Ossie Davis’s Tony Award winning musical debuted in 1970, and is based on the play, “Purlie Victorious", that he wrote in 1961. The Black Rep gives this uplifting show about freedom and tenacity a rousing production.
We start at the funeral of Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee (Jim Anthony), the late, cocky, bull-whip wielding owner of a cotton plantation in rural Georgia. Purlie Victorious (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) is conducting the service, and though everyone's convinced the Cap'n is probably frying in hell right about now, Purlie and the congregation that toiled under his service, are giving him a fine send-off in the gospel-flavored opening number, "Walk Him Up the Stairs". From here, we're taken back to Purlie's quest to buy back the local church his father started, Big Bethel, from the hands of Cotchipee. There's a $500 inheritance that's due to Purlie's deceased Cousin Bea, so he plans to fool Ol' Cap'n into handing over the money to an impersonator, Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins (Alicia Revé). Lutiebelle is straight out of Alabama and as country as a chicken coop, but willing to do anything to help out Purlie, whom she becomes very fond of. Purlie also enlists the help of his brother Gitlow (J. Samuel Davis) and Gitlow's wife Missy (Kimmie Kidd) to pull off the scheme, with Cotchipee's own son Charlie (Greg Matzker) playing his part in the plot.
Roston shines as Purlie, injecting his scenes with the passion of a man in the pulpit, and Revé's wide-eyed Lutiebelle has several wonderfully comedic moments, and it's charming to see her character become a closer part of the family. Davis brings his share of comedy to the role of the "Uncle Tom"ish Gitlow, and Kidd toes the line as his sensible wife, Missy. They've all got great voices. Anthony makes a good bad guy in the role of the racist Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee, with strong support from Linda Kennedy as the sassy Idella, and Matzker as the open-hearted Charlie.
Dunsi Dai's scenic design uses movable set pieces to represent Big Bethel, Purlie's home and Ol' Cap'n's Commissary, lit by Katie San Roman with costumes by Jennifer (J.C.) Krajicek. The band, though threatening to drown out the performers on occasion, is solid under the musical direction of Charles Creath.
The musical is set “not too long ago", yet Jim Crow laws were still in full effect, and Charlie sports jeans with peace signs on them. It's oddly dated, but even though some of the transitions between scenes are a little sluggish, under the direction of Ron Himes, "Purlie" strikes familiar chords. It's at the Edison Theatre until the 21st.
Book by Ossie Davis, Philip Rose and Peter Udell
Lyrics by Peter Udell
Music by Gary Geld
Directed by Ron Himes
Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
through September 21 | tickets: $35 - $45
Performances Thursday at 7pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm
Jim Anthony* (Ol' Cap'n), J. Samuel Davis* (Gitlow), Linda Kennedy* (Idella), Kimmie Kidd (Missy), Greg Matzker (Charlie), Alicia Revé (Lutiebelle), Kelvin Roston, Jr.* (Purlie), Scheronda (Ronnie) Gregory, Church Soloist, Ensemble: Heather Beal, SirGabe Ryan Cunningham, Benisha Dorris, Billy Flood, Matthew Galbreath, Herman Gordon, Ryan King Johnson, Jennifer Kelley, Christian Kelly, Samantha Madison and Jaden Smith.
* Member Actors' Equity Association
Scenic design by Dunsai Dai; lighting design by Katie San Roman; sound design by Chris Baker; costume design by Jennifer (J.C.) Krajicek, choreographer, Heather Beal; musical director, Charles Creath; stage manager, Tracy D. Holliway-Wiggins.
Keyboard, Charles Creath; bass, William Ranier; guitar, Dennis Brock; trumpet, Anthony Wiggins; saxophone, Jeff Anderson; drums, Stan Hale.