On Stage: ‘A Soldier’s Play’ Comes to Kimmel

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

A Soldier’s Play

Some plays are light and fluffy, some are outrageous, some are filled with humorous scenes, some have delightful music and almost all have a plot.

And some are brutally intense.

The Kimmel Cultural Campus, in partnership with The Shubert Organization, is presenting the Philadelphia premiere of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2020 Tony Award®-winning Best Revival of a Play, “A Soldier’s Play.” This show comes to Philadelphia – home to the playwright, Charles Fuller – as part of a limited national tour. It is running at the Forrest Theatre (Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) now through January 29.

“A Soldier’s Play” falls into the “brutally intense” category.

“A Soldier’s Play” is a play by American playwright Charles Fuller. Set on a US Army installation in the segregation-era South, the play is a loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella “Billy Budd” and follows the murder investigation of the Sergeant in an all-black unit. The play uses a murder mystery to explore the complicated feelings of anger and resentment that some African Americans have toward one another, and the ways in which many black Americans have absorbed white racist attitudes.

The drama won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, among other accolades. It was the basis for a 1984 feature film adaptation, “A Soldier’s Story,” for which Fuller wrote the screenplay.

In 1944, on a Louisiana Army base, two shots ring out. A Black sergeant is murdered. And a series of interrogations triggers a gripping barrage of questions about sacrifice, service, and identity in America. Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece opened on Broadway for the first time on January 21, 2020, at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, nearly 40 years after it was written. The acclaimed production was nominated for seven Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards, winning Best Revival for both.

“The recent passing of The Giant that is Charles Fuller has only magnified his brilliance… an amazing writer who left us so much with his masterful A Soldier’s Play,” said director Kenny Leon. “We honor him with this American tour of the Broadway production of this great American classic. Come – laugh, think and reflect – America is in need of love.”

The story takes place at the United States Army’s Fort Neal, Louisiana, in 1944 during the time when the military was racially segregated. In the opening scene, the audience witnesses the murder of black Sergeant Vernon Waters by an unseen shooter. Just before his death, Waters utters the enigmatic cry, “They still hate you!”

Captain Richard Davenport, a rare black Army officer, has been sent to investigate the killing. Initially, the primary suspects are local Ku Klux Klansmen. Later, bigoted white soldiers fall under suspicion. Ultimately, Davenport discovers the killer was one of the black soldiers under Waters’ command. Waters’ men hated him because Waters himself treated Southern black men in utter disdain and contempt.

As Davenport interviews witnesses and suspects, we see flashbacks showing what Sergeant Waters was like, and how he treated his men. The light-skinned Waters was highly intelligent and extremely ambitious and loathed black men who conformed to old-fashioned racist stereotypes.

Waters dreamed of sending his own children to an elite college where they would associate with white students, rather than with other blacks. In Waters’ mind, Uncle Toms and “lazy, shiftless Negroes” reflected poorly on him, and made it harder for other African Americans to succeed.

For that reason, Waters persecuted black soldiers like Private C.J. Memphis, whose broad grin and jive talk made Waters’ blood boil. Waters’ cruelty and vindictiveness drove Memphis to suicide, which alienated the rest of Waters’ men, and turned them hopelessly against him.

Shortly before he was murdered, Waters came to realize how futile and foolish his lifelong attempts to behave like a white man had been. His dying words, “They still hate you,” reflected his belated understanding that white hatred and disdain of black men like himself had nothing to do with stereotypical black behavior, and that whites would probably always hate him, no matter how hard he tried to emulate “white” ways.

The cast of the National Tour includes Will Adams as “Corporal Bernard Cobb,” Sheldon D. Brown as “Private C.J. Memphis,” Malik Esoj Childs as “Private Tony Smalls,” William Connell as “Captain Charles Taylor,” Alex Michael Givens as “Corporal Ellis,” Matthew Goodrich as “Captain Wilcox,” Chattan Mayes Johnson as “Lieutenant Byrd,” Branden Davon Lindsay as “Private Louis Henson,” Tarik Lowe as “Private First-Class Melvin Peterson” and Howard Overshown as “Private James Wilkie.”

“We started rehearsals in mid-November,” saud Adams, during a recent phone interview form a tour stop in Charleston, South Carolina.

“We were on the road by the first week in December. “We previewed in New Haven and just finished in Washington, D.C. last week.

“I feel like this is a show that has many angles – patriotism, race, so many different themes that anybody as a human can understand. It’s a play of understanding – looking for the common ground. This play does a phenomenal job.”

Adams is a native of the Lone Star State.

“I’m from Fort Worth,” said Adams. “I went to high school in Fort Worth where I played baseball and football and then played football at the University of North Texas in Denton.

I got into acting as an undergrad. I decided that I didn’t want to play football anymore and I told my counselors that I wanted to take acting classes.

“After graduating from University of North Texas, I attended grad school at Brown University where I got a MFA. in theater from the Brown/Trinity Rep program.”

Adams recently starred in the film, “A Holiday in Harlem” (Hallmark) and recurred in Tyler Perry’s “The Oval” (BET). His theatre credits include “Skeleton Crew, A Death of a Salesman” (Trinity Rep) and “Curse of the Starving Class” (Williamstown Theatre Festival).

“I really wanted to be a part of this show because of the legacy of this play – and the legacy of the men that fought,” said Adams. “These were real men’s lives.

“The setting is the Deep South in 1941 – dealing with racism. The same issues happening then are happening today. Kenny Leon has done a wonderful job with the production.”

Adams plays the role of Corporal Bernard Cobb, a black man in his mid-to late twenties.

“Corporal Cobb is a leader,” said Adams. “He is a man that is a brother to the troops. He wants to fight for his country.”

The play originally was staged Off-Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company at the Theater Four (now called the Julia Miles Theater). It opened on November 20, 1981, and closed on January 2, 1983, after 468 performances.

Roundabout Theater Company presented the play’s Broadway debut in January 2020, starring David Alan Grier as Waters and Blair Underwood as Davenport, directed by Kenny Leon. It had given 55 performances as of March 8, 2020. On March 11, Broadway theaters were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and performances of the play were suspended. The revival did not reopen on Broadway post pandemic, but instead went on a national tour for the 2022-2023 season – a tour that is now visiting Philadelphia.

Video link for “A Soldier’s Play” — https://youtu.be/sfkzWp322X8.

The show will run now through January 29 at the Forrest Theater. Ticket prices start at $44.

John Poveromo

On a Thursday evening near the end of each month, the Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) switches from a theater for plays and musicals to a venue for comedy.

On January 26, it’s time for Candlelight’s January edition of its “Comedy Club.”  John Poveromo will be the main act with Joann Filan as the opening act, Michelle Mattera as the emcee and Jason Pollock as the host.

Poveromo is likely to change his set on the spot based on the crowd and whatever is on his mind.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Toms River, Poveromo gravitated toward humor ever since he was a youngster.

“I didn’t hang out in the music scene,” said Poveromo, during a phone interview.

“I was much more interested in stand-up. For me, humor was a way to cope with stuff. I saw grownups coping with things with humor. I remember when I was about five and my parents were watching a video of Richard Jeni’s ‘Crazy from the Heat’ and they were laughing like crazy.

“I also really liked Robin Williams from his TV shows like ‘Mork & Mindy’ and that was another gateway to comedy for me. Then, I got into Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Ellen and found out they all started with stand-up. And I liked stand-ups because they told it like it was.”

Poveromo’s knack for being funny became evident during his high school days.

“I ended up getting named ‘Class Comedian’ out of 500 kids at Toms River East High School,” said Poveromo. “My sense of humor was always about cracking jokes.

“I went to college after I graduated high school at Brookdale Community College. I didn’t want to go to college, but I had to do it because if you didn’t go to college, you were a failure.

“I left school after a year and took a stand-up course in New York. That was back in 2005. My first time on stage was at Carolines On Broadway – no pressure, right?”

Carolines on Broadway is a venue for stand-up comedy located in Times Square in New York City on Broadway between 49th and 50th Street. It is one of the most established, famous, and recognized stand-up comedy clubs in the United States.

“I was taking a risk,” said Poveromo. “I wasn’t going up with ‘five minutes of comedy that worked’ attitude. I thought – you just go on with whatever when you get onstage.

“In the beginning, I’d go up with a couple ideas. I just do my own material – whatever I wanted talk about – because I’m naturally funny.”

Since childhood, Poveromo has enjoyed making strangers laugh. He has written comedy for shows on HBO and VH1, as well as his own book, “Drawings From a Nobody,” which features his comic-strip style drawings of scenes from everyday life.

Poveromo’s perfect blend of self-deprecation and optimism makes him a dynamic and unpredictable performer who is both engaging and fun to watch as he struggles to make sense of himself and the world around him.

He can be heard on Sirius XM Radio, has been featured at the Jersey City Comedy Festival and The New York Underground Comedy Festival, and has appeared on Comcast On Demand’s “Young Comedians Showcase.”

Poveromo also has written for a variety of shows, including ESPN’s Sports Nation, Current TV’s Viewpoint with John Fugelsang, Joy Behar’s Say Anything on HLN, The Independents, and CNN Newsroom, as well as Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, Hannity, and VH1’s “Best Of” series.

Poveromo hosts “Dystopia Tonight,” a livestreaming show on Apple Podcasts.

The show was conceived during the pandemic, when comedians such as Poveromo were brainstorming ways to adapt and reinvent themselves.

It started as comics sitting around shooting the breeze (Tom Papa, Judy Gold), and has expanded to include actors (Megan Cavanagh, Ed Begley Jr., Ed Asner!), musicians (Art Alexakis from Everclear, Marlana Sheetz of Milo Greene), and visual artists (comic book artist John Romita Jr. and Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Breen), and most recently comedy legend Lewis Black.

“Dystopia Tonight” was born out of the Covid-19 Pandemic to give people a light-hearted break from the absurdity of the world around them by showcasing artists, comedians, musicians, and actors from all across the entertainment field.

There have already been three podcasts this month – “Day 206 – Public Health Expert Heather M. Butts” on January 17, “Day 205 – The Necessity of Self Belief with Steven Page” on January 5 and “Day 204 – Spooky Season lives on with LVCRFT!” on January 5.

Aside from touring the country as a comedian, Poverome is also an accomplished cartoonist. His cartoons have been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and online publications. He put out a collection of his cartoons in a book called, “Drawings From A Nobody,” that was released in 2018.

Poveromo has already started his schedule of live shows for 2023 and now is headed to the stage at Candlelight.

Video link for John Poveromo — https://youtu.be/wCz0PNzJlw8.

Tickets are $30 and include complimentary light fare buffet, cash bar, and free parking. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and show starts at 7:30 p.m.

The Candlelight Dinner Theatre’s brand-new mainstage production – “Sister Act” – is having its first full weekend Friday through Sunday. The show, which opened on January 21, will run through February 26.

As usual, Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will be a hotbed fort live music this weekend.

Jamey’s House of Music is a prime destination to hear folk, jazz and blues music every Thursday through Sunday.

The “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

Jamey’s features a popular “Guest Singer Series” on Thursday featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

The Dave Reiter Trio lays down the backing for some out of this world jazz to happen, and you never know who might show up to join in. Reiter is a long-time jazz pro and is equally at home on the seven-string guitar, Nord keyboard or the venue’s top of the line Hammond organ setup. Bill Marconi is on drums; his name is known to jazz aficionados around the world. Holding down the bottom is first-call Philly bassist, George Livanos.

The “Guest Singers” for January 26 will be Greg Farnese.

On January 27, Jamey’s House of Music will present Frets, Bridges and Skins with a benefit concert for the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation.

Frets, Bridges and Skins was born out of the pandemic. The band was together for a short time prior to that and performed under the name of Herding Cats. They perform their own original songs influenced by the musical style of classic rock and roll, blues and folk, along with carefully curated covers of similar styles. In 2022, they released their album “ . . . like herding cats” engineered and co-produced by Brian Cory of Cubanbee Productions.

The band features Steve Bard, Marc Bernstein, Mick McCauley and Ed Rick.

Bard is a singer songwriter with more than 50 originals on his resume. He plays acoustic guitar and is a talented harmonica player. Bard has played with Wheatfield, The Stand and Swedes Run and has played on the CDs of John Johnson and The Escape Plan and Mama Brew.

Bernstein, who brought the band together, is a songwriter, singer (lead and harmony) and bass player. In the 70’s, he played in the bands, Commotion, Full Circle, and the Delaware bands, Salt and Pepper and The Serenaders. In the 80’s, he played in the bands, d’lights and Howie and the Basher.

Bernstein took an extended break to get married, raise a family and build his financial planning business. In the 2000’s, he recorded, along with record producer, Malcolm Allison, as The Neighbor Hood, the soundtrack to the Panamanian film, “The Hypnotists’ Passion,” including the title song, “Second Chance” which has been re-recorded by his current band. He most recently played with Beyond the Bucket where he met McCauley.

McCauley loves to play music every chance he can get, showcasing his originals and unique take on favorite covers. In addition to songwriting, he sings lead and harmony and plays electric lead guitar in the band. McCauley is also co-founder of a Philly local group called The FM Connection.

Rick is a seasoned veteran professional drummer and the latest addition to the band. In addition to playing live, he is a teacher and collector of drums. He played in the early days in his first band Commotion with current bandmate Marc Bernstein.

They played together again in Full Circle and Howie and the Basher. In his younger years, he played on cruise ships. Lcally, he has played with bands in a variety of genres including jazz with The Chuck Anderson Trio, and country with The Johnston Brothers. He also currently plays with The Garage Bandits.

Video link for Frets, Bridges and Skins – www.facebook.com/fretsbridgesandskins/videos/2270906626421928/

Showtime on January 27 is 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

On January 28, Jamey’s House of Music will host Small Batch Bourbon.

The group is an American Rock-n-Blues band that formed in Chester County in 2016.

Small Batch Bourbon covers legendary artists such as Tracy Chapman and Tom Petty as well as contemporary musicians like Samantha Fish and Jace Everett.

The band’s music draws on the rich blues of the past and also features its own modern twist on the music of classic bands like ZZ Top.

Video link for Small Batch Bourbon — https://youtu.be/SyXe3nuRt5k.

Showtime on January 27 is 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

It’s time for another Jazz Jam at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) on January 29.

The last Sunday of each month, the Flash transforms into an authentic jazz club, featuring a full concert as well as the opportunity for audience members to join in and jam! This unique experience is hosted by local area jazz musicians.

This Sunday, Kennett Flash is presenting The Kennett Flash Jazz Jam with Dave Mattock.

A professional piano, organ and keyboard player living outside Philadelphia,  Mattock divides his time between running the Mattock School of Music, performing, and teaching. He is a member of the faculty at Camden County College, University of Pennsylvania, and Lafayette College, where he teaches piano, theory, music history, music business, jazz ensembles and introductory music classes.

Mattock’s recording career consists of three full length jazz albums under his own name, dozens of recordings as a sideman, and composition credits for TV. He also freelances around Philadelphia in various jazz ensembles, cover bands, wedding bands and studio appearances.

Mattock received his Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance from Temple University, and his Master’s Degree in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers University.

The show starts at 5 p.m. and the suggested donation is $15. Your suggested donation directly benefits the musicians and the Kennett Flash but it is not required for entry.

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