Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sparkle, the play at Black Rep in Berkeley

I arrived a little late to see Sparkle, the play, a first I’m told. The scene wasn’t one I recalled…a huge gospel choir singing as the pastors sat in front signaling “amen.” There were a number of songs sang, all great, however, if I’d know the price we’d have to pay for the extra songs I would have gladly skipped everything which didn’t move the story of the singing “sisters’ act” along. The goal was ambitious, to recreate on stage a musical based literally on the 1976 film starring a lot of famous folks like Mary Alice, Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, Dwan Smith, Dorian Harewood, and Tony King. Curtis Mayfield was the composer and producer of Sparkle’s songs and score. Aretha Franklin sings on the soundtrack.

There are a lot of parallels between the stories of the girl groups managed by childhood friends, but Sparkle has a happy ending, whereas, Dream Girls is a bit more tragic. Now those who know Black Rep knows the company loves a good musical and they have mounted Dream Girls to much success. I don’t know what happened with Sparkle, but I’m sure the directors will get it together.

The cast is fantastic and such troopers especially the lead, Sparkle. When I left at 1 a.m. she wasn’t finished, while other cast members plus most of the audience who didn’t have to stay because they had a friend or relative on stage or they were the coach for some pumpkin or another…left.

I could tell folks really wanted to see the finale but even the band was sounding tired and they’d been playing since eight that evening between sets, scenes and any lull in the program.

The story, set in New York is about a widow with three talented daughters…all beautiful and all great singers, especially the eldest, “Sister.” They meet some older kids on the block with dreams of stardom and get them a date on the local talent night. One thing leads to another: a steady gig at the club, drugs, violence, physical abuse, sorrow and the usual dose of pain and hardship sprinkled with lots of grief and regret. Tasty, typical and tragic, but from the ashes a phoenix rises –her name is Sparkle.

I don’t think I will be able to get back over to see the cut version. The director said he was cutting about 15 scenes. More than cuts the play needs to be tighter and the stage needs to be used better—the curtain was opened and closed every time a scene ended, when it could have easily remained open…with several scenes depicted on the same stage, the cast moving between the sets: the apartment, another a club scene, and the third a place for a meeting and the outdoor stoop. Two were already set up.

The sound was weird, there was lots of ambient sound and on the last song I heard before leaving, I heard a record in the background. Other times during the evening, we couldn’t hear the actors at all and when the sound failed, several didn’t know how to project. It reminded me of the child who only knew how to tell time on a digital clock.

But Black Rep is a teaching theatre and so the show will get better. It has a nice long run and I would certainly encourage folks to go see Sparkle. It is a marvelously sung and acted. The cast is great! The live band is all the way live! The musical direction is great too and the songs from the film are sung just the way one remembers them.

They said it was opening night, but it was really a preview. Opening night will probably be next Friday. Drop me a line and let me know how it went (smile).

Black Repertory Group is located in Berkeley on Adeline across the street from the Ashby BART Station.


At 12:25 AM, Blogger sheryl said...

11/27/2009 First of all, I am a supporter of the arts, but this play makes even a die hard supporter like me think twice. I had family in town for the holiday and thought this play would be a nice experience. After 3 hours and no end in sight, I was ready to walk out. But based on the reviewer's comments in this article, we got the short version. The set, the direction, production, sound and lighting left a lot to be desired. Frankly, it was terrible. I felt sorry for the cast who worked their hearts out with little or no direction to pull it all together. Perhaps this play was more than the Black Rep could handle, I don't know,but a great film was done a great injustice by this production and I want a refund!!!!!!


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