Bahamian thespian reprises US history in dramatic civil rights adapted musical

Jonathan Farrington.
Miranda Barry

Last year Hurricane Dorian visited and some might say took up temporary residence over islands in the Bahamas. The storm wreaked havoc on the island of Abacos lingering longer than weather forecasters predicted.

And while that devastation established another indelible historic reference to the tourism-friendly destination most acclaimed for spawning Sidney Poitier, Hollywood’s first Black actor to win an Academy award in the best actor category, another distinguished citizen stormed his way into theater circles and is already adding notation to the might of the Caribbean haven.

Jonathan Farrington is the name and since arriving to these shores has been successfully pounding the pavements in a quest to conquer his goal of winning against all odds.

He was not in the Caribbean when Dorian struck but despite a hectic schedule, volunteered time and effort with the Bahamas Consulate to assist with coordinating aid to nationals.

Over this past weekend, Farrington endeared students, teachers, parents and patrons of the theater to five performances in Harlem at the Theater at Riverside Church.

Fifth graders from Manhattan School For Children were privileged to attend the first Friday matinee performance Farrington and an ensemble cast delivered in a production titled: “Turning 15 On the Road To Freedom.”

It was no coincidence that the timely showcases coincided with the 91st anniversary birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The dramatic musical is based on a real-life historical experience of Lynda Blackmon, a native of Alabama who marched from Selma to Montgomery with the revered Civil Rights leader when she was 15 years old.

The nostalgic story told in her own words from adaptation of a book of the same name celebrates the victory of children who defied Jim Crow laws, a racist Gov. George Wallace and an army of white resistance to integration, voting rights for Blacks and equality of all races.

Blackmon’s role was as poignant and inspirational as that of Sweden’s Greta Thunberg whose mighty voice against ignorance to climate change endeared a global movement and even irked President Donald Trump, the most-known denier to the phenomenon.

That at age 69, Blackmon’s brave stance as a teenager against state laws and her fierce dedication to making America great is not of the magnitude of Thunberg’s effort may lie in the fact social media and the world wide web reaches more than the three dominant television outlets Americans relied.

Last weekend the child hero watched her life story in reprisal. She looked on with pride.

Blackmon smiled, applauded and reflected on the Aug. 6, 1965 date the Voting Rights Act was passed. She recalled her birthday on March 15, 1965 and she reminisced her 21st birthday when she was handed a card permitting her to vote.

Farrington was not even born then.

At that time his parents lived under colonial rule as part of the Commonwealth nations of the Caribbean.

Perhaps focused on the 300 years of British rule, America’s racism seemed of distant geographical or sociological concern to Caribbean nationals.

However, seeing and hearing millennial Farrington render “Mine Eyes have seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord” one might ponder how the immigrant so convincingly executes the lyrics to a song many claim as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Passion, talent and relentless auditioning since graduating last year from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts can be credited with refining his craft.

He won a scholarship to attend the illustrious academy and to cap his studies was named the 2019 recipient of the Lawrence Lagner Award for excellence in speech and theater.

Add that Nov. 2018 while a student Farrington won first place at the competitive Amateur Night contest at the Apollo Theater and there’s no denying that he is destined to achieving his goal of earning an equity card and will follow a path to excellence already paved by Bahamians — actors Esther Rolle and Calvin Lockhart, meteorologist Al Roker, singer Johnny Kemp and even the pop barkers named the Baha Men whose ”Who Let The Dogs Out” stirred international frenzy when their song commanded Billboard Magazine’s charting.

“Determination and courage inspired me,” Farrington said.

He said that his appreciation of gospel music, the church and admiration of legends such as Poitier keeps him motivated to audition for roles he seems to ace.

Of Poitier, he has met the actor’s nephew Jeffrey and admits to keeping a photo of the Oscar winner on his vision board.

Ironically like the superstar from Cat Island, Bahamas, Farrington was cast to portray a principal character in Lorraine Hansberry’s hit Broadway “A Raisin In The Sun.”

But Farrington is no dreamy-eyed dreamer, he recently released a single on iTunes called “Will U.”

Always vigilant at keeping his eye on the prize he has already scored gains portraying Bayard Rustin, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and among other roles currently portrays Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was murdered on the Bloody Sunday in Alabama when state troopers attacked marchers seeking justice.

Following last weekend’s Harlem outings, the production heads to New Brunswick, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Princess Ann, Maryland. Miami and Delray Beach, Florida, Morgantown, North Carolina, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, Ohio and Selma, Alabama.

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