TOURING AMERICAN OPERA
ENCOMPASS MAINSTAGE PRODUCTION
Hailed as the “most distinctive music heard all season” (USA Today), Only Heaven is an exuberant journey through Harlem and the Deep South of the 1920s-1930s. This dynamic period is vividly captured in the poetry of Langston Hughes and in the music of Award-winning composer Ricky Ian Gordon brought to life “in a handsome production that’s imaginatively staged by director Nancy Rhodes.” (NY Newsday)
“Under the musical direction of Charles Prince [and Mitchell Cirker, assistant music director], ...a quartet of singers give the best sung musical performance to be heard this theatre season.” - Victor Gluck, BackStage
Cast and Crew
Keith Byron Kirk
Whitney V. Hunter
Understudy: Karla Simmons
Sets: Erik Ulfers
Costumes: Marianne Powell-Parker
Lighting: Chenault Spence
"...four first-rate singers robustly fill Gordon's rich harmonies..."
Review by Victor Gluck, BackStage, 2 Febraury 2001
Ricky Ian Gordon's "Only Heaven is neither a musical nor a opera. He himself called it a cantata. Whatever this 90 minute through-composed setting of lyric by poet Langston Hughes is called. it is an extraordinary performance that-because of its unique form -will be caviar to the general.
Encompass New Opera Theatre first presented "Only Heaven In 1995". The current expanded version contains several new songs and an additional character. convinced by the composer and director Nancy Rhodes to a scenario "Only Heaven" is a setting of 27 poems by Hughes, taken from the 1920's and 1930's, grouped by theme. love, joy, heartache, suffering etc.The current production divides the material between four singers and two dancers.
Under the musical direction of Charles Price, conducting a chamber orchestra, a quartet of singers give the best sung musical to be heard this theater season. Most outstanding are soprano Monique McDonald and baritone Michael Lofton, who bring a heartbreaking emotional depth to their numbers. Soprano Sherry Boone and tenor Keith Byron Kirk add a lighter side to their equally heartfelt songs. Seen only briefly, Whitney V. Hunter and Monique Rhodriquez dance Fran Kirmser’s beautiful choreography inspired by Agnes De Mille, Antony Tudor, and Alvin Ailey.
Rhodes’ direction does not give the material a plot, but it does give the work a shape. If the intention is to capture the Harlem Renaissance, Erik Ulfers’ elegant setting, which resembles an upper class picnic in a wheat field, seems strangely at odds with the concept. However, the unobtrusive lighting by Chenault Spence always directs the eye to the focal point.
Gordon’s intricate, rousing score seems an advance over his musical, “Dream True,” last season. This is a timeless, moving musical evening. It should have a long life after this production.