Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
The New McCree Theatre is closing out their season this week and next with a tribute revue to a favorite son. Rock the Boat: The Fleming Williams Story was written by two who knew him well: Williams’ mother Caroline Smith and McCree Theatre’s executive director Charles H. Winfrey. Their play weaves a tapestry of musical memory that harks back to Flint in the 50’s and 60’s.
It was a time when close order harmony groups were prolific and could be found gathering and singing on street corners and in clubs all over town. Fleming Williams was a talented young man with a gifted voice who grew up filled with fervor and right thinking and singing on Flint’s streets. He was recruited by a group known then as the “21st Generation” and went on to make an impact on the national music scene.
The group prospered as stand-in pretenders for groups like the Stylistics and the Dramatics. Unfortunately, Fleming’s straight and narrow upbringing and lifestyle was corrupted by the fame and pressure. He became a cocaine addict and never fully recovered.
The McCree show depicts all of this as the groups move from one terrific musical number to the next. There is a lot more music than spoken word here, but the story still comes across to the beat of an equally terrific instrumental ensemble.
Technically, the McCree crew has mastered the microphones. Everything was smooth and volumes were appropriate to enhance the harmonies. True to the period, performers wore Afro-style wigs and occasionally the most amazing white platform shoes! Costumes were also in keeping with the late 60s and early 70s when flash and dash was the style.
The only flaw might be the tempo of the overall performance. Overly long breaks between scenes caused the show to run too long. Still, if music of this era is appealing, the length won’t be an issue.
Kudos to Marquawan Burnett and Carl Williams as Fleming, young and grown. There are also two actual members of the original “21st Generation” in this show. James Cobbin and Ron Murray sang with Williams and Cobbin wrote a number of the songs featured in this performance. Special mention also goes to Gwen Hemphill and Linwood Peacock (Hues Corporation) for their amazing styling with Williams of the beautiful ballad, “Freedom for the Stallion”.