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Toni-Leslie James

Come From Away

March 16, 2017

The songs push the plot along, ranging from numbers about the locals’ dealing with valuable resources (“Blankets and Bedding”) to the quiet awe the visitors express at the local scenery (“Darkness and Trees”). “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere” and “Something’s Missing,” eloquently deal with the short-term emotional turbulence that eventually steadied to mutual admiration and many long-term friendships. [more]

Jitney

January 28, 2017

Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson has himself won a Tony Award for his performance in Wilson’s "Seven Guitars" and has directed acclaimed Off Broadway revivals of "The Piano Lesson" and "Seven Guitars." He has assembled a cast of nine in which seven of the actors are veterans of Wilson play including Antony Chisholm who appears in the 2000 production. A true ensemble led by John Douglas Thompson and André Holland (currently in "Moonlight"), a better staging could not be imagined of this involving and engrossing play. [more]

Daphne’s Dive

May 25, 2016

Although Quiara Alegría Hudes’ "Daphne’s Dive" follows the lives of seven fascinating people for whom Daphne’s North Philly bar is their true home, it is no "Cheers" and definitely no "The Iceman Cometh." No, "Daphne’s Dive" is a far gentler affair than either of those and more fearless for its gentleness. The seven people in this working class bar and grill affect each others’ lives as the play takes them from 1994 to 2011—and the audience is changed along with them. [more]

Head of Passes

April 12, 2016

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s "Head of Passes" is an advance over his earlier work seen in New York ("The Brother/Sister Plays," "Wig Out," "Choir Boy") in its attempt to take on bigger themes and archetypes. In creating the role of Shelah, he has put on stage a magnificent role for an actress of tremendous gifts. Phylicia Rashad rises to Greek tragic heights required by Shelah’s plight. However, the meaning and message of the play remains obscure and tends to leave the audience outside of the play’s dramatic action. We watch mesmerized in horror as events unfold, but why they are happening and what is the underlying cause remains a mystery. [more]

First Daughter Suite

November 4, 2015

Twenty-two years after writing "First Lady Suite," four linked musicals about Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson, composer-lyricist Michael John LaChuisa has written a follow-up. Entitled "First Daughter Suite," it also contains four mostly sung-through musicals and depicts six of the Presidents’ daughters as well as six of the First Ladies. The individual pieces vary in content, seriousness and musical style: opera, jazz, pop and Broadway. While the material is impressive, the first two musicals are very lightweight while the other two included in the second half of the evening are much more profound. However, what First Lady Suite does best is offer several veteran singing actresses a chance to appear in extremely meaty roles, turning each of their roles into a tour de force. This is the fifth collaboration between LaChuisa and director Kristen Sanderson who directed the original production of "First Lady Suite" which also premiere at the Public Theater. [more]

Amazing Grace

July 27, 2015

Famously, it was an 18th century slave trader who redeemed himself, after many gruesome twists and turns in his life, by writing this song. Told with something approaching accuracy, "Amazing Grace" nevertheless is less than compelling as both history and theater. What might have been a fascinating tale has been reduced to a melodrama complete with a villain who all but twirls his mustache, a hard-to-win love interest, an African princess who provides an excuse for some passionate dancing and many examples of physical and emotional torture of slaves, all accompanied by a series of soaring contemporary ballads. [more]

Rasheeda Speaking

February 23, 2015

Under the assured direction of Cynthia Nixon, renowned actresses Tony Pinkins and Diane Wiest turn Joel Drake Johnson’s "Rasheeda Speaking" into an acting tour de force. A play which investigates office politics and concealed racism, Rasheeda Speaking is a provocative work for our times which asks some serious questions. This spellbinding play increases the tension in each scene to an almost unbearable pitch. Just try taking your eyes away from the stage. [more]