Friday, June 26, 2015

'The Gospel At Colonus' Brings Down The House

Cast of Gospel At Colonus

By Darlene Donloe

The Ebony Repertory Theater (ERT) and its Founder/Producer Wren T. Brown, may need to call a carpenter for repairs after its foundation shifted and its roof was raised during the opening night performance of The Gospel At Colonus.

A solid opening with an exceptional cast, the theater was awash with goose-bumpy singing, clapping, dancing, shouting and praising. And that was just the first song! 

From there, the fervent music continued to forward the story with increasing effectiveness – often resulting in impromptu applause and vocal affirmations from satisfied theatergoers.

Ironically, it was a gospel celebration of the finest order, set against the backdrop of a Greek tragedy.  

The Gospel At Colonus, an adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, tells the uncomfortable tale of Oedipus, who killed his father and, unknowingly, married his mother. Once he found out the truth, he stabbed out his eyes and went into exile with his daughter, Antigone. Seeking a place to die, he eventually does just that in the town of Colonus.

The show was conceived and adapted in New York City in 1983 by the experimental-theatre director Lee Breuer one of the founders of the influential American avant-garde theatre company Mabou Mines, and composer Bob Telson. The original script was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show had a brief run on Broadway from March to May in 1988. Breuer was Tony-nominated for his book.

The Gospel At Colonus, set in a black Pentecostal church, is a dramatic, complicated story that needs the steady hand of a director - who is working with a surefooted cast. Voila!  Luckily under the tight, but fluid direction of Andi Chapman, that fete is achieved with the cast at ERT.

Roger Robinson

With a cast the likes of Tony Award-winner Roger Robinson (Preacher Oedipus), Kim Staunton (Evangelist Antigone), William Allen Young (Pastor Theseus), Ellis Hall (singer Oedipus), Samuel Butler (an original company member), LaVan Davis (Choragos), Gilbert Glenn Brown (Polyneices), J.A. Preston (Creon), Jackie Gouche (Ismene) and Dorian Holley (friend/Citizen) and a 20-member chorus from the Los Angeles Young Adult Choir of Gospel Music Workshop of America (led by Tony Jones, Minister of Music at Hope of Glory Christian Center, Pastor Calvin Rhone), this staging screams ‘hit show.’

Through one musical highlight after another the story unfolds. The congregation performs the invocation and, as the pastor narrates, portions of the story come to life.

You have to pay close attention to the show and the dialogue because at least one character, namely Oedipus, is played by an actor and a singer.

(l-r) William Allen Young and Roger Robinson

Roger Robinson, who is always engaging, doesn’t disappoint in this production. Like a masterful conductor he moves the story with his impassioned pulse and gifted sense of balance.  William Allen Young moves effortlessly about the stage leaving satisfying theatrical nuggets in his path. Staunton effectively delivers the raw emotion of a daughter bent on pleasing her father and seeing that his last wish is fulfilled. Although Gilbert Glenn Brown doesn’t have much stage time, he’s a commanding, authentic actor who is a joy to watch.

Ellis Hall, who is blind, engulfs the stage and fills the theater with his powerful and moving five octave vocals.

Dorian Holley

Dorian Holley’s voice is like butter. It’s smooth, it’s creamy and it makes everything taste better.

LaVan Davis’ vocals showed up and showed out as did the voices of  Nicole ‘Nikki’ Potts, Jackie Gouche and Sharetta Morgan-Harmon.  The Choragos Quartet is exceptional.

Respect to the band, which includes Abdul Hamid Royal (keyboard/musical director), Jervonney Collier (bass), Tony Jones (organ), Felix Pollard (drums) and John Gentry Tennyson (keyboard).

Kudos to everyone involved with this uplifting show. This production commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles premiere.

This production of The Gospel At Colonus is a fulfilling theatrical experience.  There is much to see and much to hear. Every song is better than the one before. The finale is ‘on your feet’ sensational.

Top (l-r) Shareta Morgan-Harmon, Roger Robinson and Jackie Gouche
Bottom (l-r) Kim Staunton and Ellis Hall

The Gospel at Colonus, conceived and adapted by Lee Breuer, is directed by Andi Chapman, with musical direction by Abdul Hamid Royal and music by Bob Telson.

The creative team also includes Keith Young, musical staging; Edward El Haynes, Jr., set design; Naila Aladdin Sanders, costume design: Karyn D. Lawrence, lighting design and Phillip G. Allen, sound design.

Celebrities on hand opening night included James Pickens Jr., Bernie Casey, Sheldon Epps, Akosua Busia, Bill Withers, Keith David, Russell Hornsby, Terrence C. Carson, Michael Boatman, Stan Lathan, Bernard Parks, Richard Lawson and Tina Knowles.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), The Gospel At Colonus gets an E (excellent).

The Gospel at Colonus, Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington; 8 p.m. Fri., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sat and 3 p.m. Sun., (there is a performance on Thursday, June 25 at 8 p.m., and no performance on Saturday, June 27, at 8 p.m.) through July 19; $45 – $65; Tickets available at or by phone at (323) 964-9766. Groups of 10 or more are available via email at or call (323) 964-9766.

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