‘The Sound of (Black) Music’ national tour launches in Yellow Springs

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

The hills are alive with a soulful allure as the national tour of “The Sound of (Black) Music” debuts Oct. 10-11 courtesy of Foundry Theater at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.

Produced by New York-based Electric Root, this one-act concert is a fascinating, intriguing and joyful reimagining of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s legendary, final collaboration. Organizers strive to remind audiences that “The Sound of Music,” which premiered on Broadway in 1959 and was immortalized on film in 1965, is inherently grounded in appealing, engaging inclusivity.

“We are taking this beloved classic piece and shaping it in our image to further highlight that we all belong,” said co-director Shariffa Ali, who has lectured and directed at New York University, Yale University and Princeton University. “It’s going to have the foundations perhaps or just the memory of the original but really transformed and reimagined through the Black lens.”

Recognized as among the “Best of Theater, 2021″ by The New York Times, “The Sound of (Black) Music” reinterprets through a “utopian, Afrofuturistic lens full of love.” Familiar songs such as “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” arise within a blend of jazz, gospel, blues, funk and Afrobeat.

Ali, a native of Kenya who serves as director of artistic projects for Electric Root, is moved by the idea of these iconic songs being reconceived within the aspirational, emotional context of the Black experience.

“If you consider the content, lyrics (such as) ‘follow every rainbow ‘til you find your dream’ in ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain,’ that’s particularly resonant, especially imagined through the Black body,” she said. “‘My Favorite Things’ is an anthem for the soft and simple things, and we as Black people rarely have the opportunity to bask in the things that bring us joy. ‘Edelweiss’ is a tribute to the land, a tribute to home. What is so remarkable about ‘The Sound of Music’ is that it’s epic and vast and also singular. It’s an experience of the universe and the individual, which is beautiful.”

‘This music can bring people together’

Cleveland native Jono Gasparro and Sierra Leone native Michael Mwenso founded Electric Root in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and in response to the murder of George Floyd. The company’s chief desire is to revolutionize how Black music is presented, allowing established, traditional material such as “The Sound of Music” to arise with a new diverse perspective.

“We all have images of the beautiful Swiss Alps but what if we could claim that space with this music?” said Gasparro, who fondly recalls seeing the film all the time in his youth. “‘The Sound of Music’ is known across races and generations. It’s beloved, so putting joy into it through this music can bring people together. Electric Root wants to use Black arts to uplift society through joy, love and hospitality with a focus on community.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

‘Joyfully surprising’

“The Sound of (Black) Music” is the first ticketed show of the Foundry Theater’s 2023-2024 season. Spearheaded by Chris Westhoff, the organization, which presents its lineup inside a 225-seat black box theater, notably has three companies in residence: Gravity Works, a dance company presenting stories through aerial theatrics; Mad River Theater Works, devoted to original plays with music about American history and social justice intended for young audiences; and the inspirational World House Choir, which opened the season Sept. 21-23.

“My programming vision is art of a high artistic caliber rooted in a cultural vibrancy that pushes the meter in terms of what we are used to or expecting and yet is accessible,” said Westhoff. “I think people are going to be floored by ‘The Sound of (Black) Music.’ The artistic conceit of the show is so joyfully surprising. I hope this show sets the bar pretty high for what we do.”

Preparing to bloom and grow

The intimate concert is co-directed by Kamilah Long with arrangements by Mathis Picard and music direction by Vuyo Sotashe. In addition to Sotashe, vocalists include Brianna Thomas, Charenee Wade, Alexis Lombre and Zhanna Reed.

Following Yellow Springs, the first national tour will continue through March in 13 cities such as Nashville, Charlotte, Miami, Austin and San Francisco in addition to Lincoln Center in New York City and Anchorage, Alaska.

“We’ve done this show a few times and so many people have said how truly special it was to have been taken on this journey in which childhood beauty and joy was brought back into their hearts in a new way,” said Gasparro.

Ali wholeheartedly agreed.

“I have not met a single person who has walked out of this experience unchanged,” she said. “And since Ohio holds a very special space in our heart — it is where many of our big ideas and dreams originated — we couldn’t think of a better place to launch our tour than in Yellow Springs.”

For Foundry Theater’s complete season listing, visit https://antiochcollege.edu/foundry-theater/.

HOW TO GO

What: “The Sound of (Black) Music”

Where: Foundry Theater at Antioch College, 920 Corry St., Yellow Springs

When: Oct. 10-11; 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Cost: $30 for adults; $15 for students

More info: https://antiochcollege.edu/foundry-theater/

Artist info: https://electricroot.co

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