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A CurtainUp Review
Tearing Down the Walls

I may be a prostitute, a doctor, a lawyer, a friend. I am there. Always there.— Angel UnawareÎ
Tearing Down The Walls
Jevon McFerrin and Umi Shakti in Tearing Down The Walls
(Photo: Richard Conde)
Daniel Beaty, whose two solo shows, Emergence-See! and Through the Night have garnered considerable critical acclaim, has turned his hand to a more complicated work, a full-length musical called Tearing Down the Walls. Beaty wrote the book and lyrics and is on the composing team (with Jamal Joseph and Charles Mack) for this show. He also directs. Clearly this is a work of great love. It speaks from the heart, delivering some hard truths and lots of hope to the African-American community. Nor will its message be lost on general audiences.

Tearing Down the Walls has a great score filled with gospel, rap, soul and old- fashioned ballads. It is replete with humor and warmth. There are some fine singers here too, especially Adrienne C. Moore and Dietrice A. Bolden. But when it comes to the plot, lyrics and acting, the musical is a cross between a Jerry Springer show and a high school production.

The plot focues on hree friends: Renee (Umi Shakti), Jessica (Kelechi Ezie) and Rhonda (Bolden). Jessica is a slut, Renee is a 25-year-old virgin and Rhonda is a kick-ass woman with a heart of gold. Renee works for Dennis (Jevon McFerrin), a hard-working mortgage broker who is trying to get loans for black residents of Harlem who are losing their homes to wealthy whites. Renee fails to see how much he cares for her and loses her virginity to Tyson (Rumando Kelley), a "playa" she meets on a subway platform. She ends up pregnant and HIV positive.

What will Renee's loyal friends do? How will Dennis react? Well, let's just say her friends and Dennis come through.

Angel Unaware (Moore) glides in and out of the show, dressed in white and singing wise songs such as "Little Girl, Don't You Know" and "Grace."

The show is filled with uplifting and necessary messages: the power of love and community, the need for self-respect, the importance of compassion and forgiveness. The message is made pleasant through entertaining, wise-ass characters. The problem is not one of these characters rises above the stereotypes we see every day on television and the movies.

The two-dimensional quality of the characters might have been enhanced by some terrific acting. But it's apparent fairly early in the show that these performers are, for the most part, still in the fairly early stages of learning their art. Does this mean Tearing Down the Walls is not worth seeing? Not at all. It does mean that this musical is more important for its message than the great artistry with which it is delivered. And if you don't try to be too much of a critic (yes, I mean it), this show is also a lot of fun.

Tearing Down the Walls
Daniel Beaty: Book, lyrics, and composing team
Composers: Jamal Joseph and Charles Mack
Musical Direction: Charles Mack
Cast: Adrienne Moore (Angel Unaware), Umi Shakti (Renee), Kelechi Ezie (Jessica), Jevon McFerrin (Dennis), Dietrice A. Bolden (Rhonda), Rumando Kelley (Tyson)
Choreographer: Dell Howlett
Sound Designer: Justin Stasiw
Costume Designer: Catherine Fisher
Light Designer: Ryan Metzler & Andrew Merkel
Projections: Bryan Collier
Fight Choreographer: Michael Moreno
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: John Eric Scutchins
Running Time: 2 hours, one intermission
The Riverside Theatre, 91 Claremont Avenue, (212) 870-6784, From 5/6/11; open run
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at at 8pm, 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays
Tickets by Phone: 212-870-6784 Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 12, 2011
Musical Number
Act 1
Tearing Down the Walls
Embrace Your Girls
I'll Show You
Harlem, Will You Let Me Stay?
We're Late
Little Girl, Don't You Know
Talk to Me
I'll Show You
Why Folks Hatin' on the Playa
Spare Change

Act II
Harlem, Will YOu Let Me Stay Reprise
Take Mt to a Place
Tearing Down the Walls Reprise
Be Love
I Kick Ass
Miracles Reprise
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