‘Porgy and Bess’ Revived at ETC
Elijah Rock is Nominated for 2014 24th Annual NAACP Theatre Award for Equity Best Male Lead!
“During the fast moving proceedings Prego introduces Elijah Rock as “a triple threat,” because the multi-talented artist can act, dance and sing. Rock recently starred in Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes, a bioplay about the first African American concert singer of classical songs, who preceded Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson, which was recently presented at Burbank’s Colony Theatre. To be frank (no pun intended!), the versatile Rock stole the Encore’s show. Like Sinatra’s fellow Rat Packer, Sammy Davis Jr., Rock tap danced up a storm and belted out numbers that are part of Sammy’s canon, like “The Candy Man.” However, Rock also sang songs that aren’t associated with Sammy, such as “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It),” which Marlene Dietrich put on the musical map. Rock rocked the Encore Dinner Theatre and was the best part of the entire show. According to Elijah and the venue’s owner, Peter Zappas, in the Spring Rock will return to the Encore Dinner Theatre for an encore, in the form of a full-on tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.” See Full Review by Ed Rampell at Legends-LegaciesMagazine.com
Playing now at the Encore Theatre in Tustin, CA
“No pun intended but Elijah does indeed Rock. This gig is pure fun for the trained baritone, who can sing opera as well as pop. He did a magnetic job with “Candy Man”, “Jingle Bells”, Donnie Hathaway’s “This Christmas”, “L.O.V.E.” and in duet with Prego on “Me and My Shadow” as well as “Let It Snow!”
Read Review at: BroadwayWorld.Com
Playing NOW at the renown Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA!!!
September 14- October 13, 2013
CLICK LINK TO GET YOUR TICKES TO:
Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock in “Breath and Imagination.” Photo by Michael Lamont.
Hayes, the son of ex-slaves, became a star on the classical music circuit at roughly the same time that Brice became a star on Broadway. This was long before African Americans were known for singing Schumann as well as spirituals.
The two productions both use flashbacks as a structural framework. Just as Funny Girl’s Fanny is looking back on the eve of re-uniting with her husband who is being released from prison, Breath and Imagination’s Roland is looking back on the eve of opening an integrated music school in his native Georgia — in 1942.
Fanny is about to receive an emotional jolt. Roland has just received a physical jolt — he was beaten while investigating the arrest of his wife and daughter for shopping for shoes in a whites-only arena. Both shows offer prominent roles for the singer’s mothers.
At this point, however, the two productions veer in somewhat opposition directions. Breath and Imagination remains a chamber musical, with only three onstage performers, a single set filling in for many settings, and no intermission. Funny Girl is Broadway-big.
Beaty’s play relies on, yes, breath and imagination. The breath is from the singers — primarily Elijah Rock as Roland. His isn’t a performance of Brice-style belting. It mixes spirituals with a few recitative-style numbers, written by Beaty, with excerpts from Schumann, Scarlatti, Gluck and Fauré in their original languages. Rock is classically trained, and his singing is a joy. The script makes a big deal about Hayes finding his own voice, and Rock’s voice has a timbre which is distinctive in its own way, hardly by-the-book in any of the genres employed here.
The imagination relied on by this play has to be supplied primarily by the audience. The show covers nearly 50 years in 90 minutes, so we have to fill in a lot of the gaps. Parts of the script, especially near the beginning, steer precipitously close to an instant, empty sentimentality. Roland’s mother (Karan Kendrick), half-angel and half-human, is the primary victim of this tendency. The ending, too, feels artificially upbeat.
Kevin Ashworth and Elijah Rock
The third actor on stage, Kevin Ashworth, is not only the piano accompanist but is called on to play a panoply of quick-sketch roles, from cracker racist to Roland’s father to male and female voice teachers to…the king of England. While Ashworth’s facility in these roles, as well as on the keyboard, is impressive and intermittently amusing, assigning all these roles to one man struck me as primarily an economic instead of an aesthetic decision on Beaty’s part. Still, given the problems with the script, Saundra McClain’s staging and Rahn Coleman’s musical direction are masterful.
Of course the Colony has to think about economics too, having survived a near-death experience last year. Make sure you allow enough time to read artistic director Barbara Beckley’s program note, in which she goes into considerable detail about how the Colony’s ability to start a new season is due in part to a grant from the Marilyn P. and Wayne H. Kohl Memorial Fund — thanks to some enterprising research and connections from the Colorado-based father of Colony executive director Trent Steelman. Under these circumstances, listening to Beckley welcome the audience back for another season was almost as joyful as listening to Rock sing.
Even with its flaws, Breath and Imagination is not one of those familiar small shows that has been making the rounds of so many midsize theaters — it requires some imagination to have found it and to have programmed its West Coast premiere. It’s an indication of why it’s important to keep the Colony breathing and imagining.
**All Breath and Imagination production photos by Michael Lamont.
Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes, Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank. Thu-Fri 8 pm, Sat 3 and 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Closes Oct 13. www.ColonyTheatre.org. 818-508-1754.
“Guided by McClain’s fluid staging, Rock is nothing short of glorious, possessing a rich vocal instrument and strong stalwart demeanor that could very well have been that of Hayes or any other black man who had to constantly fight an impossible battle. He brings plenty of spirit to the fore.”
Photo by Michael Lamont
LA TIMES Theatre Review:
“Rock’s sensitive portrayal captures Hayes’ determination to shape his own destiny, as well as his calm humility in the face of racial prejudice and resistance from his deeply religious mother (Karan Kendrick)…”Rock’s musical delivery is more nuanced, incorporating an initial hesitancy appropriate to the early stages of the singer’s development, only to emerge with soul-stirring confidence in the mature Hayes’ recitals of material ranging from gospel to lieder to opera.”
The soul-stirring voices of Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock bring the biography of trailblazing tenor Roland Hayes to life in “Breath and Imagination.” (Michael Lamont / September 10, 2013)
READ THE LA STAGE TIMES FEATURE ARTICLE
by Ed Rampell