The Broadway Review: The Public on Broadway’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
The star bursts bright on this Broadway transfer, giving space and energy to the “colored girls..” who need to “sing her song of light“, to sing out her rhythms, and the possibilities that exist in her “black girl song“. This is “not a love poem“, nor a requiem for the dead, but for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, written from a deep reservoir of truth and power by Ntozake Shange (Mother Courage and Her Children), the show basks in a tide of sorrow on the curb, written in dance and heartfelt terror. It is a piece of living breathing gloriousness registering power and pain in the betrayal by men who know maybe a bit too well where they stand.
The title is just all so encompassing and meaningful. It hits home the wide-reaching ideas of pride and pain, joy and frustration, all brought to the forefront by a group of amazingly talented women in the service of an iconic play written so many years ago. for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has returned to the stage after being resurrected at the Public in November 2019. But 43 years prior to that successful production, one I loved as much (and maybe a bit more), the creation flourished and grew into a historic 1976 Public Theater production before that production transferred to Broadway to run, dance, shout, agitate, and enliven for 742 performances at the Booth Theater. To much acclaim and adoration, this ‘choreopoem’ (a mixture of poetic monologues, dance, and song) was and still is a clap-happy classic, steeped in African American literature and black feminism as it finds itself back on Broadway at the Booth Theatre.
The brazenly good celebration delivers, infusing its poetic language and point of view into the American Broadway stage and the blood of the country with effervescent energy and edge. It’s filled to the wide theatrical brim, dancing with joy inside a framework of pure authenticity and radical emotionality. At certain moments, it also feels hard to imagine and difficult to take in as a piece of theatrical history, as it feels so organic and current of our time and situation. This is a play that is needed right now, live and in-person, driving forth an idea to remind all of the pain and pride that lives inside of these women.
As directed and choreographed with fire and fiery by Camille A. Brown (Broadway’s Choir Boy) with charged “dancing on beer cans” energy on the wide sparse stage designed with simplicity (albeit maybe a bit too much simplicity) by Myung Hee Cho (MTC’s In the Body of the World), the poetry song of textual insightfulness pulsates with faith. There is a power in the art of storytelling here as seen and felt from different vantage points and directions, emotional-wise and beyond. The Ladies deliver, driving forward so that all the colorful spirits can move and graduate, dancing from inside their collective hearts, while doing their nasty tricks on you, loving in so many ways it’s hard at times to take in.
They want to sing out for salvation and community, all the while acknowledging that they need to dance just to stay alive. The strongly stated forms, brought to life by lighting designer Jiyoun Change (Broadway’s Slave Play) and sound designer Justin Ellington (Broadway’s Pass Over), are all thrown down into the pain and betrayal by men who are known all too well. “I can’t get to the clothes in my closet for all the “I’m sorrys” and the crowd erupts in approval. It’s gigantic in its hurt, anger, and hurt, especially with the Lady in Blue, dynamically portrayed by Stacey Sargeant (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland Sings…) putting forth the question of why these ladies can’t get no satisfaction or justice. It’s a solid question, and one that resonates out into our current stratosphere.
The women are all magnificent: the Lady in Brown, played by Tendayi Kuumba (Broadway’s America Utopia), the Lady in Orange, portrayed by Amara Granderson (La Jolla’s Fly), the Lady in Red, embodied by (the now Tony Award nominated) Kenita R. Miller (PH’s Bella), the Lady in Yellow, inhabited by dance captain D. Woods (“Blackbird“), the Lady in Green, physicalized by Alexis Sims (ASF’s Cinderella)- in a part normally played by Okwui Okpokwasili, and the Lady in Purple, enlightened by Treshelle Edmond (Broadway/DeafWest’s Spring Awakening) – in a part typically portrayed by Alexandria Wailes, costumed simply and esthetically by Sarafina Bush (Broadway’s Pass Over). Their individuality electrifies and expands consciousness. Each of their stories resonates, from various dimensions and structures, finding their core and their center with sparkling ease. They let their glittering selves heat their stories with strong armed deliberation and resilience, surviving the numerous blocks of cruelty in the dangerous world they, and we, all live and breath in.
Weaving in and out of opposing forces, for colored girls… lives bright and shines strong. The original music by Martha Redbone & Aaron Whitby (currently developing Les Waters’ Black Mountain Women), assisted by the music direction of Deah Love Harriott (HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness“), and music coordination by Tia Allen (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill), fills out all the colors found in God and the Goodness of their stories and bodily tales. The whole thing feels so powerful, especially with the strong visual assist that wasn’t a part of The Public‘s in-the-round production from projection designer Aaron Rhyne (Broadway’s The Sound Inside). Those visuals of faces, shapes, and color elevate what happens all around the stage, taking it from plain and somewhat flat to utterly stunning in a quick beat of a racing heart.
The slightly small crowd in the theatre was feeling it. Every volt of energy that was created in that space was felt in abundance, overflowing verbally, poetically, emotionally, and physically as if for colored girls… had taken over the whole space and filled it with electricity. The crowd couldn’t help themselves, speaking back, out loud, with love and excitement. “Someone ran off with my stuff!” preaching to the audience with such passion that I couldn’t help but be electrified by their engagement. So let your soul be filled. Give the stories the space, time, and power to hit hard and soft, with an elegance and a force that will rock your passive self into the heavens. Celebrate with this seven ladies, and be overwhelmed by their glorious for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.