Very Tasty Boudin April 19, 2015Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
I did not set out to opening night to write a review of BOUDIN: The New Orleans Music Project at Southern Rep. I took no notes during the performance or when I got home last night, and thoughtlessly left my program on my seat in my hurry to get to the bathroom after the show. I went to the show out of a certain pride of ownership, having submitted and had accepted into their online collecion an old Wet Bank Guide piece on the project’s theme of How New Orleans Music Saved My Life. Whether you think this masterful piece of musical stage craft is one of the great musical tribute reviews, a rightful heir to Vernel Bagneris’ On Mo’ Time or the must see Monolithic Mouse musical theater attraction in the emerging Theme Park at the End of the World We Knew as New Orleans, BOUDIN delivers on its conception as story project, tribute and a night of theatrical delight.
One look at the Panel of White Privilege that conceived and created the project, before the first word was spoken at the pre-show panel discussion set off every alarm in my (white, once privileged) New Orleans Exceptionalist, Chauvinist self. I was prepared for the worst when I finished my tour of the “altar” art dioramas, although some were quite good. When the Ashe Cultural Center loudly whirring A/C shut off just before the lights went down, I had my preconceptions all lined up like a display of tourist carnival masks in a French Quarter shop window, and this amazing cast knocked them all not just down but across the room, back into the box and onto a ship back to China. No matter how cynical you enter this theater you will leave walking on air, a smile on your face and the hum of a song resonating in your head.
Accomplished musician turned actor Phillip Manuel and Dorian Rush denominated the stage with an easy grace and amazing power, taking us from Allen Toussaint in the studio to five nights a week singing happy hour to early drunks on Bourbon Street, but there is not a weak link in this cast. Josh Smith’s hip-hop microphone vocal rhythm machine antics and Clint Johnson on Banjolele were all the live accompaniment the show required, and Johnson’s tale of a stutterer who was cured by the music of Louis Prima was as powerful as a visit to the ex-votos of St. Roch. Brittney James was equally comfortable bringing gospel sweetness or Etta James raunchiness to center stage. While Natalie Jones seemed to carry the wistful air of the theater nerd she proclaimed herself at one point all through the show, her sweet voice and the story of the girl who came to the music after being tossed out of Catholic School choir and her tale of salvation from evacuation by an old spiritual felt, if a bit practiced, sweetly genuine.
The few slightly off notes in the selected stories swept by almost unnoticed as the talented ensemble kept the almost full house enthralled. It was a shame a seat went unfilled. Perhaps it was eyeballing the producers that sent me into the theater smelling a faint whiff of paint from an expensive but loving restoration, but this show wiped that sin of self-important, St. Claude hubris away and left me feeling as redeemed as by an honest confession. This is a show that should plant itself in the Quarter and run as native and concierge recommended institution until the last tourist packs their bag to board a vaparetto out of town.