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When was the last time you heard an overture?  With most contemporary musical theater, the condensed 3-minute orchestration of a musical act in its entirety is a thing of the past.  But at City Center Encores! Series’ Cabin in the Sky, audiences got to experience what musical theater felt like when it was born.

Let’s start with the cast.  I mean, before the show even started, I was salivating.  LaChanze, Norm Lewis, Marva Hicks, Chuck Cooper…need I say more?  In common Encores! fashion, the orchestra was set on the back of the stage, which can be a bit distracting for some, but I personally love getting to see the musicians go to TOWN on a strong piece of music (and this conductor was an especially grooving kind).

Michael Potts did a wonderful job as “Lil Joe,”  the reckless gambler conflicted with his internal struggle between right and wrong.  His charm and humor made you feel sympathy for his “can’t get right” behavior.  Playing his pious, loyal wife was the stunningly talented LaChanze, and trust, she did not disappoint.  With endearing numbers like “Taking a Chance on Love” and her fun, Caribbean, Once on this Island-esque breakout number “Savannah,” she showed us that she’s still got her Tony Award-winning chops.  Of course, Lewis played an angel.  With that velvety voice, his performance was definitely heavenly.  And Chuck Cooper was brilliantly hilarious bringing his deep devilish laugh to the role of “Satan Jr,”  alongside his rag-tag trio henchmen which included the equally comical Tiffany Mann, Andre Farner and Dennis Stowe.

Now, let’s talk standouts.  I need to start by acknowledging the beautiful choreography by Camille A. Brown.  Her Katherine Dunham roots shone throughout every routine, especially pieces like “Vision Ballet” and “Savannah.”  Every dance was elegant, ethnic and beautifully executed with the assistance of standout performers like Bahiyah Hibah whose movements were so fluid I willingly lost time just watching her.  Other featured ensemble were Jared Joseph and Carmen Ruby Floyd who had stand out performances in the audience favorite “Dry Bones.”  Took ERRYBODY to church!  And last, but definitely not least, the inimitable Carly Hughes.  Though she’s mostly only in the second act, she’s a scene stealer ever time.  Sexy, sassy and so poised. Her flawless voice and walk like wine stop the show whenever she’s on stage.

I’ll be honest, the dated scored and simple book left a bit to be desired, but the performances made up for it tenfold. I hate that it was only up for a weekend, but luckily Shuffle Along is on the the way to cure my throwback theater blues.

The principal cast of Cabin in the Sky included Norm Lewis, LaChanze, Chuck Cooper, J. Bernard Calloway, Marva Hicks, Carly Hughes, Forrest McClendon and J.D. Webster.

The ensemble will feature Denisha Ballew, Darius Barnes, Chloe Davis, Timothy L. Edwards, Doug Eskew, Carmen Ruby Floyd, André Garner, Nkrumah Gatling, Rebecca L. Hargrove, Bahiyah Hibah, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Jared Joseph, Kristolyn Lloyd, Tiffany Mann, Sydney Morton, Mayte Natalio, Wayne Pretlow, Malaiyka Reid, Devin L. Roberts, Willie Smith III, Jay Staten, Dennis Stowe, Nicholas Ward, and Hollie E. Wright.

Photos by Joan Marcus

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