By Bridget Elam
For the Chronicle
As part of the festivities of the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF), “How I Got Over: A Gospel Musical” was performed at the Arts Council Theatre on Aug. 2-5.
The musical, performed by the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, was created to pay homage and celebrate the pioneers of traditional gospel music, Mahalia Jackson, Thomas A. Dorsey and others.
“How I Got Over” began with a musical tribute to Larry Leon Hamlin, the founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company (NCBRC) and the National Black Theatre Festival.
With a church service as the storyline, performers sang songs of old to convey the concerns, joys and triumphs of the Negro experience. The opening song, “I’ve Been Buked” led by Elaine Mayo, transported the audience to a time when gospel music was the way African-Americans escaped hardships of life.
“From the first song, I was locked in,” said Tindall Reece, a longtime supporter of the NBTF and African-American arts. “The voices of the performers will just mesmerize you to a point that you feel you are outside of yourself,” he continued.
The sold-out performance featured 34 traditional gospel songs and hymns, which were packed into the two-hour long event.
“I hope audiences will gain an appreciation of the soul-stirring, spirit-moving effect that traditional gospel music has. It has been a part of our culture since before we were on boats crossing the water,” said Nate Jacobs, founder and artistic director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. “I hope when they leave, they leave with a sense of this history and be able to use it as we advance.”
With few speaking parts, the musical selections tied the narrative of the musical together, causing audiences to feel like it was more than a musical but an experience.
“This is the best musical I have ever seen,” said Chester Leverette, a Lexington, N.C., native. “The singers were very anointed and it carried the story right along. I did not just watch a musical; I experienced a moment.”
During the performance on Friday, Aug. 4, the crowd sung along with cast members and even shouted “Amen” at times. It was reminiscent of old time, foot stomping church revivals.
“It was pleasing to my eyes, ears and heart,” said Connie Greene, an Ohio resident who has attended the National Black Theatre the last three years. “It brought me back to my grandmother’s time.”
And that’s just the message Jacobs says he wanted the musical to convey. “I hope the people would reach back and see that gospel music has been the way that our grandparents got through the pressures and disappointments of life. Gospel music is truly how they got over.”
The musical ended with a charge to the audience: “Sing on children. Continue to sing these songs of Zion. Use them, for they are keys given to you.”
See a trailer on the musical on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7Naf6IelmU.
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe was founded in 1999 and is based in Sarasota, Florida. The troupe will begin its 2017-18 season this October and has performed other shows for the NBTF.
For more information on their upcoming productions and schedule, visit http://westcoastblacktheatre.org.
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