There is something beautiful happening at Second Stage Theatre. Having been to the same theatre to see Whorl Inside A Loop, I was pleasantly surprised to see how they made the space fit into the setting for Invisible Thread. Red soil covered the entire deck creating a mountain, looking just like the mountain the cast stood upon in the “Beautiful” music video they released after their trip to Uganda. The set was a character in its own right and I want to give all the props to scenic designer Tom Pye and projection designer Peter Nigrini for making it come alive. I won’t spoil it, but there are various times in the show where I’m in constant awe of how technology has advanced and how theater has managed to embrace it, rather than run away from it. The combination of the two work extremely well for this show.
The show follows the life of a 20-something year old New York City Black man, Griffin, who volunteers for an aid project in Uganda, faces challenges, and has his life changed. Instrumental in this change are the Ugandan students he ends up teaching, his New York church, and his Jewish white boyfriend. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t think I could accurately write how this show truly made me feel as an audience member, but I felt a lot. Even though I’m not a 20 something Black gay man going to Uganda to change the world, I can relate to the themes of aspiring for something bigger than myself and being pushed and broken down in ways unimaginable but finding the courage and strength to keep going because I have to.
Griffin Matthews excels at playing Griffin in the show not only because it’s based on his own experience, but also because the entire cast makes me feel, makes me believe, the story happening in front of me. THAT’S good theatre, my friends. I laughed uncontrollably (“If you’re African-American, then I’m African-African” Ugandan Jacob says to Griffin), I cried uncontrollably (the entire second act I was tearing up, especially during the curtain call), and I clapped along and got my life (two words: Melody Betts).
The music and dance are another character in itself. Heavily influenced by African culture and blending the world of pop and contemporary gospel, whenever the ensemble made their way on stage I knew to lean forward in my seat a little more so I could watch as each person fit in perfectly. Each of them captivated me with every riff, crescendo, every pointed toe, every jump and leap. With every bang on the tambourine, I was sold. The songs that stuck out to me and started the floodgates of tears most were, as expected, “Beautiful,” performed by Griffin Matthews, Kristolyn Lloyd, Tyrone Davis, Jr., Nicolette Robinson and Jamar Williams, and “Invisible Thread” which is revisited in the show multiple times.
Overall, the show completely exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be great but I didn’t expect to be Hamilton-level obsessed. Did I mention I’m seeing it AGAIN on Saturday with friends? This is a show I’d recommend to any and everyone. On the night I was in attendance, one of their Ugandan students, Patrick, flew halfway across the world to be there. THAT was beautiful. We all watched as he ran up onstage and was welcomed with open arms. THAT is the power of theatre. The ability to create something so inspiring and powerful to be seen by thousands of people to hopefully encourage and bring something out of them. It’s the reason after a long week of working with my own students in Brooklyn, I find peace in making my way to Harlem or Downtown Brooklyn or the heart of Broadway to sit down in those (sometimes) plush seats and be captivated by art. To remember why I’m here, why I do what I do, what motivates me. Invisible Thread reminds me that there’s a small invisible thread wrapped around my heart and around the minds of the 260 kids I see daily. That’s the reason I can’t break free –and, frankly, why I never will.
Invisible Thread stars Griffin Matthews, Jeremy Pope (Choir Boy), Melody Betts (“Chicago PD”); Rodrick Covington (Central Avenue Breakdown); Kevin Curtis (A Chorus Line National Tour); Tyrone Davis, Jr. (Shrek National Tour); Nkrumah Gatling (Hair); Latrisa Harper (The ColorPurple); Jason Herbert (Fela!); Aisha Jackson (Beautiful); Kristolyn Lloyd (Heathers The Musical); Michael Lluwoye (Fable); Corey Mach (Hands on a Hardbody); Tiffany Mann (Lincoln Center’s Sweeney Todd); Jamard Richardson (The Book of Mormon); Nicolette Robinson (Brooklynite); Adeola Role (Lily’s Revenge); Conor Ryan (Cinderella) and Jamar Williams (Broken Window Theory).
Invisible Thread is playing at 2econd Stage Theatre at the Tony Kiser Theatre (305 W 43rd St) until December 27th. Tickets can be purchased here, by calling the box office at 212-246-4422, or in person.
Cynthia Erivo Nominated for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award
Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award-winning actress, Cynthia Erivo, known for her transformative performance as Celie in the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple is now one of five actors nominated for the British Academy of Film’s 2019 Rising Star Awards.
Most recently seen alongside Viola Davis in Steve McQueen’s Widows, Erivo says:
“I’m ever grateful to BAFTA and the jury panel for nominating me for the 2019 EE Rising Star Award. It means the world to me to be acknowledged by the community that, for most of my life, I’ve known as home. Thank you for this incredible honour.” – Cynthia Erivo
The BAFTA Awards will take place on February 10th.
Get Your War Clothes On: Billy Porter Energizes in GLAAD Acceptance Speech
So, I have a question.
In the same line of thought as “innocent until proven guilty,” do we grant the assumption of positive intent in our expectations of our brothers and sister in regards to woke-ness, à la woke until proven problematic?
Now don’t get me wrong, there was no doubt in my heart that Tony and Grammy Award-winner, Billy Porter, was woke. Nope, none. What I wasn’t ready for, was the way he fixed his fingers to pen one of the greatest acceptance speeches of my lifetime, and how he turned the Gospel classic “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” into a battle song.
The 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards honored Billy Porter with the Vito Russo Award, presented to an openly LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality and acceptance.
He started by affirming the room full of members of marginalized communities, with my personal daily mantra: “You are enough. we are enough.”
Since the beginning of time artists are the folks who engage critically and encourage those who think they are powerless to question the status quo.
Brothers and sisters across the room leaned in.
The days of shut up and sing are over.
Alliteration informed and illustrated as Porter preached on remaining “vigilantly visual” as we tell our stories. Acknowledging the reality of our times, he spoke on Number 45:
Where they slipped up this time is in that declaration of war. It’s not only against Black and Brown people and Queer people anymore, it’s against ALL of us. And as a result, the good news is: white folk, and straight folk, and all those fierce women folk, are mad now. And NOW maybe something might get done!
Get. Your. War. Clothes. On.
From slavery to emancipation, to the 13th Amendment, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement. From Stonewall to AIDS, to marriage equality— we gotta remember the shoulders who we stand on—the ones who fought and died for those freedoms that we hold so dear. Let’s use these historical strides we’ve made as a nation to empower us as warriors on this battlefield of equality.
Until we can figure out how to love one another unconditionally, no one wins. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Have always come at a cost and evidently the always will.
If that’s not the truth.
Stay strong. Stay vigilante. Stay visible. Stay hopeful. Stay focused. Be brave. Be fierce.
For a full list of this year’s winners, honorees, and guests, visit GLAAD.