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Knocking down walls around the Women of Brewster Place

June 7, 2010

After attending a Christian prep school from Kindergarten through 10th grade, director Michael Matthews moved to a high school for the performing arts in Chattanooga, TN where “The Women of Brewster Place” was required reading. “And I have no idea why!” he says through a laugh. “But I read it and loved it.”

Matthews is the former artistic director of Celebration Theatre. He stayed on as resident director and was approached a year ago by Michael Shepherd, Celebration’s current A.D., to helm the Brewster Place musical, full of R&B, disco, old school funk, and pop. “I said, ‘Of course!’”

With the book in mind, Michaels had many choices to make in bringing the show to the stage. “I wanted to do something that was highly, highly theatrical, with very specific moments that [author] Gloria Naylor was going for: separation of individuals until they all come together as a whole, as a community, at the very end. The whole play is surrounded in truth. And the characters needed to break down the wall between themselves in order to break down other walls in their lives. They had to form a family to get what they want.”

So, the comment made in a recent LA Times Culture Monster review about the coalescing happening only at the very end was correct? “Absolutely. That’s intended. All eight women serve as archetypes,” Michaels explains. “It’s the same way in the book. None of them wants to form a bond, so the drama has to ensue for things to happen.”

Michaels could have come into the show with pre-conceived notions, based on such fond memories of the book. “But I don’t think I did,” he says. “There’s so much that’s stripped down. Some things were definitely changed – even character names. Other things were loosely based. I mean, we’re talking 1992 or ’93 when I last read the book, so it’s been a while, and we had five weeks to rehearse. We all jumped in.”

Cast photo by David Elzer

Celebration Theatre is has 3/4 thrust stage with 64 seats wrapped around it. “Plus it has a lovely pole that goes right through the side of it! Just like at theatres I was at for ten years in Chicago,” Michaels laments. “But I feel I’ve been highly blessed by this cast.”

The Women of Brewster Place. Book, music, and lyrics by Tim Acito; directed by Michael Matthews. Celebration Theatre 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038 323-957-1884. Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun through June 27.  Cast includes Cheridah Best, Lisa Tharps, Charlene Modeste, Christine Horn, Kim  Yarbrough, Julanne Chidi Hill and Kelly M. Jenrette.

Ticket info.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 7, 2010 12:51 pm

    All of those lovely parts for women of color and age range. I love it.

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