Reviewed by Tomoko Miller
Thursday’s opening night performance of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope at The New McCree Theatre buzzed with a family-like atmosphere. It seemed the entirety of McCree’s staff and volunteers were on hand to cheerfully greet patrons as they arrived. The excitement of opening night was palpable as the audience entered.
This historically significant musical revue found fame in 1972 by being the first Broadway play written and directed by African-American women, Micki Grant and Vinnette Carroll, respectively. It mixes various musical styles with an authentic and celebratory look at African-American culture. Director Cathye Johnson mimics the free-form style of the original Tony Award winning production with a minimal set, instead highlighting her gifted singers.
A warm, disembodied voice opened the show with spoken word poetry to a darkened house and closed curtains. Once the curtains opened, actors and musicians casually entered through multiple entrances, positioning themselves at the various levels as though slowly populating a neighborhood block party. Without dialogue or music it was a seemingly odd second start of the show. It set a mellow mood that betrayed the lively score yet to come.
While this was a thoroughly proficient ensemble cast, there were some notable standout performances. Frederick Fife’s swagger in his rendition of “Looking Over from Your Side” electrified the stage. Janaé Atkins’ sultry performance of “Billie’s Blues” was enthralling. Music director and keyboard player, Phillip Young’s crooning of “So Little Time” seemed to speak right to the heart and soul of each audience member. Tiana Rison’s commanding stage presence during “Universe in Mourning” was equally passionate even though it appeared she carried a written copy of the lyrics with her on stage. John Vincent drew attention with his bountiful energy and comedic pizzazz.
Sound mixing was up to par: the professionally skilled musicians balanced well with the voices. Often this can be a problem with many theatre productions, so it was a nice break from the norm. However, technical glitches with body mics and lighting occasionally deterred from the show. Choreography and blocking are generally expected to enhance a musical, both of which in this case seemed to be under-rehearsed. While the easygoing style of the show, combined with informal clothing suggested a welcomed open interpretation to setting and time, it often contributed to the absence of a unifying theme. While the play felt more like a concert showcase than a revue, the songs were spirited and the singers phenomenally talented.
Each song explores subjects that are still relevant in today’s culture, sometimes with a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire, sometimes with excruciating honesty. The framework for a great show is there and will definitely improve with each performance.
Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope runs Thursdays through Saturdays until December 21st. The New McCree Theatre is now located in Northwestern High School, located at 2138 W. Carpenter Road, Flint. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or visit them online at www.thenewmccreetheatre.com