A musical musing on black cowboys of the American West by celebrated jazz artist Allan Harris.
By: Patrick Christiano
December 6, 2017: A new musical by Allan Harris and his wife Pat Harris, Cross That River, A Tale of the Black West, opened at 59E59 Theaters. Mr. Harris and his wife have a fashioned a pleasantly moving story about Blue, a run-away slave who escapes to Texas, where he becomes one of America’s first Black Cowboys of the unsettled West circa 1860s. Reggie Life has staged the evening as a concert, and the show weaves fact and fiction into affective tale with a melodic mostly country score by Allan Harris that mixes in jazz and blues rather nicely.
Four soulful singers play all the roles. Jeffery Lewis plays the younger Blue, and Maya Azucena, Carolyn Leonhart and Allan Harris, play multiple roles with accomplished ease while bringing life to the delightful songs. The songs are the heart of the show and give the performers an opportunity to shine. The silky voiced Allan Harris also narrates.
Blue is raised by a loving mother, has an affair with the daughter of the plantation owner and runs away at the urging of both women. Out West he encounters both success and failure all told in song. The details to the book are sketchy, but never mind because every 2 or 3 minutes a song will appease you.
Unfortunately although there is much to like about Cross That River, the evening’s presentational ‘concert” style with the performers front and center facing the audience, and the musicians playing in -back- of them is a clinker, distancing us even further from the already sparse story.
The terrific musicians include Alan Grubner on violin, Miki Hayama on keyboard, Seth Johnson on guitar, Jay White on bass and vocals, and Shirazette Tinnin on drums and percussion.
Produced by Love Productions Records, CROSS THAT RIVER is now playing at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street at Park Avenue for a limited run through Sunday, December 31. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Photos: Carol Rosegg