By John Quinn, Encore Michigan
Devotees of both music and theater will recognize the genre of “From My Hometown,” a 2004 off-Broadway hit receiving its Michigan premiere at Meadow Brook Theatre. Assemble a selection of evocative songs, link them in a suitable plot, and, voila! One has a musical on his hands. But, while “From My Hometown” boasts a built-in appeal to patrons of a certain age – in fact, my age – it is no mere walk down memory lane. It is a tribute to the fundamental beauty implicit in a simple three-note musical chord.
Why three notes? “From My Hometown” is about three vocalists – each seeped in the musical traditions of his hometown, lured from their roots to seek fame as recording artists in New York City. Our three are Alexander Elisa (“Memphis”), Will Lee-Williams (“Philly”) and Tyrick Wiltez Jones (“Detroit”). Fate throws the guys together when they attend open auditions at the fabled Apollo Theatre. Each is dreaming of making the cut, because the exposure would make his career. But – one, two, three strikes – they’re out. While it takes time for damaged egos to heal, they eventually find that three throats are better than one.
The plot is silken but gossamer thin. Not to worry; “From My Hometown” is all about the music, and it doesn’t disappoint. It consists of over 30 R&B songs, most of them classics by such writers as Berry Gordy and Otis Redding, but there are also several new ones. These frequently form an envelope to contain a medley of hits. Conceived by Lee Summers, “From My Hometown” was written by Lee Summers, Ty Stephens and Herbert Rawlings, Jr.
But it is no coincidence that the name our city-named heroes would perform under is “Unity.” The combination of perfect close harmony and razor-sharp choreography (conceived by Jennifer Consiglio) make the performers a triple-threat trio. Each has a chance to shine in solos but, particularly in a capella, the blend of voices is a knock-out.
“From My Hometown” is directed by MBT artistic director Travis W. Walter, who once again demonstrates not only an uncanny sense of how to please an audience but the skill to achieve it. Jen Price Fick’s scenic design takes advantage of the depth of the Meadow Brook stage to produce a gritty city set, largely towering scaffolding with walls where no one has observed the stenciled notice, “Post No Bills.”
The four piece combo is led by music director Daniel Feyer on the keyboards, with Alissa Hetzner taking over in May. Although the band is off-stage for most of the play, once again, the “unity” is marvelous.
For music lovers who miss lush melodic line, rich poetry and close harmony, “From My Hometown” is a delight. If “everything old is new again,” we’ve waited long enough!
For tickets and showtimes, visit EncoreMichigan.com.
John Quinn reviews local theater productions for http://www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.