“Without knowledge of your history,” Malcolm X says in Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame, “you’re an animal.” This show sets out to teach us, and the result is big, brassy, and positive. History is seen here not in terms of wisdom but of knowledge, so the pleasure comes from quick shocks of recognition, not-in-depth exploration. This pageant-style revue with lots of loud and lovely music and expert dancing and an impassioned staged debate covers African kings and queens like Nefertiti and Hannibal, freedom fighters from Nelson Mandela to Angela Davis, thinkers from Lorraine Hansberry to Bishop Tutu, entertainers from Louis Armstrong to Bob Marley. The stage design, including colored puffs of smoke and a starry sky, creates a mystical realm where people from different centuries and continents can meet. The methods are those of oral history, the intended effect is solidarity, but the show–written, produced, directed, and narrated by Londoner Flip Fraser–doesn’t shy away from self-criticism. There’s parody in Diana Ross’s self-absorbed flipping of her hair; the debate between Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey offers their conflicting opinions as passionately and convincingly as possible; and black-on-black crime is excoriated. I suppose this is not technically my history, as it may not be yours, but as I told my daughter, who felt conspicuous and excluded amid the crowd at the New Regal: now you know how Rosa Parks felt. New Regal Theater, 1645 E. 79th, 721-9230. Through February 20: Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 3 and 8 PM; Sunday, 3 and 7 PM. $16.50-$25.50.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Clem Rose.