SWEETEE tells the saga of a bi-racial 16-year-old girl raised in a shantytown in Claytonville, South Carolina, 1936. Singing in the town square for money, Sweetee is asked by Reverend Dan, a young white minister, to join his music band of orphans and go on the road to New Orleans.
SWEETEE is about a journey of growing up in a rough and racist environment. It is a celebration of a young woman fighting against the odds and discovering her power.
Though set in the depression, SWEETEE is about issues of relevance for our time: racism, poverty and sexual assault. At its core, it is a story of family and the joy of triumph.
The 1930s, depression-era South, is the fearful setting for much of the poignant, uplifting and soulful musical Sweetee in a limited, must-see run. Sweetee is a unified, dynamic production that is well-acted, lyrically sung, precisely directed/choreographed (Patricia Birch), staged and set with minimalistic brilliance.
Gail Kriegel demonstrates her prodigious talents (book, lyrics and music), in her thoughtful characterizations, developing storyline and versatile command of music genres (blues, jazz, gospel, country, etc.). The plot arc interplays with rich themes of malevolence and goodness as it alights upon mother Violet (a fine portrayal by Katy Blake, who takes on other roles), and bi-racial daughter Sweetee (Jordan Tyson in a sterling, exceptional performance)...
We cringe at Violet’s and Sweetee’s oppression by southerners (Dave Droxler’s sinister, wicked portrayals are frighteningly real) who perpetuate the twisted, discriminatory folkways. Bigotry magnifies Violet’s and Sweetee’s bleak circumstances as they attempt to make it to the next day with the only talents they know how to use. Because Violet’s fading beauty, demoralized physical condition and unappealing sexual favors no longer lure customers, Sweetee uses her magnificent voice to sing during graveyard services, overseen by her friend and graveyard keeper Mr. Robinson (a terrific portrayal by Cedric Cannon).
Violet and Sweetee have resorted to the macabre and debased to earn their meagre existence. Nevertheless, Violet puts all her hopes in Sweetee , who is the best part of her own life. Though their impoverishment and inferior social status are mind-numbing, Violet and Sweetee do love one another. Their spirit and love reflect immutable values beyond the inhumanity and indecency of the culture which works to destroy them. It is this love that uplifts and carries them through trials. And it is their timeless love that sustains Sweetee throughout her journey, the autonomy and freedom coherently rendered by Kriegel’s book, music and lyrics.
The journey which begins after Violet dies is mythic. Sweetee must, with love’s substance, confront the treachery of racism and sexism that threatens to destroy her goodness at the most unexpected times in her evolution as a person and woman. Along the serpentine voyage to her inner soul’s truth, which eventually leads her to uplift her material life, she meets individuals who spur her on, temp her, challenge her, befriend her, love her. All these individuals manifest threads of light and darkness, kindness and predation, truthfulness and duplicity.
Key among them is Reverend Dan (a multi-layered, perceptive and intriguing performance by Jeremiah James). The reverend hears Sweetee sing, and he and the orphans in his care eventually convince her to join his church. With her assistance he believes he can fulfill his dream of establishing a successful black, orphan band. With the orphans (Morgan Siobhan Green, Adante Carter, Hugh Cha, Amir Royale are excellent) and his wife Hannah (a fine performance by Katherine Weber), who is teaching them music, Reverend Dan hopes to achieve prosperity and gain the social status he never enjoyed growing up in abject poverty as an orphan and outsider.
Another pivotal character Sweetee encounters is Cat Jones (the superb, multi-talented Jelani Alladin whose portrayal hits every emotional note with precision). Sweetee, Reverend Dan and the band meet Cat as they travel to New Orleans. Imbibing of Cat’s adventuresome spirit, Sweetee is entranced, and he performs with them for a time. It is then that Cat and Sweetee establish an emotional bond. Because Sweetee knows her mother’s love, she is able to recognize that Cat Jones is life affirming. But their lives parallel only for so long; a division comes. Kriegel propels Sweetee down another labyrinthine path to evolve her soul and spirit and magnify additional complex themes.
In the South, Reverend Dan’s boon is his white skin color and his religion. That he will “make good” on the voices of the black orphans is a profound irony that Kriegel explores throughout the production. The themes of cultural and economic ostracism promoting self-actualization, themes of the interdependence of altruism and self-respect, and the recognition that we are all on an evolutionary path Kriegel reveals in an explosive event when Sweetee must once again make a decision. With the help of Mr. Robinson, who sets her on her way, alone Sweetee learns to treasure herself as an individual, out from under anyone’s domination, regardless of gender or skin color.
Black Star News
“Sweetee” is a Sweetee of a Musical Deardra ShulerJune 05,2017
The musical “Sweetee” with book, music and lyrics by Gail Kriegel, playing at the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre, located at 480 West 42nd Street in Manhattan, has a cast made in heaven. Every single actor, dancer and singer is perfect for their role. Jordan Tyson as Sweetee captures the essence of a poverty stricken interracial southern girl bred in the church. She has high moral values despite the fact her mother makes money the only way she knows how, on her back. Sweetee comes up in the South throughout the depression era of the late 1930s, early '40s. A time when whites would shoot or lynch a black person simply for living.
Sweetee has a dream and a voice like an angel and the ambition to do something with it. She loves her mother but can no longer tolerate the conditions she lives under and longs for a better life...
Naive, she runs away and joins a band of orphan musicians who are under the sponsorship of good looking, smooth talking Reverend Dan, portrayed by Jeremiah James, who has hopes for a better life for himself, his family and the band, but must live under the confines of the oppressive conditions of the South. Even though a white man and rebel at heart, he has no choice but to obey the Jim Crow laws imposed on his band. Rev Dan's outspoken ways has gotten him and his wife banned from several churches. He places his hopes into his ragtag band of colored orphans anticipating they can open some charitable doors. Filled with optimism, Sweetee throws her lot in with the group and under Reverend Dan's management travels from church-to-church attempting to eke out a living.
Cheated and often broke, Reverend Dan has difficulty coming up with train fare to get the band from town-to-town, until one day Sweetee and the band of musical orphans make the acquaintance of a streetwise, fast talking, happy-go-lucky talent named Cat Jones played by Jelani Alladin who shows the band the ways of the road. Cat joins the band imploring them to get off the church circuit and start playing and singing money-making popular feel-good music to the consternation of Rev. Dan. It wasn't long before Dan and Cat clash.
The band starts doing well with the new music under the tutelage of Cat but when Rev Dan books them for a church gig in NY, the band is divided. Sweetee is torn between her loyalty to Rev Dan and her love for Cat. She feels a responsibility to Dan so accompanies him to her hometown as a singer and then New York, frightened the entire time her traveling with a white man through the South could get them both lynched. Some of the musical numbers consist of: “Amazing Grace,” “Nothing Comes Easy,” “Dream Big,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” The show music is feel good music: uplifting, foot-tapping and joyous. The cast, consisting of Cedric Cannon whose baritone is a delight to hear; Katy Blake, Adante Carter, Hugh Cha, Dave Droxler, Morgan Siobhan Green, Amir Royale, and Katherine Weber. All of whom make “Sweetee” a pleasant theatrical experience.
“Sweetee” has a two week run and ends June 18. This is a play of picking oneself up by their bootstraps and despite hardships fulfilling dreams. “Sweetee” leaves the audience wanting more. Get your tickets now!!!