Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Invisible Thread ***

After a successful run last year at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge where it was titled “Witness Uganda,” this energetic, ambitious, inspirational musical is now raising the roof at Second Stage Theatre, where it is in previews. Co-authors Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews are founders of the Uganda Project, a charity that pays the educational expenses of ten Ugandan students each year. When Griffin (Jeremy Pope from “Choir Boy” filling in for Matthews at my performance), an unemployed black New York actor, is kicked out of his church choir for being gay, he decides to do something meaningful with his life and signs up as a volunteer to build a school in a Ugandan village. Why a gay man would pick one of the world’s most virulently homophobic countries as a place to volunteer is never explained. His Jewish lover Ryan (Corey Mach), a songwriter, unexpectedly joins him there. The compound Griffin lives in belongs to the unseen Pastor Jim. It is run by the stern Joy (Adeola Role) assisted by her younger brother Jacob (Michael Luwoye, a wonderful actor but, in my opinion, too massive and mature for this role). Jacob befriends Griffin, who, he hopes, will take him back to New York. When Griffin learns that the school-building project is a scam that will only benefit Pastor Jim, he quits and decides to teach a small group of teenage AIDS orphans that he meets. When their improvised school mysteriously burns down, Griffin takes them to a safe village far from Pastor Jim and pays to enroll them in school. When he and Ryan return to New York, they struggle to raise money to support the students. They get the bright idea of doing a benefit concert to raise money. The present musical gradually emerged from their efforts. They learn some hard lessons about the difficulty of matching the help offered with the help needed. The songs run the gamut from generic ballads to rousing African-infused numbers. The show’s title is the title of one of the less interesting songs (“There is a long invisible thread that wraps around my heart and wraps around your head…”). An orchestra of nine supply the music. The appealing cast is very good. Nicolette Robinson (“Brooklynite”) is a standout. The lively choreography is by Sergio Trujillo assisted by Darrell Grand Moultrie. Tom Pye’s simple uncluttered set is enhanced by Peter Nigrini’s projections. ESosa's costumes are colorful. Director Diane Paulus pulls it all together with panache. I hope that they adjust the amplification so that the big numbers are not ear-splitting. The audience was appreciative. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including intermission.

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