note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
Our Place Theatre and Kay Bourne of the Bay State Banner threw a gala reception for actress Chris Calloway this past weekend. When someone asked what was the one thing she wanted people to remember about her famous father, Cab Calloway, she cheekily quipped “His sister!”
Everyone laughed because Calloway is currently performing a one-woman show (with piano and bass) about her aunt Blanche. BLANCHE & HER JOY BOYS is the younger Calloway’s tribute to her father’s older sister, a woman who had her own band when women didn’t run things…a woman who survived both racism and sexism, when times were mighty tough, a woman who came out on top.
New Rep is taking a chance on a new play at a time when audiences are dwindling—and when what audiences there are want to see hit shows—They’re to be commended for that. After all, where are the new shows going to come from if theaters don’t give them room to experiment?
New plays go through a developmental process so audiences in Newton are seeing what may be reworked before the show solidifies. Calloway (and writer Mark St. Germain) may have to jettison some of the repetitive scenes with Blanche’s disapproving mother from the first act and concentrate on Blanche’s extraordinary accomplishments in later life (She went to the Hague as a delegate to the first Peace Conference, for example), which are touched on only lightly in Act II.
One thing is certain. Calloway’s singing, which has that glorious Billie Holiday drawl, is the show’s strong suit. When she scats, she has the audience in the palm of her hand…and when she bends those beautiful notes down an octave, well, as Blanche is fond of saying, “Lord have mercy!”