Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Night in Harlem: SummerStage presents "Tunde's Trumpet" at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park

It was a great night in Harlem as we got to attend a marvelously innovative and dynamic musical production, Tunde's Trumpet, by the brilliant playwright Chisa Hutchinson, at the renovated Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park. This was her second commission from SummerStage and her first musical and her first play with puppets. It was astoundingly entertaining for both adults and kids and needs to move elsewhere now that this last of the four SummerStage performances is over.

Directed by the award-winning Kristin Horton, with a sprightly book by Chisa Hutchinson and tuneful and versatile music by Elliot Goldman and lyrics by Sarah Gancher, Tunde's Trumpet featured an energetic cast of five talented humans and a group of expressive, sophisticated, and funny puppets telling a great story that's essentially a sly parable of the process of becoming a performing artist (or, indeed, any kind of artist).

We wish we knew more about puppetry, but we think this was close to the Japanese form called bunraku, and the large puppets seemed capable, in the hands of their puppeteers, of rather sophisticated body movements, which obviously made the musical numbers livelier than you might get with more static puppets.

It's a little hard to tell from the program, but the five performers, all of whom had excellent voices, were truly outstanding, as actors and puppeteers as well as singers. We think they are Tanisha Christie, Rory Lipede, Ayesha Ngaujah, Darnell Wickhham, and Chris Myers.

Tunde is a bright, mischievous African-American kid with energy to spare, and on his tenth birthday his jazz trumpeter father gives him the trumpet he used to practice on when he was a boy. Both his exasperated mom and dad hope that Tunde will focus some of his energy more constructively, focusing on the musical instrument.

Tunde is excited but needs to work through and get past several obstacles to become an accomplished trumpeter who makes his parents proud. These obstacles, demons that plague all aspiring creative and performing artists (and probably a lot of others) -- Frustration, Distractions, Laziness, Doubt and Jealousy -- here are actual characters, physical manifestations of Tunde's active mind, "personified" by amazingly imaginative puppets manipulated with grace and precision. As the Parks Department website says, "these puppets come together in a music packed, high-energy show with a funkified soundtrack that celebrates the determination inherent in all of us." Director Kristin Horton seamlessly pulled it all together.

Chisa Hutchinson’s plays have been presented by such companies as the Lark Play Development Center, The Atlantic Theater Company, and Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. Her works include The Subject, She Like Girls, The Schematic, Sex on Sunday and #9.

She was in the audience tonight and along with the cast, the fine musicians, the director, librettist and composer and the others involved with show (James Hunting for set design, Luqman Brown for music direction, Raphael Mishler as puppeteer and more, Christian DeAngelis for lighting direction, Chris Rinaldi as stage manager), received a lot of applause and an ovation at the conclusion of this wonderful show for kids and adults alike.

(Video courtesy of Community MAP)

We're grateful we got to see Tunde's Trumpet and hope more people will have the same opportunity someday. We're also grateful for the quiet time to explore the byways of Marcus Garvey Park we didn't get to see on our last visit in June.

It was a clear, beautiful night as we walked along Mount Morris Park West, but contrary to the title of Henry Roth's 1994 novel, the first in the tetralogy Mercy of a Rude Stream, we did not see a star shine over Marcus Garvey Park, or back in his day, Mt. Morris Park.

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