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Two decades of Wisdom: Germain Edwards' 'Uncle Charley' gives protagonist and hip hop star 'Taylor,' played by Julian Smith, words of advice in the form of a music inspired story that bridges past and present. Edwards also played 'Charley' as a youthful teen.
Earl williams (above) and Kailyn Hardison dance with the other cast members as the leads, Smith and Turner (below), bring cheers from the crowd with their on-stage kiss
Washington Preparatory High School’s Dream Theater played host to ‘Feeling Good,’ the latest production from Director Brandon Rainey. A musical, consisting of dancing, singing, drama and climactic violence, ‘Feeling Good’ awed audiences with quality performances from its all student cast.
This play was a fusion of the Washington Preparatory High’s Performing Arts Magnet, the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center and the Success Through the Arts Foundation and ran from May 2-5 in the Dream Theater.
“Our focus isn’t creating the next great artists,” said Rainey describing what makes the Pullum Center program different from other performing arts schools, “but training leaders who will use their gifts to help the community.”
Rainey and Pullum have previously combined to create several successful productions including the musical ‘Dreamgirls’ and Rainey’s first professional stage play, ‘The Dating Game,’ which premiered this past Valentine’s Day at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.
Rainey’s latest, ‘Feeling Good,’ is about a successful hip hop artist who creates arguably distasteful and negative music and goes through a life-changing moral revolution involving a collision between his present surroundings and his departed grandfather’s past, via the caretaker of his grandfather’s nightclub in Philadelphia.
In a musical trip through time, the stage at the Washington Dream Theater was catapulted back to the roaring 20’s with flapper skirts, big band tunes and sultry night-club singers circumvented by a dangerous antagonist in the form of a zoot-suited gangster with a ‘Tony Montanna-ish’ accent.
Every aspect of a modern day action adventure movie was included in this teen epic, including fight scenes, physical comedy, and even a steamy, on-stage kiss, between main character ‘Taylor,’ played by Julian Smith and female lead, ‘Annie,’ played by actress Shayla Turner.
"Wha Chu Lookin' at?" 'Big Tony,' played by Brevin Archer, sits outside the action as the layers of Rainey's play unfolds with a silent monologue of retrospection on top of violent action. Throughout the play, Archer's 'Tony Montana' accent bought comic relief while hinting at the character's violent nature.
Stand out performances came from the multi-tasking actor, Germain Edwards, who played club caretaker Uncle Charley, as an elderly man with a cane, and a youthful teen that was taken in and protected from a violent gangster and his ruthless crew.
Group choreography reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and ‘Smooth Criminal,’ entertained crowds throughout the play. Choreographer Daveione Williams put together several fabulous group sequences including a broom-dance sequence and an exciting mass combat scene where antagonist and gangster leader ‘Big Tony’ played by Brevin Archer, sits on the edge of the stage, twirling his pistol, while his crew and the rest of the cast dance-fight resulting in the climactic shooting of the night club owner.
Costume Designer, MaryAm Nuria, scored with the period pieces and the prop guns. Fashion highlights included a leopard clad night club act, equipped with matching feline inspired Mardi Gras mask and corset worn by club singer ‘Kristyn’ played by Kimberly Monks. Female antagonist and gangster girlfriend, ‘Mini,’ played by Kailyn Hardison, sported several memorable gowns opposite nightclub owner ‘Hezekiah,’ played by Pullum Center veteran Earl Williams, who donned several well-tailored suits.
Similar to previous productions produced by Fernando Pullum, lighting and sound were of near professional quality. These aspects propelled the moves and voices of the singers and controlled the attention of the viewer, guiding the storyline forward accented by high-quality and creative ‘multi-functional’ set pieces that often times doubled from one scene to the next. One good example of a multi-functional set piece was the nightclub bar, which sat upright for the 20’s version of the club, and flipped around to expose the wooden interior, fitted with a few cardboard boxes to resemble a decaying and abandoned nightclub for the modern scenes.
Although the set design, lighting and other production aspects still fall short of the level of venues like the Mark Taper Theater or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, who hosted ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ and the Alvin Ailey dancers respectively, theater goers will not be disappointed with adding a Pullum Production to their theater cards this season.
‘Feeling Good’ will make encore performances on Friday and Saturday May 9-10. Dream Theater curtains open sharply at 7 pm.
For more information about the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center go to www.pullumcenter.org.
Photos by Troy Tieuel