Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

A Motown Christmas
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule


MaRah Williams, Sheldon Rhoden, Leon S. Pitts II, Mandi Jo John, and Ariel Blue
Photo by Don Daly Photo.com
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe offers A Motown Christmas as its Christmas card to the community. Created and adapted by Artistic Director Nate Jacobs, the revue offers a salute to Berry Gordy's hugely successful Motown Records and its many artists. Nate re-examines some Christmas material written for the artists as well as their arrangements of favorite songs of the period. During the first act there is also a salute to some of the greatest groups and solo artists with their non-Christmas mega hits.

The male half of the cast represents the A list of WBTT's regulars, Christopher Eisenberg, Michael Mendez, Leon S. Pitts II, Sheldon Rhoden and Nate Jacobs. These men have worked together on this stage often and the chemistry shows. Ariel Blue heads the women's division with two newcomers, Mandi Jo John and MaRah Williams. Both of the newbies have fine voices and great presence. Derric Gobourne Jr. and Joshua Thompson make a welcome return as dancers. They enliven every production number they participate in and steal "Little Drummer Boy" with their turn as wooden soldiers. One of the highest highlights of the show is their dance as reindeers in "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

Other worthy re-discoveries include "Christmas Everyday" by Smokey Robinson, performed by Leon, Mandi Jo and Company "My Christmas Tree" by Jimmy Webb, performed by MaRah; "It's Christmas Time" by Stevie Wonder and S. Wright performed by Ariel; and "I Want to Come Home for Christmas," Marvin Gaye's desperate plea to his father performed by the cast. Leon and Sheldon are superstars leading off a Christmas medley created for the Isley Brothers. It is wonderful to hear "Mary, Did You Know?" (Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene) which has had some popularity through the years but deserves to become a Christmas standard, magnificently performed by Christopher and MaRah. Michael and Ariel lead the company in "Give Love on Christmas Day."

The show is created and directed by Nate Jacobs. A Motown Christmas is one of his best efforts; the flow from song to song is tight, there is less script than is his norm, which is a good thing. The choreography by Donald Frison was not as tightly executed as would be expected, perhaps the result of a long strenuous week leading up to the Sunday performance. It is great to have music director and production manager James E. Dodge II (a new proud papa of a baby boy) back at his post; visiting music directors usually do a fine job, but Jay Dodge makes his productions sizzle. Scenic design by Michael Newton-Brown, new to this company but not to the area, is tasteful and true to the period of the music. The centerpiece of the design is a gold wreath with the Motown "M" at the center, a perfect touch. Always wonderful costumes by Cristy Owen include fabulous red/black paisley jackets for the men and beautiful outfits for the women.

Merry Christmas back to everyone at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe! Their A Motown Christmas is a bowl of fine holiday cheer.

WBTT is again participating in Toys for Tots, so when attending A Motown Christmas how about bringing a new, unwrapped toy to make some child's Christmas just a little brighter?

A Motown Christmas, presented by West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, through December 31, 2015, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.

Cast:
Ariel Blue
Christopher Eisenberg
Derric Gobourne Jr.
Nate Jacobs*
Mandi Jo John*
Michael Mendez*
Leon S. Pitts II
Sheldon Rhoden
Joshua Thompson
MaRah Williams
*=Member Actor's Equity Association

Band:
Music Director/Bass Guitar: James Dodge II
Auxiliary Keys: JL Cash Jr.
Piano: Todd Bellamy
Guitar: Willie Thompson
Drums: Sheldon Graham

Created, Adapted and Directed by Nate Jacobs
Choreographer: Donald Frison
Scenic Design: Michael Newton-Brown
Lighting Design: Nick Jones
Costume Design: Cristy Owen
Property Master: Annette Breazeale
Music Consultant: Tony Moon
Production Stage Manager: Juanita Munford*
Music Director/Production Manager: James E. Dodge II

Created, Adapted and Directed by Nate Jacobs
Choreographer: Donald Frison
Scenic Design: Michael Newton-Brown
Lighting Design: Nick Jones
Costume Design: Cristy Owen
Property Master: Annette Breazeale
Music Consultant: Tony Moon
Production Stage Manager: Juanita Munford*
Music Director/Production Manager: James E. Dodge II


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