| Griffin Matthews and the cast of 'Witness Uganda.' |
For many months, the buzz has been strong among those in the Boston/Cambridge and New York theater communities about the much-anticipated "Witness Uganda." Last night at the A.R.T.'s Loeb Theater, Artistic Director Diane Paulus presented the World Premiere of this seminal and deeply moving work by the creative team of Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews.
Fasten your seat belts, readers of The White Rhino Report, for this show evoked in me a great deal of thought and emotion, and I want to share these things in depth with you as I review the show that had last evening's audience weeping in catharsis and shouting and clapping in joy.
What is "Witness Uganda"?
- It is a deeply moving tale based upon Griffin Matthews' real life experiences of traveling to Uganda to save the world, and finding himself changed and resurrected.
- It is a celebration of life and hope
- It is a cautionary tale for all those who would seek to reach out and make a difference - to those who would seek to teach but in truth need to be taught.
- It is a heart-felt examination of the prejudices we harbor and the consequences of those fears and judgments.
- It is a joyous melange of music with roots in Africa, hip hop, rap, jazz and Black Gospel
- It is a hymn to what is possible in a world that throws up barriers to dreaming
- It is an examination of how we as people treat those who are different from us - gay or straight, black or white, light black or darker black, skinny or full-bodied.
- It is a show that shines a light on the unintended consequences of well-meaning Americans who travel to Africa - or Haiti or Southeast Asia - and who inadvertently trample on the invisible nuances of the host culture they profess to want to help.
- It is a Broadway-bound work of art that began as an infomercial for UgandaProject, the non-profit that Griffin began when he saw the need to educate his orphaned friends in Uganda. (When I say "Broadway-bound," this is a personal prediction and hope on my part, and not an official announcement by the producers!)
- It is a wondrous collaboration of dozens of people from Uganda to New York to Cambridge who have born witness to the power of Griffin's story and have believed in the need to tell the tale to as broad an audience as possible.
- It is a spiritual experience that involves worship and praise and crying to God for help
- It is a celebration of community - whether that community be a congregation in NYC, a gaggle of orphaned street urchins in Kampala or a Cambridge audience composed of erstwhile strangers who have been thrown together for two hours to share a common experience of transformation and transport.
- It is an examination of the kinds of personal prisons that confine us and from which we need to find escape.
- It is a show makes visible human beings who are often invisible to us. They are worthy of our notice.
|The Market. Photo: GretjenHelenePhotography.com|
- The set by Tom Pye interacts with the projections of Peter Nigrini, the lighting designed by Maruti Evans, the Sound Design of Jonathan Deans and the costumes designed by ESosa to create a colorful and evocative "home" where the characters live and tell their stories.
- The choreography of Darrell Grand Moultrie reinforces the power of the music, conducted by Matt Gould from the keyboard with great elan and panache, and under the leadership of Musical Director Remy Kurs.
- The cast is a vibrant and talented collection of Equity actors who bring not only amazing vocal, dramatic and dancing talent to this stage, but inject personal passion that matches that of the creative team.
- Among the cast, several stand out and need to be called out individually:
- I have already mentioned Griffin Matthews, who is the heart and soul of the story and of Uganda Project that has sprouted from the soil of his personal pilgrimage. His courage and artistry are praiseworthy and humbling to behold.
- Michael Luwoye plays the conflicted Jacob with just the right combination of vulnerability and defiance.
- Adeole Role is chilling in the role of Jacob's big sister, Joy. The arc of her character is a highlight of this story, as it becomes clear why she needs her rigidity to hold herself and her family together in the face of abuse and deep loss. She teaches Griffin some of his most important lessons of his young life.
- Emma Hunton is rock solid as Griffin's American friend, confidant and gadfly. Her soulful voice resonates as she expresses her hopes and then frustrations as her musical career is sidetracked to help Griffin launch UgandaProject.
- Nicolette Robinson is Eden, one of Griffin's students in his impromptu "street academy." Her singing voice is as deeply touching as her character is shallow, begging Griffin via e-mail for money to have her hair braided and to buy hair extensions!
- Kristolyn Lloyd is Grace, another of the students. She brings a delightful mixture of coy flirtatiousness and gritty spunk to her relationship with Griffin.
- Jamar Williams is an impish Ibrahim. He has a rakish charm and stage presence that is both mesmerizing and amusing.
- Tyrone Davis, Jr. is strong and serious Ronny who dreams of becoming a doctor. His honest heart-to-heart talk with Griffin about "bringing us a mother" is a pivotal and a signal moment in the story.
- Among the ensemble, Melody Betts is an anchor. Her Gospel voice soars and then climbs even higher and louder as she evokes the earth mother of the Ugandan community.
- Roderick Covington, Kevin Curtis, Latrisa Harper, Aisha Jackson and Jamard Richardson round out the ensemble, playing members of the the village or NYC congregation. Their ensemble singing and dancing raises the roof of the Loeb and raises the bar for ensemble artists.
|The cast of 'Witness Uganda.' |
- Diane Paulus' direction is impeccable, as I have come to expect from her visionary work. I was particularly taken by her decision to use an ascending platform to evoke a hill overlooking Kampala and Lake Victoria. The beauty of the projections of the sky and land stands in stark contrast to the bleakness of the lives that the Ugandan orphans live. The use of rain and lightening and thunder are leitmotifs that appear whenever Griffin or his comrades face a difficult decision, danger or fork in the road. Storm clouds often roil and hover in the background making us wonder what crisis is about to precipitate.
- The band is superb - Matt Gould, Brina Li, Andrew Griffin, Nathan V.Terry, Charlie Chronopoulos, Jonny Morrow and Senfuab Stoney create an ocean of sound that ebbs and flows and upon which the narrative sails.
- One of the most moving moments of the evening occurred when the focus was placed on seeing what some of the original group of students are now doing - doctor, nurse, orphanage director. It was a real time reminder of the possibility of our efforts together to "Resurrect People."
|by||Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews|
|Directed by||Diane Paulus|
|Choreography||Darrell Grand Moultrie|
|Set Design||Tom Pye|
|Lighting Design||Maruti Evans|
|Sound Design||Jonathan Deans|
|Projection Design||Peter Nigrini|
|Music Director||Remy Kurs|
|Associate Director||Shira Milikowsky|
|Casting||Stephen Kopel, C.S.A.|
|Production Stage Manager||Carolyn Boyd|
|Ronny||Tyrone Davis, Jr.|
|Ensemble||Melody Betts, Rodrick Covington, Kevin Curtis,LaTrisa Harper, Aisha Jackson, Jamard Richardson|
|Conductor/Keyboard 1||Matt Gould|
|Keyboard 2||Brian Li|
|Drummer||Nathan V. Terry|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Stephanie M. Holmes|
|Assistant Director||Mia Walker|
|Assistant Choreographer||Amy Hall Garner|
|Producing Associate||Jared Fine|
|Wig and Hair Design||Leah Loukas|
|Associate Costume Design||Dede Ayite|
|Assistant Lighting Design||Tsubasa Kamei|
|Associate Projection Designer||David Bengali|
|Video Supervisor||Derek Wiles|
|Synth Programming Assistant||Brian Li|
|Dramaturgy||Ryan McKittrick, Ashley Melone,|
Marissa L. Friedman, Christian Ronald
|Dialect Coach||Charlotte Fleck|
|Assistant Vocal Coach||Ashleigh Reade|
|Music Assistant||Luke Anderson|
|Music Intern||Khiyon Hursey|
|Producing Assistants||Allison Grant, Courtney Ziegler|
|Assistant to Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews||Greg Nobile|
Andrew Griffin, Remy Kurs, Nathan Terry
Electronic Music Design
Understudies never substitute for listed players unless a specific announcement is made at the time of the performance.
For Griffin: TYRONE DAVIS, JR.*; for Griffin and Ensemble: TYRICK WILTEZ JONES*; for Joy and Ensemble: MARTHA BOLES; for Jacob: RODRICK COVINGTON*; for Ryan: LAUREN DOUCETTE; for Grace and Eden: AISHA JACKSON*; for Ronny and Ibrahim: KEVIN CURTIS*
Producing: Mark Mauriello ‘15
Playwriting: Brenna McDuffie ‘15 ^
Directing: Lily Glimcher ‘14
Directing: Susanna Wolk ‘14
Music: Madeline Smith ‘14
Choreography: Megan Murdock ‘14 ^
Stage Management: Jumai Yusuf ‘16
Stage Management: Kyra Atekwana ‘14
Marketing Selena: Kim ‘15 ^
Digico; d&b audiotechnik; Meyer Sound; Sound Associates