RETURN – The MusicalBy admin | May 30th, 2011 | Category: 2008, Entertainment, Summer 2008, Travel | No Comments »
RETURN – The Musical
Article by Marilyn Anderson & Dennis Lanning
The Falashas are an ancient clan of Hebrews, possibly emanating from the tribe of Dan, who were sequestered to remote locations in Ethiopia because, like Jews everywhere, they were considered different. For reasons unknown, they were “strangers” in their own land and persecuted, isolated, and feared.
This new musical is based on Sonia Levitin’s award-winning book The Return, which recounts the story of the Falashas’ daring exodus from Ethiopia in 1984 and the secret airlift known as “Operation Moses” that saved 8,000 of them. Later, another removal brought the remaining 16,000 out of bondage.
RETURN the musical, premiering at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, is the story of their plight and flight, tellingly performed by an extremely talented and bright cast of about 25 actors. The sad but stirring tale is lovingly conveyed through song and dance in this feature event of the 2008 Festival of New American Musicals.
The story focuses on love of family and the hopes of one starry-eyed young woman to reach her potential in Jerusalem, and one old woman with the strength and determination to recognize her last opportunity for freedom.
The Edgemar is an intimate venue, and director/choreographer Donald McKayle does an exceptional job of making it come alive with the spirit and sounds of the Ethiopian village. It’s not surprising, considering his impressive background. McKayle is a five-time Tony nominee for Broadway shows, such as Sophisticated Ladies, It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, and Raisin, which was awarded the Tony as Best Musical. He is the recipient of all kinds of awards around the country. He was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as the “Master of African-American Choreography.”
Return’s cast members range from 11-year-olds to septuagenarians; and they are all excellent, with powerful singing voices. Terry Norman delivers a strong, nuanced performance as Desta, the young woman who’d rather pursue an education than marry. Paula Bellamy-Franklin plays the elderly grandmother, Weizero, with remarkable humor and grace. The dancers in the ensemble are from the Lula Washington Dance Theatre.
A few questions arise in the second act. It was sad to learn that Desta’s fiancé was killed after the couple finally resolved their salient issues of personal growth and marriage. The journey had matured him, and it seemed a shame to have him perish, just when we’d started to like him.
Unresolved, also, is what happens to Desta after she is stung by an insect. We expect her to become ill, or worse; but although her painful bite is brought up twice, it’s dropped and left up in the air as the curtain comes down.
Nonetheless, the audience leaves the Edgemar feeling inspired and entertained. RETURN is a moving and heroic musical that underscores the continuing effort for freedom in the world. It’s also a rare opportunity to see an outstanding cast of actors, singers and dancers “up close and personal.” Catch it before it closes on July 20th.
RETURN – The Musical
Book and Lyrics by Sonia Levitin
Music by William Kevin Anderson
Directed and Choreographed by Donald McKayle
Edgemar Center for the Arts
2437 Main St.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
For tickets: (310) 392-7327 or http://www.returnthemusical.com
Thursday, June 5 through Sunday June 29 and Thursday July 10 thru Sunday July 20
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm
$34.99 for general admission and $17.99 for students