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Papa’s Child, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Presented under the auspices of the ETA Youth Performance Workshop, Papa’s Child is an hour-long biography of Chicago musical-theater actress Etta Moten Barnett, now 99 years old. The daughter of a traveling minister, she won the leading role in the Broadway production of Porgy and Bess, appeared in the film classic Flying Down to Rio, was invited by Franklin D. Roosevelt to sing at the White House (the first such invitation extended to a performer of color), and married Claude Barnett, founder of the Negro Associated Press.
Useni Eugene Perkins follows the structure of Black Ensemble Theater’s musical biographies, and Ernest McCarty provides the brief but infectious tunes. Mae Allen as Etta, Kenny Davis as Claude, and a cast of youngsters age 6 to 19 deliver these songs with enough sparkle to light up a dozen Randolph Street marquees. Movie buffs will be tickled by a banana-trimmed costume in the carioca number (set to Barnett’s singing on the sound track for Rio). And what “Serious” Charles Gardner and his four sidekicks do with a Langston Hughes poem could take the prize at the Green Mill slam–if they weren’t too young to play a venue serving alcohol. But 11-year-old Michael Cordero is the show’s charmer, stealing scene after scene with his portrayal of the bright young news-hound sent to get the lowdown on the elderly Mrs. Barnett.
–Mary Shen Barnidge