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In Search of Eckstine: A Love Story

Like other performing arts, theatre is a collaborative venture that thrives on the confluence of creativity. Playwrights, actors, directors, and costume, sound, scenic and lighting designers all contribute their talent to the final experience. While plays begin in the mind of the writer, they usually go through a long process of readings, re-writes, rehearsals, and adjustments until they are finally performed. Even after a play has been produced, it is often re-worked for each revival.

Shadow Theatre Company's current production of In Search of Eckstine: A Love Story is a reflection of this fascinating and informative process. Conceived and written by Hugo John Sayles and Jeffrey Nickelson as a celebration of the life of a black cultural hero, ballad singer Billy Eckstine, the play has gone through a variety of iterations culminating in this current, its third, production, directed by Israel Hicks.

Hicks, whose directing background includes 12 seasons with the Denver Center, regional theatre including the Guthrie and the Mark Taper Forum, feature films, and network television, took on this assignment for free to help the always politically astute Shadow Theatre Company in its evolution as a professional theatre company and his experience shows. The timing for entire story has been tightened up, with the action, lighting, and music all contributing to a more focused dramatic arc.

Jeffrey Nickelson, as the Hobo turned balladeer, does supreme justice to all of Billy Eckstine's hits including Jelly, Jelly and such standards as If You Could See Me Now, On Green Dolphin Street, My Foolish Heart, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and I Apologize. Mary Louise Lee as Nia Forche, his voluptuous counterpart, wows us with her silky renditions of Body and Soul and Straighten Up and Fly Right, and her marvelous duet work on You're All I Need and A Sunday Kind of Love.

Hugo Jon Sayles as the magical catalyst to the action and Janice Guy-Sayles as the country waitress, Johnnie Mae, lead the stylishly choreographed dance scenes that feature modern and jazz ballroom work. Dwayne Carrington is stellar as the slick night club owner Quentin Harrington; Rhonda Nickelson is endearing as the love interest; and Vince Robinson styles as the bouncer and numbers runner, Mr. Kylie.

To top it off, Michael Duran's set is a dazzling nightclub right out of the heyday of The Five Points jazz scene in the 30's, 40's, and 50's; Linda Morken's costumes are well-appointed; and the lighting work is exceptional. Despite a few weak areas in the script, which mostly center around a muddy relationship between wishes, angelic protocol, and soul-swapping, In Search of Eckstine is great entertainment. It runs through February 23rd at the Acoma Center. 303-837-9355.

 

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