Review: ‘U-Street, The Musical’ at Momentum Collective

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U-Street, The Musical, directed by Alexandria, Virginia-based playwright Jason A. Ellis, explores the tribulations of the homeless in an engaging story punctuated with humor, song, dance, and a touch of spirituality. U Street, The Musical is one of a series of six socially conscious musicals written by Ellis, the others being Not My Baby, The Berg Diaries, Real Cuts, Promises, and Senior Moments. The latest staging of the show is an update to the original version, which ran in the Winter of 2016. U-Street, The Musical is Broadway-style entertainment for the entire family.

Robert Hamilton and Kenneth Waters Jr. Photo by Jason A. Ellis and Daniyah Prosser.

The show took place on the U-Street corridor in Washington, D.C., and included several energetic dance numbers thanks to Choreographer Ellis and assistant choreographer Devon Wallace. The show also featured eleven songs, thanks to Songwriter Ellis and Accompanist Melvin E. Bryant Jr., and Music Producers Julian Johnson and Othneil Lewis. (You can watch a promotional video of the musical performances by clicking here.)

The show featured well-crafted portrayals of homeless people by Kenneth Waters Jr., Tamieka Jones, Chelsea Majors, Robert Hamilton, and Paul Menyweather. Waters played the overall-wearing, dreadlocked-Rasta Booker T as a street-corner philosopher. I loved Jones as shopping-cart-pushing, luckless but cheerful Queen. Jones exhibited strong vocals in the song “Choices.”

Hamilton did a good job portraying PTSD-afflicted homeless veteran Richard. Hamilton’s performance hit all the right notes, except for a little bit of an overemphasis on being inebriated — which can be hard to play and is usually reined in by the director. Majors brought pathos to her role as teen runaway Melody. Menyweather played the quite gay TJ. I liked the portrayal of the character, though TJ bordered on being a gay stereotype.

Amanda Dees. Photo by Jason A. Ellis and Daniyah Prosser.

The shady CeCe, Richard’s sister, was played by fetching redhead Amanda Dees. Major and Dees had a particularly strong scene together in the second act. Justin Carty had a strong performance as Richard’s good “friend” Mark.

Vocalists Andrea Gerald and Sheron Nelson (who also played the church-going Esther) and the ensemble made the high-voltage opening number “Live It Up” sparkle. The spiritually-themed “End the Drought,” featuring vocalists Nelson, Corisa Myers (who played Esther’s friend Ruth), and Ellis was powerful.

Ellis and Chaba Josa’s set design, which evoked Washington, D.C.’s U Street Metro station, was among the best I’ve seen this year. Complete with a faux escalator awning, obelisk-like metro sign, and newspaper boxes, the set more than did its job.

Ellis generally had good costume design, including the pimp-suits he deployed on some of the actors. However, I didn’t understand why Booker T wore overalls, or why a man popped up wearing a Captain America costume. As for properties, which were provided by the cast and crew, I wasn’t sure where suit-wearing Mark was headed to as he carted around a rolling suitcase. I liked Michael Russell’s timely sound cues.

Punctuated with one-liners and sharp-dialogue, U-Street, The Musical exposes the seriousness of homelessness in U.S. cities. U-Street, The Musical is a wonderful evening of theater not to be missed.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.

U-Street, The Musical plays through March 3, 2018, at Momentum Collective at the Richard Kauffman Auditorium at The Lee Center – 1108 Jefferson Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call (703) 640-4980 or purchase them online.