I remember over the summer entering the Hamilton lottery when it was at the Public Theater, and not getting in, no biggie. I thought of it this way- if I had seen it and loved it but the cast recording did’t release until the fall, I would have gone crazy. I was wrong. As it turns out, listening to the cast recording before seeing the show made me go crazy. Like the rest of America, I became obsessed instantly! I officially declare September 25th “Hamilday” because since then it’s all I’ve listened to. No exaggeration, just ask my roommates.
After listening to the recording so many times I thought to myself, I cannot simply wait until NEXT YEAR for this, I must go now. And with a lot of searching and penny pinching, I snagged tickets for October 10th’s 8:00 p.m. show. All I had to do was “wait for it”. So the day finally arrived and I got to the theatre with time to spare, bought my Hamilton swag, and made my way up to the mezzanine to see the greatest show ever.
I was literally so excited, I could not stay still and thats how I was for the rest of the musical. The lights dimmed and out came “Aaron Burr”… I mean Leslie Odom Jr. …I mean Leslie Odom Jr. as “Aaron Burr”. The show didn’t start with an overture like we’re used to, they go straight into the first number and I’m completely captivated. Leslie sounds as crisp and clear, as if the album was playing on a PA system, but it was all live. The snaps, the string instruments, the rhymes, the melodies were all so perfect I wanted to pass out then and there. I didn’t though, after all I had two hours and thirty minutes of musical heaven to get through.
As the show went on, I fell more and more in love with this musical -if that’s even possible. Occasionally mouthing the words to “The Schuyler Sisters” or dancing along to “What Did I Miss”- I’m like a kid in the candy store. The set, brilliantly designed by David Korins, was simple yet complex. The rotating circular platform, which mirrors a turntable, worked well in the narrative–especially during Renee Elise Goldsberry’s “Satisfied.” The staging of that particular number made me weak at the knees. From the rewinding, the lighting, the dancers- it was all spectacular. Another number that was a personal favorite would be the “Cabinet Battles” set up like freestyle battles, including an epic mic drop moment. “The Room Where It Happens” has an amazing dance number, and “The Reynolds Pamphlet” has to be one of the greatest scenes to ever play on Broadway.
It’s hard for me to pick just one favorite moment, because honestly the entire thing was my favorite. This musical is truly an ensembled one, even though it centers around Hamilton, all the secondary characters are extremely important to his narrative. However, I will say Daveed Diggs is an instant stand out. His “Lafayette” and “Jefferson” are both captivating and hilarious. Christopher Jackson’s “George Washington” is something that everyone needs to see. He was so honest and sincere (So it’s true! Washington cannot tell a lie!). Renee Elise Goldberry broke my heart as “Angelica Schulyer,” a woman who sacrifices her own happiness for her sisters’, everytime. Anthony Ramos is endearing as both “Phillip” and “Laurens.” Jasmine Cephas Jones is such a joy to watch as the sultry “Maria Reynolds” especially during, “Say No To This”. Okieriete Onaodowan is fun to watch and listen to (am I the only one who lives for the line “I heard ya mother said come again?” in Aaron Burr, Sir?) and his camaraderie with Daveed Diggs makes for a hilarious dynamic duo.
What I loved about this musical is that the narrator of the story is also the antagonist -which for me is a joy because that means Leslie is mostly always on the stage. It was hard to hate Burr, and a lot of that has to do with Odom’s heartfelt performance. From “Wait For It” to “Your Obedient Servant” I felt that he was justified in all that he did. Even with the killing of Hamilton you could see his guilt. Speaking of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel’s portrayal of the founding father was rooted in truth and though he was the protagonist, he was flawed like all humans.
Sitting in the Richard Rodgers Theater that Saturday night I felt like I was witnessing history, I have never, I mean never, seen a show that has been able to captivate me like this since my mom got me a DVD copy of the original production of Into The Woods for Christmas. Maybe it’s because I’m a 90s kid and I lived for old school Hip-Hop and R&B and the music and lyrics are rooted in that same sound, or the fact as black woman I feel a sense of immense pride in seeing such a racially diverse cast, or because the show flows through without losing momentum or rhythm and rhyme–or all of the above. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure, I’ll be seeing Hamilton over and over and over again because I simply want to be in the room where it happens.
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle. Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days. I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan. The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.
Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream. But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself? Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire. What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.
Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend. There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity. Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.
Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows. Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.
Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed. Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.
This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.
Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.
Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed. We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked. We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.
It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy. Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family. The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.
Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions. I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice. I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted. I left changed.
For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth. For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative. For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.
We thank you Mfoniso. We thank you.
Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.
Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!
Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th!
Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.