JUST ADDED: Singer/songwriter Abby Lappen opening for tonight’s gala event!
The Sanctuary is proud to present musical theater at its finest with a new original production of an original historical play by Michael Monasterial entitled, “Sam Cooke: Where You Been?”
It’s an American Pop Fable that illuminates the life and musical genius of an American original. The pop singer who wrote, performed and produced 24 Billboard hits over his 8 years at the top of the charts was also a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement and an inventor of musical styles that are still incorporated in pop and gospel music 50 years later.
Sam Cooke’s early years in Mississippi, his rise to fame and his demons that ultimately lead to his untimely demise are explored in this drama, but it is well seasoned with humor, pathos and most of all great, great music. The play has been presented to large houses and standing ovations. So come enjoy this masterpiece as it is honed and crafted to perfection by a multi-talented cast and crew.
Play credits: The play is directed by Gordon W. Brown and the production stage manager is Alisa Brown, with music by Bruce Berky and choreography by Abby Lappen. It stars Stephen M. Jones, Evelyn Clarke, Dennis Washington and Michael Monasterial as Sam Cooke.
Check out these reviews of the play:
The New York Theatre Wire, written by Larry Litt–
“Sam Cooke: Where You Been Baby?”
By Michael Monasterial
Directed by Esther Taylor-Evans
Choreography by Abby Lappen
Produced by Passing the Torch Through the Arts
Woodstock Community Theater
Rock City Road, Woodstock
Reviewed July 24, 2010 by Larry Litt
If you think race relations in America have changed for the better, think again. The Tea Party, FOX News, prison populations and Arizona’s new draconian immigration laws are proofs there’s a still long way to go. Yes we have an African-American President, but by most people’s standards he’s more Ivy League white lawyer than black soul brother.
What would Sam Cooke, the greatest American crossover rock and roll singer, think about our world? Perhaps the answer lies in a review by Michael Monasterial, “Sam Cooke: Where You Been Baby?” now playing at the Woodstock Community Theater. Monasterial’s musical uses karaoke techniques to get the music right along with actual singing by the multi-talented cast.
Since Sam Cooke’s music covers both gospel and popular genres the cast had to tell his life story in two worlds. Sabrina Kershaw as Cooke’s boyhood girlfriend, then second wife, then ex-wife then urban prostitute goes from innocence to calculated crass cunning in a range rarely seen in a musical. Her vocals, dance moves and fast lipped character changes make her a mini-one woman show in this production.
Evelyn Clarke tells Cooke’s story through the eyes of his loving but skeptical and religious grandmother. Her warnings set the stage for the biography of artistic struggle, greatness and eventual personal defeat. She could be Elvis Presley’s Maw-Maw, or Crazy Heart or The Wrestler. It’s a familiar warning, “Artist Beware, Family and Art aren’t Natural Lovers. It takes something more to hold your Family together.” Ms Clarke is gentle, singing gospel, firm in family, adding humanity and wisdom to the show.
The spiritual gospel world of Sam Cooke is embodied in Dennis Washington. Mr Washington’s commanding singing voice casts a spell of divine goodness when Cooke is surrounded by deceit and self-destruction. For all Cooke’s desires to overcome the racial barriers of the 1950s and 60s, he couldn’t overcome the challenge that fame and fortune bring to many talented artists. Giving in to temptations of the flesh inevitably lead to destruction of the center of family life. Monasterial’s use of gospel music as a counterpoint offers us transformational moments. We enter the church, needing simplicity, honesty and guidance after all the media celebrity. This spiritual leitmotif had the audience clapping hands and singing along with charismatic the Mr. Washington. Artist’s father figures are always a problem in dramas. From The Jazz Singer onwards, fathers have wanted their sons to follow in their footsteps. Stephen M. Jones creates Cooke’s father as a stubborn, willful church man who passes on his personality and love of music. Sam is meant for the big time. Papa sees the end as does everyone. Can a father prevent disaster? Can anyone? Jones also slyly plays Barry Gordy of Motown Records fame as an insidious, dominating gangster in a meeting that would predestine the rest of Cooke’s story. I was riveted in this moment of intense machismo from both Monasterial as Cooke and Jones. Sam Cooke is a difficult representation of American history. He walked the walk of civil rights, but lived the life of a fabulously successful rock and roller. Michael Monasterial brings him to life as a conflicted man with both chain gangs and dancing the twist in his heart. We’re led to think perhaps Cooke would be alive today if he’d just played ball with Motown as so many others did.
But Monasterial knows better than that. Cooke couldn’t take the time to look over his shoulder, figure out the consequences of his actions, decide what was better for him and his family. He was on his way to heights never achieved by a black singer in America. His story and martyrdom are America’s civil rights tragedy. It’s looks as if change came to America, but has it really?
With minimal sets and lighting, Esther Taylor-Evans created changes in sets and time with costumes and the cast’s individual body language. She proves once again that a big budget isn’t needed for a play to be satisfying. In the finale, Monasterial’s Cooke sings and dances his way into the audiences heart, the place Sam Cooke will remain forever. This show is riveting though some of the biographical facts are played for dramatic effect. Monasterial is a playwright with a mission to educate America about race relations through music. It’s worth learning the lesson.
The Times-Herald Record, by James F. Cotter
Published: 2:00 AM – 08/03/10
WOODSTOCK — “Sam Cooke: Where You Been Baby?” is billed as a rock ‘n’ roll/gospel musical based on the short life of the pop singer who fused the two traditions into a new sound of soul music. Written by Michael Monasterial, who also stars as Cooke in the play, the presentation was staged the past two weekends at the Woodstock Community Center by his group, Passing the Torch Through the Arts, and the Haitian People’s Support Project. It’s directed by Esther Taylor-Evans, with music by saxophonist Bruce Berky and choreography by Abby Lappen.
The show opens with a shock. Sam and his group are singing “Wonderful World” when he is shot dead. In death he meets his grandmother and begins a flashback of how his life changed from childhood in Mississippi to his tragic loss. Without intermission, the series of scenes builds up to the climax with which it began, asking how Cooke at 33 in 1964 ended up in a sleazy Los Angeles hotel slain by its manager. It’s a modern morality tale of the conflict between the charismatic genius of a man whose successful career saw him hit the Billboard charts with 24 songs in eight years, with his own recording label and crowds of admirers but who was the unfaithful husband in a failed marriage with a father’s guilt when his son is drowned in their swimming pool. Rather than end on a note of despair, however, the company of five closes with “Twistin’ the Night Away,” inviting audience members to join them.
As Sam, Monasterial captures the charisma as he belts out “You Send Me,” “Cupid” and “Chain Gang” with soul to spare. The civil rights classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” takes on special meaning in its context of Cooke’s own life and the racial crisis at the time. Sabrina Kershaw is dynamite as Vi, Sam’s wife, when she sasses him with her fascinating personality and later agonizes over his infidelities. She also plays several prostitutes and a witness at the inquiry into his death, where the accused is acquitted. Kershaw is in-your-face physical with facial and body expressions that change in an instant. Evelyn Clarke makes Nana a warm, clearheaded and authoritative figure who listens to Sam’s tale with sympathy and critical honesty. Her presence contributes to dramatic unity in this rapidly shifting musical. She even appears for a moment as a white boss lording over the Cooke family. Uncle Dale is lynched despite his innocence, and the family moves to Chicago where Sam turns from gospel to pop.
Sam’s father is a Baptist preacher who encourages his son to lead the choir but grows unhappy with his secular success. Stephen M. Jones is convincing in his appeals to Sam and his anger in his frustration, a role that is similar to that of Sam’s manager, and later as an agent who wants to control his career. He handles these parts with forceful voice and gestures. As the minister who continues to appear to Sam as an inspiration for his better self, Dennis Washington sings gospel spirituals with consistent sincerity. All the members possesses strong voices, and as the Soul Stirrers who formed Cooke’s group contribute mightily to this powerful review. Since this is educational theater, the musical is available for further performances. Call 901-6820 or visit passingthetorchthroughthearts.
“The Cooke Show was absolutely fabulous! Ab Fab!!!!!!!!
Thanks again .. we’ll watch for you at every turn!”
~ June Crillly