The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is stepping back in time for its 2013-14 season, with four shows that provide a historical perspective on the African-American experience.
“Rhythms of Change” is the theme for the season, said Founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs, who announced a slate of shows that focuses on “a 100-year journey of African-Americans in America. It starts right after slavery was abolished and the south tried to hold on to it” and moves on through the 1950s through the rise of Harlem night spots and the popularity of such stars as Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne.
The season opens in November, with the musical “Purlie,” based on Ossie Davis’ play “Purlie Victorious,” about a traveling preacher who returns to his small Georgia hometown and shakes things up among sharecroppers living under Jim Crow laws.
Jim Weaver, who recently staged August Wilson’s “Jitney,” will direct “Purlie.” Jacobs previously directed the show at the Players Theatre in 1997 in a production that marked the debut of Teresa Stanley, who now stars on Broadway in “Rock of Ages.”
Another show that Jacobs first presented at the Players, “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” will close the season in April. It is a musical celebration of Harlem. “It tells the whole history of Harlem, the heyday of Harlem and why Harlem is what it is and the significance that it holds,” he said.
Jacobs will start 2014 with the area premiere of Matthew Lopez’s drama “The Whipping Man,” set after the end of the Civil War, when a wounded Jewish confederate soldier returns to find his home ruined and only two former slaves remaining. A Passover celebration leads to the revelation of various secrets that bring them together and could tear them apart.
The play has been well received in several regional theaters since its 2006 debut. The playwright grew up in Florida and earned a theater degree from the University of South Florida.
The fourth show, “Harry and Lena,” is a musical saluting the lives of Belafonte and Horne, two popular singers who also were activists for civil rights, said Jacobs, who is creating the show. It will focus on the period leading to the peak of their stardom and will be told through the songs they performed. It opens Feb. 19.
Jacobs said that it was a performance by Michael Mendez of Belafonte’s hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” in a show earlier that year that made him think he might be well cast as Belafonte.
Jacobs said he is hoping for a brief holiday season revival of “Black Nativity.” He also is working with Executive Director Christine Jennings to raise funds needed to potentially expand the season to five shows in the near future, including an extra drama that might include more Wilson plays.
Jacobs said the new season reaches back to the Troupe’s beginnings, when he was creating shows of songs from the 1930s and 1940s to save money on royalties for pre-existing book musicals.
“We got our reputation on these revues,” he said. “People really love them, so we don’t want to give those up either.”
WESTCOAST BLACK THEATRE TROUPE
Nov. 13-Dec. 15
“The Whipping Boy,”
Jan. 2-Feb. 2
“Harry and Lena,”
Feb. 19-March 23
“Bubbling Brown Sugar,”
April 9-May 11
Season subscriptions are $80 for four shows. Single tickets will go on sale in September. For more information; 366-1505; wbttsrq.org