Performers delight even in small-scale 'Purlie' ANNE ARUNDEL DIVERSIONS

November 20, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

It was a pared-down cast performing a pared-down show in front of a pared-down audience, and still there was show-biz magic to be had.

"Purlie," the delightful musical comedy that tells the story of a charismatic black preacher attempting to establish a church by outwitting the odious local "Great White Father," is a special favorite of director T. G. Cooper.

Mr. Cooper's Pamoja Ensemble brought the show to Dick Gessner's Broadway Corner last weekend. His production may have been small in scale, and his ensemble numbers a bit ragged, but what an absolute delight it was to see his talented leads make their way so joyfully through the show.

Gerri Morrison, a Pamoja newcomer, was wonderful as Lutiebelle, the naive young maid who helps Purlie deceive the "Ol' Cap'n" out of the money the preacher needs to start the church.

Morrison is a natural comedian and a terrific singer capable of handling the difficult songs that first brought Melba Moore to the public's attention a few years back.

Tenor Jim Ballard is one of the Annapolis area's musical treasures as far as I'm concerned -- a smart, tasteful, expressive singer who gives 100 percent on stage whether he's crooning Broadway tunes or fa-la-la-ing his way through Renaissance madrigals. Sunday evening, he provided an energetic, engaging portrait of this "New Fangled Preacher Man."

Steve Banian has made a career out of Gitlow, the feisty field hand whose sniggering assaults on the Cap'n's racism make the old buzzard look every bit the damn fool he is.

Chuck Richards turns in his fourth account of "Ol' Cap'n" with customary aplomb, and Valerie Cooper scores with her "Down Home" song with Purlie -- a wonderful number evoking the rural/urban duality of the black experience.

Charlie Rogers is adorable as Charlie, the Southern white son who rejects his father's racism, and Ruth Johnson is a definitive Idella, the no-nonsense cook who knows how to manipulate "Ol' Cap'n" through his stomach.

The sad news is that this "Purlie" has closed, and the relationship between Pamoja and the Broadway Corner is very much up in the air. Talented performers like these deserve an audience and a first-class place to perform.

Let's hope this is a trial separation, not an annulment.

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