Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf debuted on Broadway in 1976 when its frank revelations about Black women and their relationships and the nitty-gritty street language were dazzlingly revelatory. (Ironically, the current venue, the Booth Theater, is where the choreodrama appeared in 1976.)
This Broadway production, a godchild of a recent 2019 production at The Public Theater (directed by Leah C. Gardiner), is directed and choreographed by modern dance luminary Camille A. Brown (who choreographed The Public Theater version, hence the pedigree). Her take on Shange’s work is more matter of fact and streetwise than previous productions, her choreographic vision adding depth to the playwright’s vernacular, profane expressions of the consciences of a community of hard-pressed women.
The cast, defined by the color of their casual street wear outfits (designed by Sarafina Bush) are a physically diverse group, one of whom—the always wonderful Kenita R. Miller, the Lady in Red—appears to be very, very pregnant. Her poem about getting rid of a lover was as close to hilarious as for colored girls gets. Miller also has to live through the show’s final, heartbreaking story of brutality, a story that is still shocking.
The first voice heard is that of the late Ntozake Shange whose upbeat words and inflections do not hint at the emotionally riveting stories that follow beginning with the Lady in Brown (Tendayi Kuumba) who struggles to know her own intimate identity. She later portrays a little girl who takes as an imaginary friend the Haitian freedom fighter Toussaint L’Ouverture after reading about him and needing a hero.
Each Lady introduces herself by saying which city they are from and they join in childlike chanting (“Mama’s little baby like shortnin’ bread”) and group dances cementing their ties to each other.
The Lady in Yellow (D. Woods) speaks of her high school graduation day, a celebration that involved both sexy dancing, lost virginity and jealous violence.
The Lady in Blue (Stacey Sargeant), reveals her Puerto Rican roots relates waiting to hear Willie Colon sing. He never appears but she goes on and on about the sexual feelings music stimulates in her.
At the performance I attended the role of the hearing impaired Lady in Purple was played by the petite, nimble Treshelle Edmond (replacing the usual Alexandria Wailes) whose American Sign Language was a delicate dance in itself.
An unrelenting running theme of for colored girls… is how Black men mistreated their women, culminating in the Lady in Red’s nightmarish tale.
The Lady in Green was played by Alexis Sims (subbing for the indisposed Okwui Okpokwasili) who has been assigned the show’s final, heartbreaking story of brutality, a story that is still shocking, originally assigned to the Lady in Red in the first production. The Lady in Orange was played by McKenzie Frye (subbing for Amara Granderson).
The acting and dancing are as exulting as they were individualistic.
Myung Hee Cho’s odd scenery—hanging and standing panel screens—not only didn’t add anything to the show, but became a distraction with Aaron Rhyne’s ever-changing video projections of abstract designs annoyingly taking the focus away from the powerful performers whose fascinating movements are far more expressive.
On the other hand, Jiyoun Chang’s lighting is sensitive and subtle, enhancing the on stage work of all the performers.
Brown’s complex choreography is supported by the original music of Marta Redbone and Aaron Whitby played by a jazzy chamber ensemble.
Somehow Brown has found a way to keep Shange’s work both mysterious and accessible—quite an accomplishment.
for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (April 11 – June 5, 2022)
Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: one hour and 35 minutes without an intermission