It so happens that Jervelle Frederick and I attended the same performance last Saturday. I asked for his thoughts and publish them here. Tulis McCall
By Jervelle Frederick
A Band of Angles is the perfect union of education and entertainment. The two worlds collide in an acapella musical starring “trouble child,” Ella (Cynthia Nesbit) who visits her aunt Beth (Denielle Marie Gray) and ends up going on a life changing journey. The technology and fame obsessed millennial, takes her education for granted, and is in danger of flunking. Aunt Beth with the aid of the ancestors that she speaks to, transport Ella back in time. From the slave ships, to the plantation, to Jim Crow, Ella learns of the experiences of African Americans in the US. The core of the story, however, is the rise of the Jubilee singers (Fisk University acapella group).
Ella interacts with the members of the Jubilee singers (before it’s conception); Each character fully understants what it’s like to be denied easy access to education. Immersing herself in the culture of the post slavery south, Ella learns to appreciate her education through jumping the hurtles of injustice first hand.
Rarely am I impressed but I was indeed overwhelmingly content with the finished product. Nesbit is a break out star who keeps the audience engaged, whether it be with her facial ticks or her spunky attitude. She relays her character in the most relatable way. Everyone in the city at one point of their lives has bumped into an “Ella” from the bronx–the girl who is up to speed on all the hip lingo and gadgets.
Denier Marie Gray who plays aunt Beth and Aunt Ella is one to watch. Her crisp and clean vocals sounds fresh out of a record studio and leaves you wondering whether there is someone backstage hitting a play button.
La’Nette Wallace plays Maggie, a teacher/student at Fisk University with a longing for higher education. Wallace is skilled conveying emotion through her vocals. Even her gasps are exquisite and strategically placed.
Sam Ray doubles as the good guy (George White, directed of the choir) and the bad guys (a slave auctioneer and a racist inkeeper). He succeeds in his transitions between characters in the way an actor should–smoothly transforming into completely different forms.
Ray is not alone. Sekou S. Luke juggles his roles as a king and regular choir member quite well. His tone stands out.
Bryson Bruce plays Thomas a young man who’s last memory of his mother is watching her being sold at an auction. Bruce breathes life into his character, tapping into his soul to produce an emotional moment when he reveals his story.
As a whole the group is casted perfectly. It is important to note that they perform acapella for 70 minutes and never go flat.
Director Colman Domingo surely leaves his mark. His choices aid with the cultural mixing of past and present. Normally I would have some kind of note but every move seemed to aid with telling the story in its best form. Domingo will also go down as the man who some how created a human piano using six actors. Myla Churchill who penned the piece but unfortunately passed in 2014 would be proud of the Domingo’s revival.
Kristen Lee Rosenfeld who did the musical direction deserves a round of applause. There are chords which send tingles up the spine and stylistic choices thar include using the body which makes the experience a unique one. Music lovers will be satisfied.
There is something for everyone of all ages. The young and the old. Costume lovers will appreciate Leslie Bernstein’s attention to detail of the era. There is a lot for the eyes to take in like the props by Justin Cox, light by Jit Senevirante and the beautiful set by Blair Meilnik. It’s quite the team that New York City Children’s theater has put together.
I recommend viewing this master piece. Prepare to have lots of laughs, possible tear here and there. And be ready to learn but not be bored.