(l-r) Samuel Taylor and Travis Turner
It is highly likely that THADDEUS AND SLOCUM will be the most delightful entertainment you’ll see this summer. Stacked and packed with song and dance numbers, the new Lookingglass production explores racial inequalities in showbiz at the turn of the 20th century through heartfelt laughter and with vaudevillian proportions.
Adding to the experience, cabaret tables, footlights, and the large red curtain of old-timey playhouse glory play a key factor in creating the atmosphere. Scenic Designer Collette Pollard engineered an effortless platform for directors J. Nicole Brooks and Krissy Vanderwarker to navigate quite the dynamic staging. Period perfect costumes by Samantha Jones adorn a ridiculously skilled cast. Playwright and ensemble member Kevin Douglas tackles a controversial topic with grace and understanding, often allowing us to laugh at painful truths. It doesn’t hurt that Travis Turner (Thaddeus) and Samuel Taylor (Slocum) are highly affable and talented performers. Thaddeus, in fact, was so likeable, that perhaps his only flaw was that he didn’t have any flaws, robbing him of some self-discovery.
The first act sparkles and dazzles with every performer’s colorful palette of variety skills: singing, dancing, tapping, acrobatics, backflips, flip-flops, piano playing, and above all, the sharply executed comedy which dominated over everything, including a surprisingly funny mustache malfunction. At intermission, the air bubbled with excitement for the second act to begin. You could say the first half builds us up with the-greatest-yet-to-come expectations. Understandably, now that the production had us laughing and cheering and hanging on every moment, it was time to explore why we were really there. The plot thickened, conflicts were a-brewing and more intimate scenes dug deeper into relationships. All begins to come to a head when suddenly the story takes an unfortunate anticlimactic turn. It wasn’t so much what transpired, but the sequence of how it transpired, berifting us of a much-desired heartbreak. A heartbreak that can only be desired so much because of how invested we were in the characters; we knew the price they ultimately were doomed to pay. (I secretly wished for a reprise of the opening number, now with very different undertones and burdened with the truths we learned), but even short of bleeding heart catharsis, this high-quality production is most enjoyable and memorable. A crowd pleaser, for certain.
Show folk have always been pioneers in acceptance, tolerance and celebration of diversity. We are the first to show the rest of the world how similar we are to one another, the first to share experiences not defined by the color of our skin. It is apt that we continue the dialogue since there is still a great amount of progress necessary. To borrow from Lookingglass, “it’s as simple—and complicated—as black and white.”
June 16th, 2016