbott) are in the midst of writing a comic book where Sabrina’s face is used as the heroine.

(l-r) Noah Abbott and Cedric Joe

Sabrina doesn’t exactly approve of her son’s friendship with Flat Joe. The thinks Flat Joe is a bad influence. She’s apprehensive about letting her son loose in the city. She’s trying her best to keep him safe.  The night of the black history quiz show competition, Tramarion wants to ride to the competition on the bus with his Coach Corey Brackett (Daryl C. Brown) and his teammates.  It literally becomes a life-changing decision.

Later that night, after the team’s big win, the coach realizes he has left the keys inside the van.  Surrounded by the boys, including Tramarion, the coach tries to gain entry into the van by any means necessary. When a cop sees what’s happening, he tells everyone to put their hands up. Tramarion happens to be holding the trophy which shines when a flashlight hits it. Mistaking the trophy as a gun – the officer fires his gun – shooting and killing Tramarion.

Inda Craig-Galván

With her son now a statistic, Sabrina goes into a slightly catatonic state. Even though her sister Lena (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) tries to bring her back from the edge, she finds she’s unable to face the ensuing flurry of media attention. Crippled by grief and anger, she retreats into a fantasy world of superheroes and arch villains that inhabit the comic book created by her son and his friend before his death. Assuming the role of the Maasai Angel rather than the expected part of a grieving mother, Sabrina battles her enemies along the way to peace.

While the first act is a straight-forward look at the tragedy that befalls Sabrina, the second act takes a hard left and enters the comic book world. The second act has a good amount of comedy that makes the show feel disjointed. It feels like the audience is seeing two shows.

The set design doesn’t lend itself to a free-flowing show for Director Robert O’Hara. It plays a little clunky.  Center stage houses Tramarion’s bed on a revolving pedestal. The set design works when the two secondary characters play 'stage left' and 'stage right' as both newscasters in Act 1 and crazy comic book characters in Act 2.  In Act 1 - upstage center is a brilliant cityscape that also doubles as a screen to project images. In Act 2 it becomes the set of a game show.

Cynthia Kaye McWilliams

Kimberly Hébert Gregory holds down the show along with Cynthia Kaye McWilliams.  Gregory’s grief as Sabrina is palpable and McWilliams’ attempts to bring her sister back from the brink – ring authentic.

The two boys, Cedric Joe, and Noah Abbott are adorable. Satisfactory performances from the supporting cast.

Although at times Black Super Hero Magic Mama plays like two separate plays (a drama and a comedy) fortunately - by the time the show ends, Inda Craig-Galván wraps it up nicely.

Kimberly Hébert Gregory
This is an emotional journey presented with moments of levity - probably to lessen the blow surrounding a young black man being killed at the hands of the police. It’s a recurring story that, unfortunately, has become our reality far too often.

Black Super Hero Magic Mama, written by Inda Craig-Galván, and directed by Robert O'Hara, stars Noah Abbott, Reiko Aylesworth, Walter Belenky, Daryl C. Brown, Kevin Douglas, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Cedric Joe, and Cynthia Kaye McWilliams.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent) Black Super Hero Magic Mama gets an L (likable).

Black Super Hero Magic Mama, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; through April 14; $30-$120 (subject to change);  (310) 208-5454 or; Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Santiago-Hudson's Colorful 'Lackawanna Blues'

By Darlene Donloe

As the play begins, Grammy-winning blues guitarist, actor, and composer Chris Thomas King plays his heart out as he sits in the corner onstage draped under a warm spotlight. The next image we see is of Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago Hudson standing opposite the guitarist. He, too, is draped under a warm spotlight. Then it begins.

Santiago-Hudson starts to weave a tale about his life through a magical, musical reminiscence called Lackawanna Blues.

This autobiographical narrative is a funny, emotional, intense and authentic look at Santiago-Hudson’s life starting with his 1950s childhood in a small town on the banks of Lake Erie.

The piece pays homage to Rachel Crosby, otherwise known as Nanny, a woman who came to raise Santiago-Hudson as her own after his birth mother could no longer care for him.  Nanny found out the mother was leaving the child alone in her rented boarding house room with only a hamburger to his name. Nanny was a no-nonsense, but loving woman who wanted only the best for Santiago-Hudson. From humble beginnings she opened a boardinghouse for society’s castaways and quickly became the neighborhood’s enforcer, confidant, saving grace and mother to the entire community. Santiago-Hudson watched it all unfold.

As he masterfully works the stage, Santiago-Hudson takes on more than 20 colorful characters – all coming to life through his various voices, gentle movements, and rapid delivery.  All of the characters that came through the neighborhood and, specifically, the eccentric boardinghouse, are distinct with their individual voices and distinct gait.  The childhood characters that pervaded Santiago-Hudson’s life included everyone from would-be philosophers and petty hustlers to lost souls and abandoned lovers.

And they all had intriguing names. Let's see, there was one-legged Lemuel Taylor, Cockeyed Shakey, Numb Finger Peter, Lackawanna Smitty, Bo-Jack, and Finger Willy, just to name a few.  

(l-r) Chris Thomas King and Ruben Santiago-Hudson 

Live blues music – courtesy of Chris Thomas King and played throughout the show, brings an added layer of drama to the celebration of the eccentric boardinghouse he grew up in.

Santiago-Hudson has skillfully crafted a pleasing and riveting piece taken from the pages of his life.  It’s interesting to see just how each encounter Santiago-Hudson had led to his growth and development.

While there really wasn’t anything funny about Santiago-Hudson’s upbringing, there are some magical and comical moments in the show – mostly courtesy of Ol’ Po Carl, an old Negro Leagues baseball player who describes his hard-drinking sickness as “roaches of the liver” and calls the New York skyscraper the “Entire State Building.” And let's not forget how “beauty is in the behind of the holder” when describing African-American women who dance provocatively in order to seduce men.

While his acting, writing and directing skills are on display – his harmonica playing can’t be ignored. Santiago-Hudson plays it with finesse as if it’s another character.  He and King together bring depth and emotion to the show.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Lackawanna Blues
, originally produced by New York’s Public Theater in 2001, is written, performed and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Original music for the production is composed by Bill Sims Jr. with additional music performed and composed by Chris Thomas King, who took over for Sims Jr., who made his transition earlier this year.  King is nothing short of brilliant.

Kudos to Michael Carnahan’s set design, which is simplistic, yet bold.  The backdrop is of a brick boarding house. Jen Schriever’s lighting also deserves a round of applause.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Lackawanna Blues gets an E (excellent).

Lackawanna Blues, Mark Taper Forum, At The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angles; 8 p.m., Tues.-Fri.; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Sat.; 1 p.m. Sun. through April 21; added 6:30 p.m. Sunday performances in lieu of a 1 p.m. performance on April 14 and April 21; no public performances on Tues., March 19; Wednesday, March 20; Thurs., March 21 and Fri., March 22; no 8 p.m. performance on Tues., April 16; $30-$109; 213.628.2772;

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Marvel Studio's Avengers: Endgame Opens April 26

The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios’ grand conclusion to twenty-two films, “Avengers: Endgame.” Kevin Feige produces “Avengers: Endgame,” and Anthony and Joe Russo are the directors. Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Trinh Tran, Jon Favreau, and Stan Lee are the executive producers, and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Captain Marvel Is A Force To Be Reckoned With

By Darlene Donloe

There are several reasons to like Captain Marvel.

This is one of the most highly-anticipated films of 2019.

Let's start with the fact that the character, played by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson, started out as a man in the 1967 comic books, before finally becoming Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel in 2012.

Next, Brie Larson, who is fantastic in the film, is the first female Marvel character to front her own movie, which is a major social milestone. The movie is led by a woman superhero who is the A story and not the B story.

Captain Marvel’s aka Vers (rhymes with cheers) Carol Danvers’ best friend is a black woman named Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) who is also pretty kick ass in her own right as an elite pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Lashana Lynch 

The person that has Captain Marvel’s back is a black man named Nicholas Fury, played by none other than Samuel L Jackson.  By the way, the digital CGI process by which Jackson’s face looks decades younger (1995) is brilliant.  Jackson is a big part of this movie. In previous installments, he’s pretty much had cameos. He also carries this movie along with Larson.  Of course, anyone familiar with the Nicholas Fury character knows he wears an eye patch. The reason he lost his eye is finally revealed in this film. It’s interesting - so it won’t be revealed here.

Samuel L Jackson

Best of all, Captain Marvel is unapologetic, witty, loyal and kicks all kinds of ass in this movie.

Those should be enough reasons.

The story goes something like this. It’s set in the 1990s during a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel world. While a galactic war between two alien races reaches Earth, Danvers finds herself and a small team of allies at the center of the turmoil.  Earth is referred to as C-53 and Marvel is pronounced Mar-VELL.  Who knew?  The war is between the Kree (Ver’s people) and the Skrull.  The Skrull are gangsta. They are creepy looking folks with green skin who have the ability to morph into anyone they want to be.

Annette Bening makes a welcomed appearance in the film. You can never go wrong with Bening. One must decide just who she is. Is she this or is she that? I don’t want to give it away because it could be considered a spoiler.  What’s interesting is that not everyone and not everything is what they - or it -appears to be. It makes for some cool suspense. Not even Vers or Carol/Captain Marvel is sure who they are – or who she is.

What follows are epic battles, clever repartee, and, of course, an ending that sets up the next Marvel installment called Avengers: Endgame, set for release in about two months.

It’s kind of hard to review a film when you can’t give away certain aspects of the film for fear of revealing some of the juicy plots.

One can always deduce that someone wants to rule over someone else and that someone else is not having it. The someone else’s intend to fight to the death for their freedom. Got that?  All superhero movies really come down to good vs. evil and this one is no different.

Just know that Captain Marvel is definitely a keeper.  It’s not as HUGE as let's say, Black Panther, but it holds its own as a singular entity without the support of the other Avengers.

Captain Marvel can stand on its own.

The film stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Rune Temte, Algenis Perez Soto, Mckenna Grace, with Annette Bening, with Clark Gregg, and Jude Law.

Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel is produced by Kevin Feige and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Jonathan Schwartz, Patricia Whitcher, and Stan Lee are the executive producers. The story is by Nicole Perlman and Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse, and the screenplay is by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Jac Schaeffer.

RATED: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language)

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Captain Marvel gets an E (excellent).