Book by Curtis D. Jones Based on a Concept by Denise Gray
Music and Lyrics by Timothy Graphenreed
Directed and Choreographed by Kenneth L. Roberson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Queen (played with a powerful exterior that belies a deep yearning for redemption by Sheila K. Davis) has a secret that has been tormenting her for many years. To betray that secret would require a spoiler alert of epic proportions. But then everyone in the splendid cast of “The Joint” is harboring a secret. It is the collision of these mysteries that provides the engaging plot of this new musical currently featured in the Theatre for a New City’s Dream Up Festival.
The multi-layered plot plays out in the upstairs-downstairs juke joint called The Joint in the town of Stuckley, Virginia, circa 1957 to 1967. Upstairs is Minister Brinkley (played with a sorrowful tortured soul by Erick Pinnick) who once – before his conversion – worked downstairs at Queen’s juke joint. Mr. Brinkley’s daughter Corrida (played with a brittleness ready to crumble by Crystal Joy) has returned from New York City where a relationship with Jacob (played with a vengeful core by Devin L. Roberts) and a record deal have both somehow gone very wrong. Corrida’s mother Evelyn (played with a tenderness inspired by suffering by Brenda Braxton) left Corrida and her father in the past on the same quest for a career in music. Corrida’s friend Sunny (played with a spirited joyfulness by Shani M. Worrell) wants Corrida to work at The Joint with Queen.
Complicating matters is Queen’s relationship with Buster (played with an air of suspicion by Albert Christmas) who refuses to marry Queen and wants to broker with The Dude (played with a Wagnerian stolidness by Richard E. Waits) to expand The Joint and its “offerings” to the community – think a casino and a massage parlor and the image of the diabolical Dude comes into focus. Curtis D. Jones’s book is full of surprises and his characters are well developed, each with an interesting conflict that helps to drive the plot. The musical has an interesting dramatic arc. There are parallel stories of redemption: one a spiritual saga, the other a musical path to redemptive release. Both stories have characters who have been tempted and fallen – some seek reconciliation, others choose to continue to separate themselves from healing.
Timothy Graphenreed’s music is inspired by Broadway and spiritual sources and his songs are both interesting and inspiring. Ms. Davis’s (Queen) “Stand by Me Kinda Love” and “Stop” exhibit the composer’s ability to write lyrics that touch the heart and the spirit of survival. And her duet with long-time bartender and protector (and want-to-be-beau) Hank (played with a loving sternness by Lee Summers) brings the audience to a comedic frenzy as the two woo each other’s lonely hearts. Ms. Joy’s (Corrida) “Work on Me” with the delightful and talented Khiry Walker (Pretty Tony) is armored with truthfulness and transparency. The orchestra/band supports the cast with an impressive craft.
The ensemble is not simply a chorus of dancers. The talented performers also serve as a Greek Chorus and a conscience for the characters as they find their various ways through the thickets of confession, forgiveness, and redemption. Each dancer articulates his or her movement with precision and grace, sometimes with a fluidity of jazz movement and sometimes with the expressiveness of improvisation and very personal interpretation of Kenneth L. Roberson’s choreography. It is difficult not to take one’s eyes off these remarkable dancers, especially the moves of Devin L. Roberts and Hollie E. Wright. Mr. Roberson also directs “The Joint” with a keen eye and keeps the piece moving with a steady hand.
“The Joint” is in its initial stages of development and has all the underpinnings of success as it moves forward. It is an intriguing venture into the realms of love imagined, love fulfilled, and love unrequited. It is also a daunting exploration of the vicissitudes of the human experience and the contours of redemption and release.