Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes
Daniel Beaty's West Coast premiere revives the lost-to-history account of Roland Hayes, a son of former slaves and the first internationally lauded African-American classical singer. Raised in the South on hard work and spirituals, Hayes (Elijah Rock) overcomes early tragedy to perform in Chattanooga's black churches. When an instructor intervenes to provide professional training, Hayes confronts the objections of his sassily beatific mother, Angel Mo (Karan Kendrick), who believes her son is destined for life as a preacher. Condensing Hayes' life story inevitably leads to some whiplash plot twists and hurried catharsis, but Rock and Kendrick's chemistry under Saundra McClain's direction sustains and clarifies the play's themes. Accompanist Kevin Ashworth tackles a grab-bag of supporting roles, perhaps most jarringly as Hayes' father, when his pale skin imbues the endearment "boy" with inadvertent menace. But his presence offers a pleasing, if farcical, dimension. Shaun Motley's handsome, sweeping wooden set stands in for Georgia fields and concert halls alike. Most stirring is Rock's lustrous timbre as the mature Hayes: Harmonizing with Kendrick through earthy spirituals, he soars through von Gluck's "O Del Mio Dolce Ardor" before dipping into a soul-trembling version of "Were You There?" The superb music direction is by Rahn Coleman. Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 13. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Starts: Sept. 14. Continues through Oct. 13, 2013
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