Calypso Musical still relevant

“De Roaring 70’s” full cast from left: Marva Newton (Musical Director); Iyaba Mandingo (Tingerlay); Shirma Cadogan (Josephine); Andrew Clarke (Granger); Marilyn “Lady Venus Jeminez (Ma Jacob); Veleda Spellman (Chorus), Tiffany Renee (Chorus); Louis McWilliams (Director); Christine Nedd (chorus); Ronald Millwood (Gerard); Aliyah Muhammad (Asst. Stage Manager); Cindy Brown (Beverley) and Andrew Howard Jones (Bagos).
Photo courtesy of Sapodilla Sisters

It is said that art reflects reality.

It is also said that history repeats itself.

For “De Roaring 70’s A Calypso Musical,” despite the time period seeming so long ago, the message of struggle and oppression rings true today.

“I think once you think struggle, once you think oppression, once you think rising above struggle and oppression it will ring true in a lot of ways for a lot of people in different eras,” Louis McWilliams said.

“I first saw the play in 1994 and was struck by its timeliness and universality,” Nandi Keyi, co-producer and one-half of the Sapodilla Sisters said. “Twenty years later it is even more relevant particularly in light of heightened activism worldwide. “De Roaring 70s is a special play because it an extremely conscious and enlightened piece of work, yet so entertaining.”

McWilliams and Marva Newton, director and musical director respectively, first mounted this Zeno Obi Constance-written play in Trinidad back in 1994. The play is set in 1970 Trinidad and Tobago in an era where the Black Power Movement is influencing the people of the island. A time of revolt, activisim, identity, self-determination is paralleled against the artistry, self-expression, creativity and vibrant music of the time.

Responsible for bringing this work to New York is the newly formed Sapodilla Sisters — comprised of Keyi and Glenda Cadogan. Serving as co-producers of the play, Keyi and Cagodan decided to join forces — pooling their individual accolades into a dynamic force. It was the Sapodilla Sisters who invited McWilliams and Newton to bring the production to New York City after securing permissions from Constance.

“We are interested in providing culturally sensitive promotions focused on the Caribbean,” Cadogan explained.

“I was excited to do this piece in New York because it is a piece that I love. I was the first person to direct this play in 1994 and it is a play that I keep close to my heart because it is a period in our history that is very important,” McWilliams said.

Last summer, the Sapodilla Sisters mounted “Jean & Dinah” for a sold-out, one night only show. Aiming for a second “Caribbean summer,” “De Roaring 70’s” will run for six nights.

McWilliams and Newton are the only members of the cast who do not live in New York, both hailing from Trinidad and Tobago. The cast is made up of 14 local Americans of all backgrounds, including two African American actors.

“Our cast is very representative of what you find here in Brooklyn — a pan-African experience,” Keyi said.”

With any musical, the success strongly relies on the music. For Newton, the challenge to teach the music presented itself in the form of actor’s not expecting it to be too hard.

“There were some challenges because Calypso, it doesn’t come naturally – even to Trinidadians and Tobagonians. We aren’t listening to Calypso music like we used to, Soca is taking precedence on the radio stations. I’ve heard some of the actors say ‘I will never look at Calypso music the same again.’ They expected to come here and breeze through but no they have to spend time. It was challenging at times but very rewarding seeing them get it.

First learning the music, McWilliams leads the detailing process to make the story come to life.

McWilliams and Newton’s experience with the play shines through rehearsal as they both provide pertinent acting and musical cues to their unfamiliar cast.

“Working with the challenge of actors who are not necessarily Trinidadian, but have a sense of the history is exciting,” McWilliams said.

“De Roaring 70’s” almost feels like a snapshot of today. While we may not look outside our windows and see a 1970 Trinidad, many of the themes and situations depicted in the tale are international and spans generations.

“The play is about the 1970’s but it will ring true in 2015 for people who are undergoing oppression, rising above that oppression and who are battling oppression in terms of finding self and finding identity. It has a broad appeal for audiences,” McWilliams said.

“Even within the play, there were contemporary events that were relevant at that time happening around the globe. The Black Power movement, the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers — it is a very universal play. It speaks to various oppressed peoples from various continents,” Keyi added.

Sapodilla Sisters brings “De Roaring 70’s A Calypso Musical” to the Garden Park Theater on Park Place between Albany and Kingston avenues for two full weekends begining June 19. Visit SmartTix.com for ticketing information.

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aoliv[email protected]nglocal.com. Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.
Photo courtesy of Sapodilla Sisters

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