By Ed Kliszus
54Below filled the house with excited patrons gathered to see and hear the stars of Make Them Hear You, An Ode to Black Musicals, Volume 2. This live event on West 54th Street in Manhattan was also live-streamed with viewers from around the United States.
Two songs opened the show: I’m a Mean Ole Lion by Ted Ross, sung by J. Andrew Speas, and Keeping Out of Mischief Now by Fats Waller, sung by Bobbie McKenzie.
Producer Pier Lamia Porter came to the microphone and explained that tonight’s show “Make Them Hear You” ensures that all voices are heard, just as we are to hear tonight. Her predictions unfolded through a wonderful evening of storytelling through song and theater by a star-studded cast of theater luminaries and composers. Not only was each song relevant to time, place, and history, but it reminded us of the rich legacy of our great songwriters, artists, and musicals that set the foundation for the music we enjoy today.
Listeners were taken through history’s joys and tragedy, from references to the Waco lynching of 1916 to I’m a Hootchie Coocchie Man by Muddy Waters, sung by Akron Winston, and to You Done Right by Kansas Joe McCoy, sung by Darron Hayes.
Rounding out the song spectacular included It Don’t Mean a Thing by Ella Fitzgerald, As I Lay Me Down to Sleep by Sophie B. Hawkins, Early in the Morning by the Gap Band, Keys/It’s Alright by Mark Lamar Steward, and Heidi Barbara Rodewald. It continued with Best You Ever Had by John Legend, I’m A Jonah Man by Alex Rogers, Is There Anything I Can Do For You by Dottie Rambo, Caldonia by Kenny Andrews, and Tympany Five sung by J. Andrew Speas, and Running Blind by the band Godsmack, sung by Nigel Richards.
Each artist delivered a message through solos, duos, and ensembles. Songs spanned decades and represented the broad scope of vital African-American influence on rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, and musical theater genres.
Pianist and Music Director Gary Mitchell, Jr. delivered consistently smooth, elegant transitions for the coterie of artists who entered and exited the stage.
Pier Lamia Porter returned to thank the audience, artists, and staff graciously. The cast returned in force for well-deserved applause and salutations.
Make Them Hear You, An Ode to Black Musicals, Volume 2
Curated/Produced by Pier Lamia Porter
Tonight’s featured performers included Keisha Gilles (Aladdin, Book of Mormon), Darron Hayes (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – The MUNY), Bobbi Mackenzie (School of Rock, Macbeth), Yewande Odetoyinbo (The Color Purple – Signature Theater), J. Andrew Speas (Spamilton: An American Parody, Stompin at the Savoy Workshop), Nigel Richards (Spamilton: An American Parody), Austin Rivers (Spamilton National Tour, Philoctetes Disney on Classic), Kala Ross (For Colored Girls…), Akron Watson (Black No More, Hamilton), Nikisha Williams (Hamilton, The Color Purple)
Black MT Writer Contributors
Ashley Hazzard, Joriah Kwamé, & Robert Lee Poole III
For 54 Below
Livestream Director: KJ Hardy
Creative & Programming Director: Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Lighting Director: Becky Morris
Sound Supervisor: Sarah Goodman
Executive Producers: Steve Baruch
254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019
Tickets & Info: (646) 476-3551
Readers may also enjoy our other reviews of Adventures in Vegas, Jaime Lozano, and Mauricio Martinez, Natalie Douglas at Birdland, Selected Shorts at Symphony Space, 54 Sings Broadway’s Greatest Hits, and the New Talent Comedy Showcase.