OGDEN — You Bet Your Black Ass Broadway, an original revue presented by Good Company Theatre in Ogden, is billed as a celebration of African-American musical theatre showstoppers. The cast, Daisy Allred, Bradley Hatch, Olivia Lusk, Gray McKenzie, Mack, and Alicia Washington, all take turns presenting some of Broadway’s best music as a Black History Celebration of all the wonderful things that this community has brought to the Broadway stage. With music from a variety of shows modern and not so modern, the evening was a fantastic experience in performance and in reflection of the importance of diversity in theatre, nationwide and here in Utah.
Good Company Theatre has a great space in downtown Ogden that they have renovated into a intimate black box theatrical space. As stated on the theatre’s website, ignore the “naughty” word in the title, as this production is meant as a good evening for the whole family. I brought my 12-year-old daughter with me, who has dubbed herself the Jr. Critic, because this show gave me a great opportunity to discuss the history of diversity in the arts with her. And I was right: the fantastic cast and their phenomenal performances gave us a lot to talk about.
First, let’s give credit to the fantastic live musicians with Ginger Bess on keys, Spencer Howe on bass, and Christopher Suitt on drums. A show like this thrives on live music, because it allows the cast to be more interactive with the audience, authentic in their performance, and far more connected to the music. It was an integral part of the production to have these three providing the accompaniment.
Alicia Washington, founder of Good Company Theatre, served as a narrator of the show, walking us through the unique history of the American musical theatre genre and how black history is woven right through it. This fantastic education is augmented with some of the best songs of the American Songbook sung by some of the finest talent Utah has to offer. From well known hits from The Lion King to lesser known gems from Passing Strange and Once on this Island, the choice of songs was magnificent.
It was apparent that a few of the cast were overcoming some illness that is typical of this time of year, but the evidence of their talent through the challenges was also apparent. Additionally, the emotion added to the music was sublime. A few of the highlights were the classic, “Summertime,” from Porgy and Bess sung by the astonishing Mack (she is one who is cool enough not to need a last name credit) and the energetic rendition of, “Why We Tell the Story,” from Once On This Island.
The two gentlemen players, Hatch and McKenzie, had stunning voices and those voices were used for some of the most magnificent power ballads available, such as, “I’ll Cover You” from Rent and, “Free at Last,” from Big River. Coupled with some of the greatest female ballads such as, “I’m Here” from The Color Purple and, “And I Am Telling You,” from Dreamgirls covered by Mack, the music was mind-blowing and ear-pleasing.
Though the music was astounding, the best part of the evening was the time and detail that the full cast put into designing this production to remind the audience of the importance of diversity on the stage. Porgy and Bess opened in 1935 with a cast of African American players, and the history of representation in the theatre weaves a tale of good and bad and hope and despair that we still deal with almost 100 years later. Covering 100 years of history in song is a daunting undertaking, but the Good Company Theatre did so in such a way that young and old alike will not only have a good time listening to powerful music, but will also be reminded that the shows we know and love today, much like most of our culture and life here in the United States, would not be possible without the diverse influences of all of those who surround us.
I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the weekend where we consider a holiday based on love, a holiday based on leadership, and a month of black history than to take in a performance by our friends and neighbors right here in our community as they celebrate their own heritage. Of course, there are many big productions throughout the state and productions that are more familiar and comfortable, but art is about more than comfort. It would be a shame if the venue at Good Company Theatre was not sold out for the rest of this run.