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A CurtainUp Review

From My Home Town
By Brad Bradley

From My Home Town Is Back in Town

Andre Garner, Kevin R. Free and Rodney Hicks
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
After briefly appearing on Theatre Row a year ago, From My Hometown has resurfaced downtown at a much larger venue. While the work's inherent strengths and weaknesses look much the same to this reviewer, the production has gained in energy, and the three performances have grown in texture and impact on the audience. When the trio is given harmony and/or a capella assignments, the resulting sound is positively silken. Of the three still impressive singer/actors onstage, Rodney Hicks notably has grown in star quality, and his lithe and sensuous moves often dazzle. The physical production is much the same, but suffers in the larger house where it looks dull and clumsy until the show is beyond the halfway mark. However, impressive computer-aided graphics and a glitzy showbiz ending produce an excitement that carries From My Hometown buoyantly to its finish.

Credits on this production scarcely have changed. Below are the few minor differences from the original credits noted in the 2003 review.

From My Hometown - Presented by Lee Summers in association with Leonard Solway and Steven M. Levy
Original music by Lee Summers, Ty Stephens & Will Barrow
Co-choreographed by Leslie Dockery
Set and Projection Design: Matthew Myhrum
Additional credits identical to 2003 review reproduced below.
Cast: (as before) Kevin R. Free, Andre Garner, and Rodney Hicks.
Opened July 22.
Mondays through Saturdays at 8; Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:30.
Running time: approximately ninety minutes (no intermission).
Gramercy Theatre, 127 East 23rd Street, 212/ 777-4900.
Viewed by Brad Bradley at the Tuesday, July 20 preview performance.

--- Original Review By Brad Bradley

From My Hometown is the latest offering from the Amas Musical Theatre, featuring a load of classic rhythm and blues hits as well as a few original songs by the show's creators. The genesis of this show is understandable. Much good music of the past has been well-showcased in a number of recallable stage shows, ranging from often Broadway-sized tributes to composers the likes of Sondheim, Gershwin, Fats Waller, and Lieber and Stoller, to Off-Broadway reincarnations of performing artists ranging from Janis Joplin, Billie Holliday, and Patsy Cline to the current year's Hank Williams, the Mamas and the Papas, and Bobby Darin. But shows like this one that set out to honor an entire category of music have a tougher challenge, and the current production does not seem up to the task.

Performers Kevin R. Free, Andre Garner, and Rodney Hicks all are named by the cities of their characters' origins, Memphis, Detroit and Philly (Philadelphia) respectively. All are talented and entertaining, and they manage to carry the first half of this sadly under-written show, beginning with a smooth opening title number. Among the most-deserving familiar inclusions are "What a Wonderful World, " "Dock of the Bay," "Chain Gang," and ""Try a Little Tenderness." The four-player band is zesty and amazingly rich in its musicality, with Kenneth Crutchfield's drumbeat especially evocative.

The three guys arrive in New York around 1980, determined to score at an open audition at the legendary Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem. Each character more or less tolerates the other two until lack of solo success causes them to capitulate and become a trio, destined for mega-success. But neither the group's evolution into success nor the show's script itself sustain interest, leaving the audience too much of an encyclopedia-like musical history. Only occasionally can we really savor the musical memories, for the original recordings too often linger in the mind more powerfully. And, alas, more than a few of the nostalgic musical servings play like stock audition pieces.

The visual production is solid, with clever use of limited scenery and projections (Matthew Myhrum) and lighting (Aaron Spivey). A standout among the three very appealing onstage players is the endearing performance by Kevin R. Free as the rustic member of the group. Amas has had countless impressive outings over its remarkable "34 years of multi-ethnic musical theatre" including the just-ended season's Little Ham and Zanna, Don't!, [see reviews: Little Ham and Zanna Don't!) but From My Hometown unfortunately does not add to the group's reputation.

From My Hometown
Amas Musical Theatre in association with Ben Blake and Lee Summers
Conceived by Lee Summers
Written by Lee Summers, Ty Stephens and Herbert Rawlings, Jr.
Choreographed by Leslie Dockery
Musical Direction and Orchestrations: Jo Lynn Burks
Directed and Co-choreographed by Kevin Ramsey
Cast: Kevin R. Free, Andre Garner, and Rodney Hicks.
Set Design: Matthew Myhrum
Costume Design: Deborah A. Cheretun
Lighting Design: Aaron Spivey
Sound Design: Ryan Powers
Running time: approximately ninety minutes (no intermission).
Kirk Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, 279-4299
6/10/03-7/12/03; opening 6/19/03
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8; Saturdays and Sundays at 3-- $30; $25 for students, seniors and groups
Reviewed by Brad Bradley, based on June 17 press performance.

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