York Theatre’s 108th Musicals in Mufti, Hallelujah Baby!, was an attempt by its four liberal authors to put salve on race torn America. It won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1968 and made a star of young Leslie Uggams. In 2004, feeling its take on the black experience had been too soft, book writer Arthur Laurents endeavored to rectify this for a revival with changes in script and additional lyrics by Adolph Green’s daughter, Amanda Green. The story remains sketchy, but has perhaps removed its rose colored glasses.
Georgina (Stephanie Umoh) shepherds us through one African American woman’s history from 1910 to 1960 (with epilogue). Neither she nor other characters age outwardly (she’s 25), but all must deal with societal change affecting thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Stephanie Umoh and Tally Sessions
Mamma was a slave. (Vivian Reed with attitude, spot-on timing and splendid vocals.) She accepts her role as a cleaning lady, even putting on exaggerated accent and obeisance to please those for whom she works. Rules are clear, expectations minimal. Her daughter neither “cringes nor shuffles” sufficiently. Georgina is a proud rebel. She wants her “own morning,” bed, man…Sweetheart Clem (a sincere Jarran Muse), puts weekly money towards a house whose price rises every time they almost have enough. Her life seems mapped.
Unexpectedly approached by a white man – Harvey (Tally Sessions) who’s putting on a play at the local Bijou Theater, Georgina finds herself ironically cast as exactly the kind of maid she’s refused to be in real life. Still, it’s a role, she’s earning her own money and, for the first time, perceives a way out. When the white theater owner (Michael Thomas Holmes, terrific as a wide variety of distinctively realized characters) objects to a black woman onstage, Harvey quits. Not only is he completely without prejudice, he’s sweet on her.
Tally Sessions, Vivian Reed, Jarran Muse
Through the years, Harvey and Clem move from profession to profession while competing for the feisty, ambitious Georgina – not the most likeable heroine you’ll ever meet. She puts vociferously them both off – Clem because he often doesn’t approve of her choices and never seems to offer enough, and the utterly selfless Harvey because she sees the impossibility of an interracial couple- and really, still loves Clem. Mamma, who tags along with her daughter’s upward mobility, never lets go of her own cynical views.
There’s bigotry/segregation, gambling, bootlegging, performing in feathers, squatting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant, entering theaters by the back door, the WPA – including musical Shakespeare, breadlines, Communism, USO work (still segregated), the first time someone address Georgina as “m’am”, an apartment with a river view, the Civil Rights Movement, performing at The White House…
In a larger sense, the musical is about realizing who your bretheren are and taking responsibility.
Also featuring Randy Donaldson, Bernard Dotson Jennifer Cody (who adds spark) and Latoya Edwards
Stephanie Umoh has a powerful, clear voice. The actress is convincingly frustrated, selfish and aggressive. She seems to add pith to the show that Uggams didn’t possess.
Tally Sessions’ Harvey is believable from the get-go. The actor brings authenticity to every speech, glance, and song. He has fine vocal style and is thoroughly appealing.
Director Gerry McIntyre is adept with both vivacity and gravitas. Choreography is appropriate and fun; emotional moments theatrically credible. Southern accents land.
Photos by Ben Strothmann
Opening: Jarran Muse, Vivian Reed, Stephanie Umoh
Musicals in Mufti NEXT:
February 10-18 Bar Mitzvah Boy Don Black/Jule Styne
February 24-March 4 Subways Are For Sleeping Betty Comden/Adolph Green/ Jule Styne
The York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti presents
Music-Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Additional Lyrics-Amanda Green
Book- Arthur Laurents
Directed by Gerry McIntyre
Music Direction/Piano- David Hancock Turner; Bass- Richie Goods
Through Sunday February 4, 2018
619 Lexington Avenue at St. Peter’s Church