Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
Asolo Repertory Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

L. Faye Butler
Photo by Cliff Roles
Asolo Repertory Theatre has scored a coup with this world premiere production in its outdoor terrace theater. Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, by Cheryl L. West, commissioned by Chicago's Goodman Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, had to be scuttled due to the pandemic. Both theatre companies will produce this play in the future but specifics are not yet available.

The biographic play is a difficult genre; either the subject is so historically important that his or her life eludes understanding and dramatic honesty or the opposite, an ordinary-extraordinary human being gets reduced to a pencil sketch instead of a detailed portrait. This examination of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer lands in the latter territory. She was an ordinary person, very much of her socioeconomic time, lacking in formal schooling, who managed through deep faith and common sense to inspire great things from herself and others. It's not that the writing is deficient, because actually it is quite well written, avoiding many typical cliches, especially with its well thought out ending. It just is not able to properly illuminate the volcanic accomplishments of this woman.

If this were a time when all of the area's theater companies were producing great theatre, the central performance by L. Faye Butler would likely be one of the most memorable. In a deprived environment, it stands out all the more. Half spoken, half sung, Ms. Butler brings Fannie to life, offering an overview if not the specifics of greatness. As directed by Goodman Theatre's Henry Dominic Godinez, this is a real star turn.

Felton Offard is the superb music director, leading a three-piece band. Costumes by Michael Alan Stein are excellent—often a change of hat alone reroutes the character. Lighting designer Ethan Vail does excellent work (indoors it would be even more effective). Projections by Aaron Thyne are effective but, again, the outdoor setting undermines their full theatricality. Mr. Bernard is credited for the outstanding wig design.

Hopefully, Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer will be produced often when theaters have reopened. I will admit that I didn't know much about this woman and her important role in civil rights politics. Asolo Rep is doing the play and itself proud.

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer runs through March 3, 2021, at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Terrace Stage, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For information and tickets, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit

Cast: L. Faye Butler as Fannie Lou Hamer