Stage Aurora opened “God’s Trombones” on December 5, which will be on-stage through December 14, 2014. The production is based on James Weldon Johnson’s tribute to the powerful African-American preachers of his past. Johnson’s book, published in 1927, contains an introduction, a prayer, and seven short sermons in verse, and stage adaptations depend solely upon the vision of director. Casting could be limited to one person (male, with a strong voice) or expanded. Darryl Reuben Hall, Stage Aurora’s Founder and Executive Director, has framed the work as an immersive extravaganza, filled with music, song, and dance, with an energetic cast of over forty performers.
Each scene includes a narration of Johnson’s verse as written, with song and dance added. Scene One depicts “The Prayer,” with Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Deacons Joiakin Foster" and Joseph Wells as narrators. Both were excellent choices for this important first scene, as they ask for mercy for sinners. A choral rendition of “Ain’t That Good News,” which included dance, followed.
“The Creation,” Scene Two, follows, with several children as performers, and ten narrators, all women. Chinua Richardson appears as God, a role he repeats in other scenes. He is a much younger version of God than we usually visualize, but fits right into Johnson’s creation story, which has a God who smiles as he sets about making a world, and is especially pleased with the outcome of shaping a lump of clay in his own image. Two songs, “Creation Song,” by the children and “I Am God” were incorporated in the scene.
“The Prodigal Son,” Scene Three, was a crowd favorite, narrated by Drickus Horne and performed as a contemporary parable. Joseph Wells is the resigned Father, the restless Son is Isaiah Houston, who finds his way to the big city, meets the Devil (Adrian Smith – in a role he repeats in other scenes) posing as a New Found Friend, takes up bad behaviors, and succumbs to the wiles of the Women of Babylon (Shacrisa Bell, Dewonna Singleton, Teresa Smith, Kenyada Williams). The Son finally realizes the error of his ways, and returns home, ending with Houston’s solo, “Running Back to You.” Houston, an assistant director and musical director for the show, was responsible for choosing the songs and other music to accompany Johnson’s words. The musicians for the production were Vernon Rico and Bruce Davis who used a synthesizer and percussion to fill the auditorium with sound.LaVida Thomas-Richardson performed a dream-like dance solo, which preceded the Crucifixion scene. The Narrator was Teresa Smith (also an assistant director), who brought a sorrowing passion to Johnson’s words. Others in this central scene included Joiakin Foster as Jesus, Isaiah Houston as Judas, Traci Webster, Kai Smith, and Jessica Wright as Disciples, Drickus Horne as Governor, Chinua Robinson as Simon, Detrick Wilson as a Guard, Michael Robinson as Pilate, Tiffany Wright as Mary, and Joseph Wells as a Roman guard.
Additional scenes include a funeral sermon as a good woman, Sister Carolyn (Tametra Smith), leaves pain behind as she is carried home by Death; the story of the obedient Noah (Michael Robinson); and the story of Moses, which evokes quite a bit of petulance on the part of Pharaoh’s Wife (Desiree Coats, alternately the role is played by Latisha Jackson) as she wonders who will serve the Egyptians now.
The last scene of “God’s Trombones” leaves the audience with something to think about: And where will you stand on Judgment Day? And once again, a large chorus filled the stage with song.
But that wasn’t quite the end. James Weldon Johnson, a Jacksonville native who has a local school named for him, was famous for his work as an author, educator, and civil rights activist. The entire cast honored his life and contributions with the lyrics for which he is most famous, as they sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to resounding applause.
Don’t miss the chance to see these talented performers bring Johnson’s words come to life. Guest appearances by Ericka Dunlap, who was crowned Miss America in 2004, and Rodney L. Hurst Sr., award-winning author and civil rights activist, are planned for future Stage Aurora productions. And also note that the company will be staging August Wilson’s “Piano Lesson” beginning February 20, 2015. See ticketleap.com for tickets, and see stageaurora.org or call 904-765-7372 for additional information.