Theater Review

Poignant Southern Boys soars as Jubilee Theatre's first Bass Hall show

Poignant Southern Boys soars as Jubilee Theatre's first Bass Hall show

Jubilee Theatre presents Southern Boys
Part of the male ensemble of Southern Boys. Photo courtesy of Jubilee Theatre

In its first production at Bass Hall, Jubilee Theatre is making full use of the venue's big, gorgeous stage. Southern Boys: Sons of Sharecroppers may only have a single set, but it's beautifully filled with a talented cast, poignant story, and effective choreography.

Written by Kathy D. Harrison and directed by Jubilee's artistic director D. Wambui Richardson, Southern Boys focuses on a group of recently emancipated men and women in the post-slavery era who find themselves only able to make a living doing what they — or their parents — were once forced to do: pick cotton.

While the headstrong young Johnny (Jonah Munroe) dreams of hopping a train to find a better life in the north, academic-minded Titus (Dameron Growe) secretly teaches his friends how to read and write. Leader Malachi (Nijel Smith) keeps everyone on task, except for the perpetually on-break Otis (Davian Johnson).

Honey (Kris Black Jasper) is the group's matriarch and sets an example for Delilah (L'Paige Bedford), whom Johnny would like to whisk away to Chicacgo but who's content to stay on the plantation.

The story is punctuated with a mix of gospel, blues, country, and traditional musical theater tunes, all led by a skilled onstage trio comprised of music director Steven A. Taylor, Josh Willis, and Jason Bell.

Quintin Jones' choreography is simple and stylized, conveying longing, tedium, frustration, and hope with just a perfunctory march or an outstretched arm.

Lush lighting from Nikki DeShea Smith complements Allen Dean's set of the cotton field, anchored by a ramshackle lean-to that cleverly holds props.

Though Harrison recently wrote the show — it was a Best Musical nominee at the 2020 New York Theatre Festival — it's still incredibly relevant.

In fact, teacher and activist Opal Lee was in attendance for the performance I reviewed, receiving a standing ovation from the audience for her tireless work in getting Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday. A reminder that history isn't so far away, especially if we remember it through art.

---

Jubilee Theatre's production of Southern Boys: Sons of Sharecroppers runs at Bass Hall through August 15.