By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Gospel music has something too it. Unlike other genres of music, there seems to be an unknown force behind it that manages to connect and speak to people whether they’re avid gospel listeners or not. Put gospel music into a musical and it’s sure to be a success.
Some of the most beloved songs from musicals are based on gospel music. Think “Sit Down Your Rockin’ the Boat,” “Gods Love Nubia,” “I’ll Cover You” and so many more. While a majority of musicals have one or two gospel-esque songs, “The Gospel at Colonus” has 18 of them.
“The Gospel at Colonus” is currently playing at the Skylight Music Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. With three shows under its belt, the cast will be performing six more times starting with a 2 p.m. showing on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
The musical features an all-black cast, with many of them hailing from Milwaukee, and is directed by Sheri Williams Pannell.
The play was adapted into a musical by Lee Breuer, with music by Bob Telson. It follows the story of Oedipus after he leaves Thebes. He comes to rest in the town of Colonus, where he interacts with his daughters, Antigone and Ismene, and Theseus the king of Colonus.
The musical features the themes of forgiveness, death, war and above all, love.
Before going to see this show, there’s some things that should be noted. “The Gospel at Colonus” is based on the Greek tragedy “Oedipus at Colonus” which was written back in the day circa 401 BC by Sophocles. It’s the second play in the trilogy proceeded by “Oedipus Rex” and followed by “Antigone.”
While it’s not necessary to have read any of those works, it does help to be a little familiar with first book, as the musical takes place after the events in “Oedipus Rex.” However, the characters do their best to fill the audience in on certain aspects that have already been set in motion, such as Oedipus’ blindness. At the very least, it’s worth going on Wikipedia to read the plot of “Oedipus Rex.”
The second thing to note, is that in true Greek play fashion, the choir members also double as some of the play’s characters. Don’t be surprised if one second a choir member comes on stage singing in a new outfit.
Fortunately, the cast contains powerhouse singers and it’s no surprise that several of the choir members were also featured soloists alongside the main cast. Kevin James Sievert, who played Balladeer and a choir member, blew the audience away with his talent for singing and dancing.
The plot moves along pretty swiftly with the play clocking in at about two hours with a 20-minute intermission.
The preacher character, also known as the messenger, is essentially delivering the story to the audience, which is akin to a congregation. Again, the musical is supposed to be like a black Pentecostal service. This image is further created with the inclusion of the band led by Christie Chiles Twillie on stage. Behind his elevated pulpit, he introduces the characters and narrates the story.
Some of the stand-out performances included Curtis Bannister as Theseus, Raven Dockery as Ismene and Tasha McCoy as Antigone. Dockery’s performance of “How Shall I See You Through My Tears?” was astounding and McCoy’s tears during her monologue as Antigone lamenting her father brought tears to the audience as well.
In addition to the cast, the costumes and set were a sight to behold.
Amy Horst the costume designer incorporated African inspired textiles into each of the costumes. The choir robes each had an element of an African print on the sleeve and neckline with each choir member wearing a different print. Antigone and Ismene’s costumes were the definition of regal, which is appropriate given their princess status and even Oedipus, who wore black as a symbol of the outcast, had a pattern on his robe.
The set, designed by Julia Noulin-Merat, also had African influence. The curtains, platform and choir station each had a unique print. The homogeneity of both further helped bring the musical to life.
All in all, “The Gospel at Colonus” is a musical worth seeing. From the music to the performances to the costumes, it’s hard to not enjoy a musical that makes audience members want to don a choir robe and get on stage.
“The Gospel at Colonus” is running from now until Sunday, Jan. 26. To see all the showtimes, visit https://www.skylightmusictheatre.org/upcoming-shows-events/the-gospel-at-colonus/