“Grace” at Ford’s Theatre is Exciting, Toe-Tapping and Insightful Look at African-American Food, Family and Tradition
Nolan Williams, Jr., has crafted a small miracle – inviting us to experience African American culinary traditions while gently reminding us of the perils of gentrification in established Black neighborhoods.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In one of the most exciting new productions of the season, eight members of the Philadelphia Minton family are preparing a memorial supper to send their Gran’Me off in style. “Here We Go Making Preparations” sets the tone for the catered supper. The setting is Minton Place, the restaurant that’s been in their family for 100 years carrying on the tradition of Southern soul food. Its current proprietor and granddaughter, Ruthie, has fallen on hard times and is struggling to keep the restaurant afloat. Grace is a rich tapestry of the African American experience with a wonderful score that grabs you by the collar and holds you in its Southern sway. Co-book Writer, Composer, Lyricist, Music Director and DC native, Nolan Williams, Jr., has crafted a small miracle – inviting us to experience African American culinary traditions while gently reminding us of the perils of gentrification in established Black neighborhoods.
What I found along with the joyfulness and hilarity of this musical is the far deeper message that defines the heart and soul of Black culture. Some of the numbers are reminiscent of Sondheim’s pace and storytelling style, while others are flat-out soulful R&B or traditional New Orleans jazz. Some ballads feel like lullabies while others are downright funky. Haley’s roof-raising tune, “This Holy Bird”, a hilariously irreverent paean to the glories of the chicken wing, had the audience in stitches watching the family flap their arms to the “Funky Chicken”.
Meet the Mintons
Matriarch Miss Minnie rules the roost with love, understanding and no-nonsense military precision. She embodies the roots of the family tree. In the tender ballad “Three Okra Seeds” Minnie tells the story of her ancestor who left slavery behind with only a scant few seeds in her hand – a tradition dating back to the early days of slavery.
Joshua, an adorable, hyper-energetic, hip-hop kid who plans to DJ the event, much to everyone’s dismay, video-tweets the family’s activities. “Yo fam!” he addresses his Twitter followers and squabbles fade away with his upbeat vibe.
Stylish Jacqui, “I’m not bougie. I’m Afro chic,” is the media-savvy fashion maven, the perfect counterpoint to Haley, who is miffed her name’s been left off the restaurant’s historic plaque.
Paul, the PhD nephew charged with coordinating the memorial program, schools the family in historic African American chefs who are painted on the set’s backdrop. And then there’s E.J., a finance guy, whose father kept him from the Mintons claiming they weren’t classy enough. “Dady’ Used to Say”, he croons realizing that distance kept him from their love.
Twenty-two numbers show off the cast’s crazy amazing vocal chops, but as anyone in the DMV knows, no one can be bested by the amazing Nova Y. Payton, who will rip your heart out with her killer, honeyed voice and extraordinary range. My fur stands on end every time I hear her sing and, as evidenced by the numerous standing ovations she received, so did everyone else’s.
This feel-good musical coupled with an extraordinary cast wrap us in their warmest embrace and we, the audience, return the spirit in kind with all the grace we can muster.
Starring Nova Y. Payton as Ruthie; Virginia Ann Woodruff as Miss Minnie; Rayshun LaMarr as Joshua; Arica Jackson as Haley; Raquel Jennings as Jacqui; David Hughey as Paul; Jarran Muse as E. J.; and Solomon Parker III as Lawrence.
Directed and Choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming; Co-Book by Nikkole Salter; Conducted by Paul Byssainthe, Jr. with Orchestrations by Joseph Joubert; Scenic Design by Jason Ardizzone-West; Costume Design by Dominique Fawn Hill; Lighting Design by Xavier Pierce .
Through May 14th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit www.Fords.org or call the box office at 202 347-4833.
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