"Generations," Crestview playwright Mike Smith's labor of love, gripped the audience with its initial, stunning a cappella medley of Negro spirituals, and didn't let go until the bows during "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." In between, it was a cavalcade of black American 20th-century musical achievement that rolled the audience through a gamut of emotional participation.
I've attended musicals that, though pleasant romps, I was glad to see the final curtain come down on. "Generations: A Collection of Black American Music" wasn't one of them.
I'd gladly have stayed the night if the contagiously lively 10-member cast of slick, smooth and sassy performers wanted to keep on singing and dancing.
VIDEO: Watch excerpts of performances from "Generations">>
I wonder if Crestview playwright Mike Smith had any inkling his "Generations" was going to be such a smash?
When he came out after Friday night's final bows and absorbed the audience's standing ovation of love, he looked a little overwhelmed.
But recovering quickly, he graciously bowed — and then snapped a selfie with the cheering, packed Mattie Kelly Mainstage audience behind him.
Well deserved accolades
Smith and his cast's labor of love gripped the audience with its initial, stunning a cappella medley of Negro spirituals, and didn't let go until the bows during "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." In between, "Generations" was a cavalcade of black American 20th-century musical achievement that rolled the audience through a gamut of emotional participation.
Nearly as remarkable as the onstage performances was the magic at work in the seats, where an audience spanning black and white, toddlers to seniors, united for well-performed good music, packing messages of hope and inspiration.
Smith wrought a work with wide-ranging appeal, yet included pieces that were probably new to some as he broadened our musical horizons. Children might not know "Lulu Mae's" or "Nighttime is the Right Time," but then, their parents and grandparents may not know "End of the Road" or "I'm Going Down," either.
But even those of us who never watched "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" couldn't resist the hip-hoppin' fun when Robert Thomas Heights and Traylin Gastone performed the show's theme song rap as many in the audience sang along.
Awesome 'At Last'
With Crestview gospel singer Chevon Corlew conducting the equally talented band, the energized audience clapped, sang along, and then descended into hushed awe during several stunning solos.
Worth the ticket price alone was Stephanie Duenes' soaring, breathtaking rendition of Etta James' anthem, "At Last," which rang from the rafters and sent thrills up and down many a spine.
While decades from the 1960s onward were well represented by multiple numbers, I was sorry to see that the '30s, '40s and '50s were not as well covered. I sure would've loved some Ella, Billie and Duke with some "Flying Home," "God Bless the Child" and "Satin Doll," maybe. (How about it, Mike, should you ever be giving "Generations" a tweak?)
When "Generations" evolves and spreads around the country, I can boast that I was in the Mattie Kelly Arts Center on that historic Feb. 28, 2014, when Smith and his incredible cast first unleashed that stunning, electrifying musical.
Contact Arts and Entertainment Editor Brian Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @cnbrian on Twitter.