WE’VE COME A LONG WAY
REVIEW: HALLELUJAH, BABY!
BY RYAN LUÉVANO
Making a career in the performing arts has always been a challenge, now imagine trying the same thing as a minority in a time when equality does not exist. That’s the basic premise the 1967 musical Hallelujah, Baby! (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and a book by Arthur Laurents) which follows a young African-American woman spanning six decades. Musical Theatre Guild, known for producing lesser-known musicals, brought a one-night-only concert reading to the Alex Theatre on Sunday, February 12th, 2017, reacquainting audiences with this forgotten musical gem.
Adding to the excitement of the evening, Musical Theatre Guild invited special guests that included: Robert Hooks (the original Clem in the Broadway production); Freda Payne (understudy for lead Leslie Uggams on Broadway); Scherrie Payne (former singer in The Supremes); and Kevin Carlisle (original choreographer for the Broadway production).
The cast for Hallelujah, Baby! was a superlative group of actors who rang in the celebration of Black History month with their thrilling performances on stage at the Alex Theatre. Sharon Catherine Brown played the lead role of Georgina, which made Leslie Uggams a star in 1968. Brown was spunky and sincere in her portrayal—she never gave up on finding a place where she belonged. Her renditions of Styne’s fervent ballads such as “My Own Morning” and “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” were more than good enough to captivate.
Momma, played by Carol Dennis, was easily the audience’s favorite. If her quick repartee wasn’t enough, her robust voice in “I Don’t Know Where She Got It” brought people to their feet. An supremely memorable moment was the finale (reprise of “My Own Morning”) where both these women and the cast sang a poignant version of this song offering a beautiful closing statement. Additionally, Damon Kirsche as Harvey was superb in this role—his old-timey voice and persona impeccably fit each time period.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Music director and pianist Gerald Sternbach led the 5-piece band from the piano with ease and played through Styne’s seldom heard score with finesse.
As a body of work Hallelujah, Baby! is not a perfect musical. It’s not as entertaining as Funny Girl or West Side Story, and its portrayal of black Americans is archetypal at best. After Lena Horne declined to do the show Laurents’ said, “What we should have done is abandon the show . . . Instead it was rewritten for a woman who is one of the nicest women I have ever met in the theatre, Leslie Uggams […] She was good, but it wasn’t the original show. The show lost its edge, and I must say I lost interest in it.”
His quote aside, the show still has merit. If anything, it exists as a record of a musical trying to tackle racism on the Great White Way in the 1960s, and as a relic of how African Americans were portrayed on stage. Today, a multiracial cast plays this country’s Founding Fathers in a musical that is sweeping the nation—look how far we’ve come!
Musical Theatre Guild’s next production, which closes their 21st season, is the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic State Fair, the only musical the team wrote specifically for feature film. This performance will take place on Sunday, May 7th at the beautiful Alex Theatre. Take the time to discover what Musical Theatre Guild has to offer—easily the best-curated theatre season in Los Angeles. Visit: www.musicaltheatreguild.com for tickets and more information.