Theatre Mirror Reviews-"The Colored Museum"

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entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth

"The Colored Museum"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

Get ready for red carpet razzle-dazzle and a riotous exploration of George C. Wolfe’s “Colored Museum,” a musical, 11-exhibition trip through modern African-American culture, with a twist.

The show originally premiered in 1987, and is revised and updated, but its content is basically unchanged, even in these racially explosive times. While recent violent eruptions ignite and incense the country, humor and human nature don’t change; and it’s refreshing to see Wolfe’s tongue-in-cheek stab here, while also providing poignant portraits.  

Percussionist Akili Jamal Haynes, (Brookline’s musical director of the music ministry at Unity in the City), keeps us on track throughout, maintaining the beat and arousing heartbeats. 

Billy Porter, multi-award-winning Broadway star of “Kinky Boots,” directs and choreographs this fantastic cast in “The Colored Museum”. Most notable are bombastic, Capathia Jenkins, who unleashes her big voice and humorous side, and Nathan Lee Graham, who skillfully makes us laugh and cry at the same time.

The cast’s voices rise above music director James Sampliner and the orchestra’s booming accompaniment, while Driscoll Otto’s lighting, John Shivers and Kevin Kennedy’s sounds and Zachary G. Borovay’s projections intensify this bigger-than-life show. Anita Yavich’s glitzy costumes aren’t too shabby, either. 

Dressed in a bright pink stewardess uniform, sprightly Shayna Small leads us into our tour, brightly greeting and instructing us to “Git On Board” and don our shackles for our Celebrity slaveship flight, from the Caribbean to Savannah.

Jenkins cheerily and musically invites us into her TV kitchen, “Cookin’ with Aunt Ethel,” instructin’ us on how to bake a batch of Negroes, and we wiatch elegant Ebony cover models Rema Webb and Graham pose in “The Photo Session”.

A large glass-encased exhibit is wheeled in - a statue of a Vietnam War soldier poised in attack position. Ken Robinson springs to life, sharing his ugly battle stories, in “A Soldier with a Secret,” followed by Graham’s skit as a flighty female, trying to decide which wig to wear for breaking up with her boyfriend. Talking heads Shayna Small, whose smooth, straight locks aren’t much of a challenge to Jenkins‘ wild tresses, bicker away in “The Hairpiece”.

Surrounded by a floral background, drapes, and furniture blending with Jenkins’ dress, the entire cast engages in a satiric take on Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 award-winning play, “A Raisin in the Sun”. Jenkins is a riot in “The-Last-Mama-on-The-Couch,” play-within-this-play. So is Robinson as her protesting son, and Graham as the narrator, who runs around with an Academy Award Oscar, giving it to an overly dramatic performer, one after another.  

The monologues and solos become more serious, with Graham as a cross-dressing gay performer in drag, strutting around in heels, nifty headdress, and white costume, in “The Gospel According to Miss Roj”. And Broadway veteran Rema Webb waxes sensational as glam singer Miss Lala, who drops her accent and sensational cover as a flamboyant international stage singing sensation, revealing her small-town background, in “Lala’s Opening”.

Also touching is Robinson’s inner struggle with his conscience and a physical manifestation of his youth. He portrays a white-collar businessman trying to succeed in today’s white business world, by throwing away his childish memories, like his favorite sneakers, records, and memories, in “Symbiosis”. “The time is changing, kid,” he says.”I have no history, I have no past,” he chants, sloughing off his identity.

More metaphoric is Shayna Small’s monologue, as she rolls around in her glassed-in exhibit case, coveting the large egg she laid, which contains many babies, in “Permutations”. Small is childlike as she romps around, waiting for her egg to hatch and the babies to emerge.

“The Colored Museum” closes with a party, and we’re glad we were invited.

BOX INFO: One-act landmark musical comedy by George C. Wolfe, presented by The Huntington Theatre Company through April 5, at BU Theatre, Avenue of the Arts, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Performances:Tuesdays,Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m., also April 2, at 10 a.m; no show March 24.; Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2,8 p.m., April 5, at 2 p.m.; also March 29, at 2,7 p.m.; March 25, at 2,7:30 p.m., April 1, at 7:30 p.m. only. Check for related programs Tickets start at $25; senior discount, $5 off, subscribers, BU community, $10 discount; 35 below tickets, $25; students, military with valid IDs, $15. Visit, the box offices at the theater, BCA Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston, or call 617-266-0800.

"The Colored Museum" (till 5 April)
@ 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide