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The Women of Brewster Place: The Musical
Review by Bill Kaiser
May 10, 2010

This an all-women musical is based on the poignant stories by Gloria Naylor. The story revolves around women living, in what used to be called a “housing project.” These women are a fantastic ensemble of powerful singers led by Mattie (Kim Yarbrough). She serves as the caretaker for all the women, as well the janitor of Brewster Place.
The Women of Brewster Place

Charlene Modeste, Christine Horn, Kim Yarbrough, Julanne Chidi Hill
Lisa Tharps, Cheridah Best, Kelly M. Jenrette
photo: David Elzer  

We learn much about these women, their strengths and weaknesses, and how tragedy helps to unite them. Much humor is provided by Mattie’s childhood friend Etta Mae (Cheridah Best) who shocks the church ladies and neighborhood busybodies, Sophie (Charlene Modeste) and Mavis (Lisa Tharps), by wearing a red ensemble to services, as well as wooing the young minister.

In the first act we are introduced to Kiswana Browne (Kelly M Jenrette), a compassionate firebrand preaching revolution to her more conventional, but ethnically proud, mother Mrs. Browne (Lisa Tharp) Kiswana befriends the overwhelmed mother of seven, Cora Lee (Julianne Chidi Hill) who is tired physically and emotionally by everyone telling her what she should do.

There is a marvelous scene of an African American disco adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” choreographed by Ameenah Kaplan which includes Erika Bowman and Niketa Calame (and huge Afros), bringing 1975 to life.

During the second act, Lorraine (Christine Horn), an elementary school teacher, moves in with her lover Tee (Erica Ash). Lorraine has a humorous scene on the first day of school dealing with 37 hyperactive kids. Tee goads the busybody Sophie by being more openly lesbian which attracts the attention of gang members too. Lorraine and Tee are in conflict over being open, providing a realistic portrayal of both points of view.

The characters in “Brewster Place” are not stereotypes, but three-dimensional women, all coping, in their own way, with life. Many of the songs, especially the ensembles, show the strength and inspiration of women.

Celebration Theatre has scored another coup with the west coast premiere of “The Women Of Brewster Place: The Musical.” The book, music and lyrics are by Tim Acito (Zanna Don’t).

Director Michael Matthews has guided these women into a powerful community and strong ensemble. Assistant director Michael A. Shepperd has continued his diverse season of hits with “Fucking Men” and “Haram Iran.”

It is ably produced by David Tarlow and Jim Halloran. Wigmaster Ronn Jones should be singled out for the great Afros, as well as the use of other hairstyles, to show the age, or cultural awareness, of the characters. The minimalist set of Kurt Boetcher, appropriate costuming by Naila Aladdin Sanders, and good sound and lighting design by Crickett S. Myers and Cameron Zetty all unite to create the right atmosphere.

Do not miss “The Women Of Brewster Place” running at Celebration Theatre in Hollywood until June 6, 2010.

The Women of Brewster Place
Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, California
Reservations: 323-957-1884;

Bill Kaiser

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