Oscar E Moore

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Cross That River – New York Musical Festival

October 14th, 2009 by Oscar E Moore


Without a doubt, “I Must Believe” an emotionally rousing song, sung magnificently by Soara-Joye Ross at the end of Act I in the new musical “Cross That River” which is part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival (TBG Theatre 312 W. 36th Street), is something that everyone should be able to bear witness to.  It is one of the finest musical numbers in a beautiful score which includes blues and country western, gospel, waltzes and ballads written and performed by Allan Harris – who acts as the narrator/balladeer of his tale about the life of Blue, a run away slave who becomes a cowboy in the Wild West circa 1860.

I thought how can they top that?  Well they come real close in the opening of Act II with Annie (Wendy Lynette Fox) singing the equally moving “Invisible”.

Almost every song in this song cycle of a show is memorable.  The score is tuneful and gets your toes tapping while touching your heart at the same time.  The lovely duet between young Blue, Boy Blue (Brandon Gill) and his first flirtation with a white woman, Miss Courtney (Whitney Bashor) “Another Time, Another Place”, “Dat Dere Preacher” an exciting ensemble number led by Tony Perry, “Mail Order Woman” – which follows the journey of Annie from Philadelphia to the wilds of Texas only to be raped and set up in a life of prostitution, and the show stopping “I Must Believe” which makes its return in Act II as “I Do Believe” praising freedom and the land that allows us to pursue our individual goals. 

It’s an odd structure for a musical and at times the narration goes by too fast without fleshing out the story and characters.  It seems like an outline for a full production – that the creators are fearful of having the story interfere with getting to all those beautiful songs which are stories themselves.  A little more book by Andrew Carl Wilk would be most welcomed.

Blue doesn’t meet up with Annie until he has crossed that river from Louisiana into Texas and escaped with the help of his Mama Lila, met up with the mean Lucius (Timothy Warmen – who gives an outstanding performance, doubling as Ole Sam Eye) who takes Blue in because he is good with horses, starting him out on the road to being a full fledged cowboy.  When Blue becomes “smitten” he sings a beautiful ballad “My Dreams Are You” with his gorgeous, silken Nat King Cole of a voice. 

I suppose you gather by now that I love the score and that I am less fond of the book which has great potential.  It is an extremely interesting story told with great style.  Right now it’s a bit too episodic, especially in Act II with the introduction of Diamond Jimmy (Joseph Melendez).  His scene and song fall below the high bar set by Allan Harris.

Charles Wallace gives great support in his trio of roles.  Especially that of Mule Skinner and joins Allan Harris, Tony Perry and Brandon Gill in the terrific but short “Buffalo Soldiers”.  I must also praise the onstage Cross That River Band, the musical staging of Donna McKechnie and overall direction by Andrew Carl Wilk. 

www.nymf.org   www.crossthatriver.com

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