Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
We Shall Someday is a small musical in terms of cast and stage effects, but huge in terms of heart and the depth of its theme. In three short acts, thirty to thirty-five minutes apiece, with an intermission between the second and third, it relates the struggles faced by members of an African American family across three generations. It invents three fictional characters, but places them each in a context of historical truth. We meet Julius Tate, a single father raising young twin daughters Sam and Ruby, wresting with what he could do to make the world better for his girls, then we meet Ruby as a thirty-year-old challenged by how to raise her fifteen-year-old son Jay as a Black man in a white man's world, and we meet Jay some years later as a diligent college student, struggling to choose between the risks and the imperatives of stepping forward in civil rights activism.
Each of them is given an entire act to reveal in song and in lyrical spoken narrative, the symbiosis between their inner turmoil and a landscape soaked to the Earth's core with racist traditions, values and privileges. In 1961 we meet Julius in the small Arkansas town where he has always lived, except for a stint in the service. He works at the diner run by a good-hearted white woman, Miss Arlene, to support himself and his two young daughters. We do not yet know where their mother is. It is the time of the Freedom Riders, a campaign as foreign to Julius as night is to day–Julius, who was taught by his grandmother to "keep your head down and don't make a fuss. White folks don't like fuss." But Miss Arlene sees something in Julius that tells her he needs to join the Freedom Riders. She tells him "It seems you've earned some time off," and offers to watch his two girls while he steps out into an unknown, dangerous world that changes his life.
Ruby is thirty when we meet her. She was fifteen when she got pregnant with her son Jay, and now he is fifteen. She fled from the hospital where she saw him torn asunder by a white policeman's club, unable to bear the sight. She finds solace at the cemetery where both her father and her twin sister Sam are laid to rest. She talks about her father, her mother, and her bold, bright sister who said she wanted to be president when she grew up–Ruby incredulously exclaiming "President–she, a girl–and Black!" She talks about Jay and the terror a mother faces raising a Black boy in such a world. She finds strength from her forbears and from her son. She hears her father telling her that after a harsh imprisonment, the Freedom Riders got back on the bus, and "Baby girl, don't nothing change if you don't get back on the bus. You are my bus, and Jay is yours."
Jay gets a scholarship to attend college in New York City. He is there when Rodney King is beaten by a Los Angeles policeman, captured on video for the world to see and prompting a wave of riots. Jay is still there when, a year later, that officer is acquitted. His white roommate Scooter tells Jay there is a protest. Jay knows what protest did to his grandfather, he knows what a white policeman can and will do to a Black man like himself. Scooter wants Jay, expects Jay, to join him. Jay agonizes, can Scooter possibly understand why he might not? To Scooter it is a no brainer, but it is a crushing dilemma to Jay, who knows that if anything happens to him his mother will be left all alone.
Ted Shen has composed rapturous music for We Shall Someday, with distinct songs that flow from one piece into spoken dialogue, then into another song, so seamlessly that speech and singing seem one act, modulated by the specific feeling being triggered at a given point in Julius or Ruby or Jay's life. And those words penned by Harrison David Rivers, with contributions from Shen, whether spoken or sung, are achingly precise in conveying the wounds within and the itching provoked by the scabs grown to hide the wounds. We understand lives that are either racked with pain or troubled by an itch, but never at rest.
The actors who portray the Tate family members–Ronnie Allen as Jay, Erin Nicole Farsté as Ruby, and Roland Hawkins II as Julius–are all three magnificent. While all have lustrous voices that do full justice to Shen's score, the power and clarity of Hawkins' expression reaches a length further, to somewhere beyond the stars. Each dominates the act devoted to their character, though the others appear at times as a chorus or as the presence of beloved family members felt within. Bradley Johnson plays a white prison guard, a white police officer, and Scooter, Jay's naive white ally roommate, and joins in the choral work. Though his brief bits are cardboard figures, Johnson portrays them admirably, and he too has a beautiful voice.
The show ends with a coda, an anthem sung by all four actors as a video is screened depicting a host of positive images of multi-generational connections among African American families. Sarah Bahr's single set piece is an abstract multi-leveled space in tones that suggest alabaster, a stony monument to the small steps taken by Julius, Ruby and Jay Tate, and millions like them, that are not the fabled strides of Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, but contribute to the full power of a movement that will not be stilled. And yet, within that vastness is a tiny space that represents the inhumane confines of a prison cell. The set is augmented by slides that establish the places in which the story is set, with Kathy Maxwell responsible for excellent projection design.
Amber Brown's costumes provide apt trappings for each character, while Kyia Britt's lighting design is attuned to the rise and fall of the score, as emotions and focal points shift. C. Andrew Mayer designed the soundscape that supports the narrative. Shen's score has been movingly orchestrated by Tony Award winner Michael Starobin and is performed by a superb six-member band conducted by music director Denise Prosek.
We Shall Someday is without fault. It is brilliant in its conception, artfully staged, powerfully performed, and achingly relevant. See it.
We Shall Somedaycontinues through May 14, 2023, at Theater Latté Da, Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $35 - $71. Student and educator rush tickets, $15, subject to availability, one hour before curtain, two tickets per ID, cash only. 20% discount for military personnel and veterans (up to four tickets). Members of Actors' Equity Association (AEA), the Union of Professional Actors; the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC); and the Twin Cities Musicians Union - $20 with union member ID card, two tickets per member. Tickets for zip code 55413 neighborhood residents are available for $13 at the box office during regular business hours, cash only. For tickets and information, please call 612-339-3303 or visit theaterlatteda.com.
Book & Lyrics: Harrison David Rivers; Music and Additional Lyrics: Ted Shen; Director: Kelli Foster Warder; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Scenic Design: Sarah Bahr; Costume Design: Amber Brown; Wigs, Hair and Makeup Design: Emma Gustafson; Lighting Design: Kyia Britts; Sound Design: C. Andrew Mayer; Projections Design: Kathy Maxwell; Dramaturg: Elissa Adams; Orchestrations: Michael Starobin; Music Supervisor: Deborah Abramson; Production Stage Manager: Shelby Reddig; Assistant Stage Manager: Ajah Williams; Technical Director: Bethany Reinfeld.
Cast: Ronnie Allen (Jay), Erin Nicole Farsté (Ruby), Roland Hawkins II (Julius), Bradley Johnson (Guard/Sergeant/Scooter).