'Mr. Bojangles' is well-acted history Play recounts vaudeville days

June 11, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was a one-of-a-kind entertainer whose feet were two of America's greatest national treasures.

In tribute to this dancer among dancers, T. G. Cooper has lTC written a biographical drama about "Mr. Bojangles" that is in production at Theatre in the Woods at the Unitarian Church of Anne Arundel County.

In "Mr. Bojangles," we learn that Bill Robinson was a great performer who didn't exactly lead an exemplary personal life. The play deals head-on with his compulsive gambling and the late-in-life womanizing that ruined his marriage to Fanny Clay, whom he had affectionately dubbed "Little Bo."

Mr. Cooper's script provides us with some insights into the man, and what emerges is a vision of a true innocent whose talent proved something of a buffer between his problems and a harsher day of reckoning.

What is wonderful about Mr. Cooper's play is that the audience is treated to a history lesson on the routines of the great black vaudevillians such as Bert Williams, George Cooper -- Bill Robinson's first partner -- and, of course, Mr. Bojangles himself. One of the old Bert Williams routines is delivered, perhaps verbatim, by Kenneth Daugherty and Wayne Harris, and the results are absolutely hysterical.

But a show named "Mr. Bojangles" will simply not fly without a star hoofer in the role of Bill Robinson himself, and this T. G. Cooper has provided. Dave Calloway is a true sparkler as the great dancer. His tapping is infectiously joyous to watch, especially the re-enactment of the steps dance with Shirley Temple, played Saturday by the talented Cathy Schnell.

Mr. Calloway handles himself well in the dramatic sequences, but it's the dancing that is truly riveting. He is a fine entertainer indeed.

Also excellent is Kenneth Daugherty, who plays both George Cooper and Bert Williams. Mr. Daugherty can move, but it is his entry into the comic patter of the old vaudevillians that makes his performance special.

The other five-star performance is turned in by Victoria Mangram as "Little Bo." Her comic vulnerability is established from the start, which makes her pain all the more searing for the audience to feel after Bill's betrayal of her in Act II.

Leslie Peikin and John Cleland also are quite fine as the rather ditsy show biz couple who befriend the great dancer.

The play is original, the price is right, and the cast is as well-intentioned as can be. But, once again with Mr. Cooper and Pamoja, it's a case of much talent and few viewers -- only 20 Saturday.

"Mr. Bojangles" plays tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at the Unitarian Church of Anne Arundel County at Bestgate and Dubois Road in Annapolis. Call 267-6966 for ticket information.

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