Are we our brother's keeper? What's our responsibility to those who are less fortunate? Should the rich befriend the poor? These questions, and wonderful music filled the minds of the audience of Lazarus the Musical, which was performed Saturday, May 31st at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium.
The musical, written in 1986 by Rev. Joel Underwood (Rev. Underwood wrote the musical when he was the director of church relations for the charity Bread for the World), is a retelling of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from the Bible (Luke16:19-31). Through song, the musical tells the story of the Rich Man (tradition names him Dives), his trust in uncertain riches and neglect of the poor, including Lazarus. Lazarus dies and ascends to Heaven and the Rich Man dies, winds up in Hades, and begs for a drop of water to "cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames."
The one-night only performance marked the 40th anniversary of the charity and the retirement of one of the show's producers, Bishop Don diXon Williams after 26 years of service. Co-producer Dr. Bill Cummings, a musical director and the show's co-producer, re-arranged the show's music last year to make it more contemporary.
The lyrical narration of the show was handled by crowd favorite Leslie Tay. Tay's moving renditions of "The Ballad of Lazarus" set the tone for what we know will be the Rich Man's somber end.
The Chorus, including powerful-voiced sisters Comelita and Keta Payton provided the inspirational backbone for the show.
"Let Us Give Thanks" shows the Rich Man's (strongly portrayed by Christopher Akinbuwa) and family at their hypocritical worst, to the beat of a 1950s tune, no less. The Rich Man aka Dives and family (played by Soni Oberleas, Reggie McKinney, T. Sturdivant, Sheila Ritter, Maryre Harris-Ferguson and Sonya Springfield ) also did a great job with "Purple and Fine Linen", a song with a Motown-ish flair.
The Poor Boy (Niles Gunning) and his Mother's (Valerie Brown) rendition of "Mama, I'm Hungry" painted a heart-wrenching picture of the poor's plight. The show made good use of talented child actors like Chinara and Brionna Payton, Shay Graves, and Blue Woods who played homeless children.
Silver-haired diva extraordinaire Janette Smith (Chief Mourner and Choir Member) mesmerized the audience with her inspirational rendition of "Crumbs From Your Table" to close out the first act. Any audience member who remained seated and unmoved during Smith's solo must have been auditioning to play the dear-departed Lazarus!
"I Am Lazarus", sang by Bruce Ellis' Poor Man, Poor Woman, Poor Children and Company was powerful, as was the Fiddler On the Roof flavored "Are You the Boy?", sang by the Rich Man and his Disciples. "I am Lazarus", sang by the entire cast, and some audience members, served as a fitting end to the show.
Kudos to Cummings and Williams for their producing and to Felicia Kessel Crawley, Assistant Director and the Female Lazarus for putting on a show that serves as a triumphant cautionary tale for us all!