By Sandi Durell . . .
Welcome the Reverend Shields in a world church of L-O-V-E! This is not your ordinary cabaret show! Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Grammy Award winning actor, director, singer, writer, choreographer, ultimate storyteller and uniquely creative one-of-a-kind truth seeker takes the 54 Below stage with wisdom, authority and a flamboyance that he owns. Together with his three muses of wondrous vocals, this show entitled Black By Popular Demand – A Musical Meditation on How Not To Be Eaten by the Sphinx, is a recipe for enlightenment with a kinder, gentler touch.
Entering from all corners of the space, costumed in Caribbean and Africana colorful sparkly splendor, carrying umbrellas, the three extraordinary muses and band members sing the opening “Mau Mau Bett Chant”- a traditional Haitian rhythm to create the spirit of what’s about to take place. The muses – Kimbery Marable, Lori Tishfield and Freida Williams; the musicians – drummer/percussionist Rudy Bird – the pianist Sean Mayes.
Is it a religious hallelujah moment, a political rally, a pop-rock show . . . a teaser? It’s everything and anything the magical mind of Mr. De Shields conjures up and, my oh my, can that man conjure! From Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” to Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration” . . . but we know that once “Shambala” (music/lyrics Daniel Moore) arrives, we want that light to shine on all of us.
Exciting, spirited magic takes hold once De Shields and his merrymakers embark on a breathless, can’t stop medley of songs and dance moves entitled “I’m So Excited/Boogie Rap/Mary Mack” that had the audience rockin’ and rollin’ in their seats and shouting for more “Mashed Potato”. (Thanks to the Pointer Sisters, Trevor Lawrence, André De Shields and Henry Carrington Bolton) A barrel of fun on stage and off!
A much needed interlude for His Royal Highness to give the spotlight to the three elegant women of song, providing Lori Tishfield the chance to deliver “The Tragic Mulatto” (am I black enough, white enough); Kimberly Marable the remarkable spoken word “Sistah Girl (Sings the Madame C.J. Walker Blues)” and “Now is the Time” – a trio of magnificent vocal harmonies. . . all three with music and lyrics by André De Shields).
Teacher, preacher, purveyor of life’s truths, De Shields returns in Act II, to unstoppable applause – “the Sultan of song and Mashed Potato King”, bedecked in an American flag cape and hat to continue his words of wisdom . . . “know yourself, be yourself”. . . “out of many ONE . . .no ONE like YOU” . . . as he alights onto the stage “of these plantations of America” . . . “The Reverend I.M. Randy” (music/lyrics André De Shields and Murray Horwitz) ready to gather and inspire as he welcomes all faiths and creeds to the Mt. Everest of Spirtual Enlightenment.
I repeat, this is not your ordinary cabaret act. No, it’s a call to join Mr. De Shields in his journey to a new world bristling with energy, it’s what the universe does. . . as he asks all of us to be flexible and collaborative. His ability to offer up his truths without offending anyone is an amazing feat of intellectual brilliance.
My hope is that André De Shields will use this 80 minutes of thought provoking musical entertainment as a step ladder to its next incarnation. . . bring it to a theater where it belongs.
Meanwhile, you can hopefully score a seat to one of the two performances left at Feinstein’s/54 Below on August 6th or 7th at 7 pm.
Photos by: Lia Chang