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Photo by Joan Marcus
David Alan Grier, Blair Underwood and Billy Eugene Jones in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ‘A Soldier’s Play.”

BY VICKI SCHNEPS AND BOB NESOFF

In another era in the not so distant past, African Americans were relegated to subordinate roles in theater, movies and life in general…that is, if they were included at all.

“A Soldier’s Play” was first brought to the stage in 1982 for a production of the Negro Ensemble Company and surprised everyone when it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Morph from those days to 2020 and society has started to change. Not all is peaches and cream, but at least there’s movement afoot. And “A Soldier’s Play” is once again on stage. This time it’s on Broadway at the American Airlines Theater (227 W. 42nd St.) and is running through the end of March.

This revival, starring Blair Underwood and David Alan Greer, is staged by the Roundabout Theater Company.

Capt. Richard Davenport (Underwood), is investigating the murder by a shooter unseen by anyone, of Sgt. Vernon Waters (Greer). Waters was typical of a bigoted Southerner who embodies racism. He is both physically and emotionally abusive and dangerous to the African American soldiers under his charge.

The original story by Charles Fuller, himself an Army veteran who was stationed in Japan and Korea from 1959 through 1962, knew both the military and the systemic racism present in the military.

The play is set at Fort Neal, Louisiana, in 1944 with the war in Europe still in full swing. Black soldiers were kept separate and away from whites, except in many cases their leaders were white career military. 

Underwood’s Capt. Davenport is one of only a handful of black officers and he must prove himself every day.

Fuller delves deep into the systemic racism of the military that has had the negative impact of young African Americans committing violence against each other as a way of releasing steam and frustration.

While the cast is all male, many in the audience were female. And in a nod to them, Underwood appears in a brief scene without his shirt.

Kenny Leon’s directing brings out these themes but also holds the entertaining element to enhance the political nature and result. The play treads into a “Whudunit” mode to determine the killer. Was it the white sergeant? Could it have been another black soldier? This is great drama at is best.

At the same time that the black soldiers face prejudice and racism, A Soldiers Play shows them working together, playing together and respecting each other.

The racism pictured in the play has vanished…or is it just below the surface in today’s military. While A Soldiers Play doesn’t address modern situations, the theatergoer can transpose what happens on stage to many of today’s problems that have lingered through the ages. 

While the story delves into black/white tensions, it could move into the 2020s by introducing Asians, Latinos or any other minority group in the military. This is a timeless story that no doubt will be seen again.

Still going strong

Adrienne Warren stars as Tina Turner in “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.” Warren was born May 6, 1987. Many people have underwear older than that. Tina Turner was born Nov. 26, 1939, making her 80 years old. That’s a 48-year difference in their ages.

See the show, however, and you’ll swear you are watching Tina herself. And, if the truth be told, she could still take on Broadway.

The show opened Nov. 7, 2019, and is still running as strong as that first performance.

Phyllida Lloyd’s direction keeps the music and the show going at a race car pace. Warren has taken on the role and truly owns it. The music is as fresh as ever and Warren moves as though she was cloned by Tina.

The show features 23 songs from Turner’s playbook. When Warren belts out “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” it’s Tina singing. And that being said, Warren does manage to bring her own “self” into the numbers. She’s got a great future on Broadway.

Warren has nailed Turner’s moves down with aplomb. She shakes her legs, tosses her lion’s mane of a hairstyle, wiggling her booty and owning the stage.

Turner, born Anna May Bullock in Tennessee, is seen in chronological steps; first as a child with her grandma. The older lady encourages her to move on and she eventually connects with Ike Turner, who changed her name to Tina.

Ike is a dark character with slicked hair and a pink Caddy. They marry and he pummels her into the singer and performer he wants her to be until she’s finally had enough and moves on without him. Bad news for Ike. In reality little was heard of him after their split.

Tina’s career also slows down until she hits her 40s and then begins to take off. And so does the show. It’s still a hot ticket.

“Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” is playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 West 46 St.

Adrienne Warren in “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.” (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

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