There’s music in the air and an abundance of melodic, harmonious rhythms onstage nightly at the Pershing Square Signature Center where “Sweetee” recently opened for a limited engagement until June 18.
Through two dozen songs and several instrumental percussive renditions, an ensemble cast of 11 talented thespians take audiences on a journey back to the 1930s depression-era south travelling from South Carolina through Georgia and New Orleans ultimately arriving in Harlem, New York.
Sweetee, a bi-racial daughter of a white prostitute is the star and focus of a story about bigotry, poverty, exploitation, betrayal, deception, unity, perseverance and optimism.
Portrayed by Jordan Tyson, the character envelops everything defined by the title. Through a capella solos, nuances, and choruses with a spectacular cast, as one of only two females to depict a likely storyline, she steals every scene penned by Gail Kriegel.
Through circumstances the young, displaced, tambourine banging, street singer seeks and find refuge at a rag-tag orphanage where orphans take pleasure in making music.
Using a washboard, harmonica, a kazoo and a banjo to form a band of singing minstrels, Sweetee becomes an unwilling voice to a Salvation Army troupe of dependents.
Kreigel wrote the book, lyrics and music to this new musical and with casting by Michael Cassara delivers a gem that should be extended for a summer run.
At times uneasy to absorb, the almost graphic depictions of Jim Crow persecution tests the fortitude of orphans devoted to Rev. Dan, a religious leader whose aim is to elevate their lifestyle as a guardian and in the process spread the gospel.
Committed to raising praise, the good preacher abandons his white privilege and with little cash on hand decides to shepherd his flock to success.
Jolting though is his side-step which causes Sweetee to flee north to freedom and independence. But that’s a glossed-over episode that could be developed for better comprehension.
Music is the adhesive to hold this Off-Broadway production through a two-hour excursion through a racist, road, rail and long walk to New Orleans where hopes for better means might best the streets of confederate South Carolina.
Jeremiah James (Rev. Dan) Morgan Siobhan Green (Hedy) Hugh Cha (Abraham) Cedric Cannon (Mr. Robinson) Amir Royale (Murphy) and Jelani Alladin (Cat) are the standouts to deliver a truly telling tale which also delves into spirituality and forgiveness.
Catch it before it goes.