Encores! Off-Center has done it again with Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. They’ve managed to convince a supernaturally talented cast and crew to work their asses off for five performances. It never fails to astonish me. And their choice of material couldn’t be more relevant. A 1972 Broadway musical revue about the experiences of the Black Community, which still resonates today. And it was the first Broadway offering with lyrics and music both credited to a woman writer – Micki Grant. It was also the first Broadway show directed by an African American woman, Vinnette Carroll. For which accomplishments, both women were nominated for Tony Awards.
The conceit of the Encores! series is that they are concert versions of the shows that are done with book in hand by the actors and minimal staging and sets or costumes. Because they run for 5 performances, so it makes no sense investing a lot of time or money into getting the production on its feet. Which is supposedly how they induce the level of talent they get.
Well, the reality is a little different. In tonight’s performance of Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope, there wasn’t a book in hand until the last two numbers. Now, admittedly, there’s not much dialog in the piece. It’s comprised of a recorded poem by the author Micki Grant at the top of the show, and then 24 songs. In the last couple of songs there’s a little dialog interspersed with the singing.
But this production, directed and choreographed by Savion Glover, was fully staged. And may I say, exquisitely so. If there’s one thing Mr. Glover knows how to do, it’s move people around a stage. The music includes calypso, soul, jazz, gospel, blues and rock. Mr. Glover’s choreography is equally diverse, encompassing modern dance, jazz, tap (of course), contemporary, and some Latin styling.
Which brings me back to my consistent admiration and awe at the talent, dedication and obvious love of craft that is displayed on stage at an Encores! performance. And that is abundant in Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope. Aisha de Haas, Wayne Pretlow and James T. Lane have such incredible voices they should be household names. Marshall L. Davis Jr. didn’t sing a solo note, but his dancing was divine. He was smooth and elegant, loose but controlled. His tapping was extraordinary. But truthfully, I hesitate to single any one person out from the cast because they were all so good.
If you’re reading this before Saturday July 28th, 2018 – you have a shot at seeing the last performance of this production of Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope. It starts at 8pm at New York City Center at 131 West 55th Street. I’d advise you to try and get a ticket. It probably won’t be easy, but try. You won’t regret it, and you won’t forget it.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"The Off-Center production, directed and choreographed by Savion Glover, never shrinks from the musical’s ambition to address the range of black experience in popular entertainment. This begins even before the curtain rises, with a poem called “Universe in Mourning,” recently recorded by Ms. Grant. Her bemused take on tragedy — she utters an amazing, rueful chuckle while saying “I think someone is lying” — sets the tone for the rest of the 75-minute show, which has been rearranged and condensed into one act."
Jesse Green for New York Times
External links to full reviews from popular press...