East to Edinburgh – New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival Review at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday July 26, 2015)

July 13, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Katt Tait’s “Black Magic: Songs Unchained” is a 50 minute rehearsal of the power of song to soothe, strengthen, empower, and organize. Against the backdrop of a powerful collection of images that focus on the slave trade (in Africa, in the United States, and throughout the privileged world) and slavery, Ms. Tait sings a treasure trove of songs from the musical canons of the American Spiritual and Protest Song. The lyrics and plaintive melodies of “Trouble of the World,” “Steal Away,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble” counterpoint images of the brutal treatment of slaves (slave collars, beatings, rape, recapture of runaways) that grace the 59E59 stage and challenge the audience to engage anew in the dialog about racism in America.

The Post-Civil War era (Reconstruction) and the post-Civil Rights era witnessed what some might see as “progress” for members of the African-American community. The Harlem Renaissance, the success of black jazz and blues writers and performers, and presumed advances in equal education opportunities numbed much of America to the continuing cycles of oppression.

Directed sparingly by Ray Ficca, Ms. Tait shares song after song in her rich, multi-ranged voice interpreting the lyrics with honesty and freshness. Her remarkable performance requires the audience to look closely at The New Jim Crowe and other contemporary reasons one needs to keeps ones “Eye on the Prize.”

Two of the final images projected behind Ms. Tait are images of black and white children reaching out to one another and (perhaps) adult black and white hands touching. Perhaps white Americans and Americans of color can begin deep and rich conversations about racism and perhaps from those conversations, new songs of freedom can be written and sung. And hopefully these songs unchained can break the chains of oppression and societal complacence, indifference, and numbness.

“Kitty’s Bound for Broadway” highlights the fictional account of Kitty Adler who aspires from childhood to appear on the Broadway stage. After Kitty’s children are out of the house and her husband has left her, she seizes the opportunity to revisit her dream (keeping her hope alive) when she wins the chance to submit her play to a panel of Broadway professionals. Kerry Miller’s book and music chronicle Kitty’s journey from self-doubt to self-awareness, to self-fulfillment. Ms. Miller also performs this entry into the Edinburg Festival Fringe. Despite its honesty and sincere effort, “Kitty’s Bound for Broadway” falls short of expectations: the lyrics are sophomoric and the music is unremarkable. Ms. Miller seems adrift on the stage without adequate direction from Susie Keating.