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AMERICAN RHAPSODY MusicalFare Theatre/Daemen College
By
Mar 2, 2022, 12:41
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Through March 27
AMERICAN RHAPSODY MusicalFare Theatre/Daemen College

Music is always filled with “something new,” a change in the rhythm, the instruments, the voices, the color of the performers, the themes people think they have never heard before.
That’s been going on for centuries, perhaps made more audible in 20th Century communications.
Randall Kramer and Carlos R. A. Jones in “American Rhapsody” argue George Gershwin’s classic “Rhapsody in Blue” isn’t something new in American music, but the latest stage of the melting pot of American music.
It’s a staged story, on the MusicalFare stage, a “piano room” in a high-rise building, high over an urban landscape, housing a polished grand piano and a work-a-day piano, the kind lots of theaters have.
A polished and well-dressed Kramer ushers in a never-named Black man (Richard Satterwhite). The Black guy owns a club where Kramer has been hanging out.
He’s hired Satterwhite’s character because he’s due to play “Rhapsody in Blue” with a major orchestra and he’s uncomfortable with the piece.
He’s a guy who plays what’s on the page and that’s what he does, note for note.
Kramer’s pianist is good, demonstrating it with a magnificent, note for note Rachmaninoff “Prelude in C# Minor,” approved by Satterwhite’s character.
The White master pianist has been watching the other guy play, free-range, and he wants that.
This turns into an upper end music master class, with Satterwhite’s character the teacher and Kramer’s character the student.
This is a look at the music which led to Gershwin’s masterpiece, a product of the New York City and immigrant musical ferment of the early years of the 20th Century.
Satterwhite traces it back as far as the old spiritual “Wade in De Water.”
Gershwin didn’t create out of his own brain cells, but of brain cells shaped by the music which surrounded him and brother Ira Gershwin and all the other people of that generation, composers like Irving Berlin, reaching back over the recent decades to W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle.
Kramer and Jones then turn up the stage magic, Theresa Quinn’s music direction, John Fredo’s choreography and set, lighting and sound design from Chris Cavanagh.
The vast mural of the city outside turns into a stage for Stevie Jackson, Dwayne Stephenson, Davida Evettte Tolbert and Josh Wilde, particularly Stephenson, dancing the music over the decades of musical change, working forward from the minstrel shows of Stephen Foster.
Fortunately, they skipped the Blackface so endemic in the time and a symbol right up until the present day.
The music is wonderful, concluding with Kramer playing Gershwin.
For the audience, how many had ever heard of W.C. Handy, Eubie Blake or Noble Sissle?
Kramer and MusicalFare tried this show once before and it still needs work.
“American Rhapsody” is very stiff and a lot of the music is pretty passé.
Think what they could do with “Hound Dog,” Big Mama Thornton and Elvis?
Still, a class in how the various ancestries in American culture turned into a legendary composition is worth seeing, as a society creates an “American Rhapsody.”

A.W.

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