Seven Angels Theatre, Waterbury: Plays about love come in many different packages. There are romantic comedies, the heart-wrenching dramas, and the uplifting musicals. Seven Angels has a sexy, smoldering kind of love story on the boards with “Trav’lin.” Making its Connecticut debut, this 1930s Harlem musical with music and lyrics by J.C. Johnson and book by Gary Holmes and Allan Shapiro is a steamy jazzy tale of three couples in various stages of love. There are two young lovers just about to reach the heavy heated boiling point kind of love. This type bubbles over into every phase of their lives. There’s also a couple with a sensual kind of simmering love and there’s a surprising mature love that proves that love can heat up no matter what age.
There’s a lot more substance to this piece than one might expect. Anyone who knows anything about love knows that it isn’t easy. In this production, there’s plenty of challenges facing these six love birds. They deal with everything including abandonment, infidelity, and forgiveness. By the way, these birds can sing. They can sing so sweet they’ll make you cry. Then they’ll wring you out and make you smile from ear to ear as they dance with heart wide open.
We are talking Harlem Renaissance kind of big band, swing, and jazz infused music. We are talking Fats Waller, Chick Webb, and George Whiting kind of songs with whom the musical’s creators collaborated with. Whiting’s songs were recorded by the likes of Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. In other words the love stories are good, real good. And the music is hot, real hot.
Lothair Eaton opens the show. He’s big and so is his personality; his song is big, and so is his smile, which is contagious. Playing a retired Pullman porter and church deacon, Eaton brings out what is intrinsically good about this character and he does it flamboyantly. Miche Braden plays Billie, a woman who knows the score when it comes to love. No one is going to make a fool out of her — again. Braden’s voice is so good that some people in the audience must have held their breath because the theater got so quiet when she sang. That was just before they shook the shingles on the roof with their uproarious applause when she finished her song.
Yewande O. Odetoyinbo holds her own with her sassy character’s disposition. She knows how to hold on to her man — or does she? Cherry Torres plays the young love interest. She makes a sweet and likable Ella. Jacobi Hall delivers a sweetheart performance as Ella’s new found love. Teren Carter adds humor and flair to this jazzy musical with his flirtatious ways. However, when he dances, watch out. I swear he has rubber legs.
Overall, Paul Stancato directs and choreographs this fine production with plenty of soul. Music director John DiPinto has some outstanding musicians in the pit. The clarinet was especially soulful, but the whole band displays professional musicianship.
Stephen Dobay created an interesting and busy looking set of brownstone buildings. However, projections of trees and a jukebox were superimposed on the set to emphasize location. Janell Berte designed the era appropriate costumes. The production plays through June 11. Box office: 203-757-4676. Website: sevenangelstheatre.org.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]