Monday, September 24, 2012

A Motown Good Time


In terms of excellently produced theater,Always and Forever, the new show at Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis, doesn’t exactly top the list.
But boy is it fun.
From the interactive audience to a solid pit and classic tunes, it’s hard not to enjoyAlways and Forever, whatever its flaws.
Always and Forever intends to be the Mamma Mia of Motown, with a four-man cast performing 25 classic groovy tunes such as “You Send Me,” “In the Rain,” “When a Man Loves a Woman” and the spectacularly performed “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Writers Richard Thompson, Sandford Moore and Garry Lewis attempted to tie the show together with a very loosely drawn plot, but would have been better served leaving it as a sort of best-hits concert, as the plot distracts from the music- clearly the true focal point.
Despite the script’s flaws and a pace that occasionally drags, each actor finds some depth in their characters.
Returning cast members Dennis Spears (Leviticus Tucker) and Julius Collins (Quenton Jones) are the show’s weakest vocal links, but clearly ground the performance with their extensive theater experience. Spears, who wavered as Nat Cole at Penumbra, was clearly saving his best for his Barry White-like Tucker in this show. His swaggering, boastful character is hilarious.
The cast wavers at times, but it’s clear they’re enjoying their roles (although they sound much weaker as an ensemble than on their solos- perhaps they need a new sound tech?). David Hurst (Durius Wright), the only new cast member, has a stellar voice. One hopes to see him gain more stage time and experience.
The show’s standout by far (and also returning) is Jackson Hurst (Jahmal Purdy). A young Michael Jackson-esque paragon who at only 17-years-old (yes, he’s still in high school) has much to learn, Hurst electrifies. Keep an eye on him in future shows, particularly musicals.
Always and Forever attracts a wide-ranging and highly nostalgic audience, and they will clap, sing along, stand up to dance and everything in between. When they really get going, it almost feels like an electrically charged Baptist service.
Always and Forever is not your show if you want a pitch perfect, sparkling theater production. But it sure is a damn good time.
+ Always and Forever continues through Jan. 8 at the Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Avenue, Mpls. For more information visit illusiontheater.org.