It's a Hard-Knock “Life”
By Skip Sheffield
There is a lot of talent up on the stage in “The Life,” playing through July 27 at Delray Square Performing Arts Theatre, located at the northeast quarter of the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail in Delray Beach.
This was my first visit to what used to be a multiplex movie theater. The theater was converted by Gary Waldman and Jamison Troutman, who presented “Sounds of Simon” at the Mizner Park Centre for the Arts.
“The Life” was nominated for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score at the 1997 Tony Awards, but won none. Composer Cy Coleman won Tony Awards previously for “Will Rogers Follies” (1991), “City of Angels (1990) “Barnum (1980) and “On the 20th Century” (1978).
The subject matter of “The Life” is pretty nasty stuff. It is set in Manhattan in the 1980s when the whole Times Square neighborhood was infested with pimps, hookers, druggies and thieves. Say what you will about the “Disneynification” of Times Square, it is a much safer, cleaner and more family-friendly place now. “The Life,” based on an idea by lyricist Ira Gasman, is for people who yearn for New York’s bad old days.
Cy Coleman died in 2004 at age 75. That same year director Gary Coleman and producer Jamison Troutman presented the first post-Broadway production of “The Life” at the Atlantis Theatre in west Lantana, where it ran for eight months. This in effect is a 10th anniversary revival, and talented performers turned out in force to fill the large cast that invites us to “Check It Out.”
Central characters are Jojo (Elijah Word), an ambitious street-wise hustler who declares his intentions in “Use What You Got.” Sonja (Kendra Williams) is a veteran hooker who befriends Queen (Jasmine Maslanova-Brown), a younger hooker who is under the control of her boyfriend Fleetwood (Andre Russell) who is also her pimp. Fleetwood is a Vietnam veteran, and Queen dreams of fleeing the life with him.
Mary (Chelsea Lee) is a fresh, pretty girl just arrived from the Midwest. Mary becomes the target of Memphis (Carl Barber-Steele), the self-described “biggest businessman on the block.” Mary seems quite innocent and naïve, but she is more experienced than she lets on.
Lacy (Joseph Long) owns the bar where the streetwalkers congregate. Kendra Williams has the strongest, clearest voice of the woman, which she proves on the lament “The Oldest Profession.” While a gospel group sings “You Can’t Go to Heaven,” the girls defiantly counter with “My Body.” Ben Solmor, who also choreograps, plays the dual roles of Snickers and Shatellia.
So it goes in the life of the denizens of seedy Times Square. It’s not an era I miss. This show makes me proud of Mayor Giuliani, who made a campaign promise to clean up the city and made good on it.
All tickets are $37.50. Call 561-880-0319.