The Crooners

By staff March 10, 2009

 Get ready to move with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's The Crooners.


By Kay Kipling


In the mood for some good old-fashioned soul? You could do a lot worse than show up for a performance of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s The Crooners, now onstage at Art Center Sarasota.


Before I go any further, let me say that The Crooners may seem an odd title for the show, if you’re thinking of voices like Bing Crosby’s or Tony Martin’s. Different generation, dude. The singers whose work is on display here range from Stevie Wonder to The Temptations to Marvin Gaye to Lionel Richie—and even to Godfather of Soul James Brown, who most definitely was not a crooner.


But don’t let a little matter of nomenclature get in the way of enjoying a high-energy evening of music from the ’70s with a few familiar dance moves thrown in. As WBTT did with its earlier production this season of Sistas in the Name of Soul, this show incorporates a lot of hits in a fast-moving show that just begs for audience participation.


(Almost too many hits, perhaps, as the decision was wisely made to delete a few numbers that appeared in the program book. A show like this should clock in under two hours, and The Crooners just barely makes that cutoff.)


It’s easy to get in the groove of songs like Signed, Sealed, Delivered, My Girl, You Make Me Feel Brand New, Working My Way Back to You, Babe—the list goes on. The four main voices on display—Nate Jacobs, Charles Manning, Leon Pitts II and Henry Porter II—all have their strengths, from sweet falsettos to more raunchy growls. (For some performances, they’re joined for a few numbers by young Christopher Eisenberg, who’s a crowd-pleaser with his Michael Jackson leads on old Jackson 5 tunes). Both united and on solo efforts, those voices sound fine.


And they’re backed up by a very strong band under the musical direction of James E. Dodge II. Apparently the keyboardist was a nearly last-minute substitute, but that wasn’t a problem on the night I attended, where an enthusiastic crowd couldn’t resist standing up and moving around along with the performers. There was a lot of electricity flowing back and forth between audience and cast.


In fact, here’s a tip, ladies: If you want to be crooned to in a very flattering way, be sure to grab a seat in the front row. It just may make your night.


The Crooners continues for selected dates through April 12. For tickets go to






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