By Kristopher Charles.
On May 10 an enthusiastic audience of all ages took a trip back in time inside the Music Building Recital Hall during the musical “When I Get To Where I’m Going.”
The musical’s script was written collaboratively by the cast and focused on the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. The musical featured original compositions by Lehman Assistant Professor of Music Penny Prince.
It creatively quoted the movers and shakers of the Civil Rights Movement. Historic figures such as Rosa Parks (played by Nicole R. Blackman) and Mamie Till Mobley (played by Erachie Brown) were some characters of the play.
The musical began with Professor JoAnn Robinson (played by Damaris Richardson) wishing her students well before catching the bus to the airport to go to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit family and friends. The story moves along as the citizens of Montgomery, Ala., pass each other as Professor Robinson made her way to the bus stop. The song Happiness and Peace welcomes the audience to the tranquility that the South is known for.
The mood of the story changed abruptly from lighthearted and carefree to sour as Professor Robinson is forced off the bus because she sat in a spot reserved to white people. Professor Robinson then begins to sing When I Get to Where I’m Going accompanied by a Spirit Dancer (played by Nhyira Johnson, who also portrays Ruth Johnson). The performance reveals that all is not really well in the South underneath the facade of cordial greetings.
When Professor Robinson arrives in Cleveland, she meets Juan (played by Joel Perez) and Jackie (played by Sharonda Oppong Addae). All three then join neighbors to exchange stories.
Two stories of note are those of Esperanza Milagros (played by Yesenia Ortiz) and Manuel Milagros (played by Jon-Paul Ruiz). Esperanza notes the difficulties she faced after coming to the U.S. in search of a better life. Manuel recounts how he was forced to drop out of school due to the bullying he received due to his accent.
The song ¿Cuando? weaves all of these stories together into a question asking when all these characters be able to truly pursue the American dream. The song Life is Fine reassures the cast and the audience that despite the hardships faced, life is still worth living.
The story progresses to the event that started the Civil Rights Movement. Virgina Durr (played by Alison Pabon) and Baynard Rustin (played by Jeffery Penermon) escort Rosa Parks from the County Courthouse. Rosa Parks had been held there after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery City Bus.
The songs in this scene are You Can Live sung by Pabon in the lead with the cast, and Freedom Train sung by Penermon in the lead with the cast. Both songs help set the stage for the rest of the musical as they all gather at Alabama State College to prepare for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The story moves along as the bus boycott begins to take shape and the cast gathers in the Holt Street Church. Mamie Till makes her appearance here in penultimate scene of the musical. The songs In the Name of All of Us, performed by Blackman as Rosa Parks and We Shall Overcome, performed with Penermon and Ortiz in the lead, encapsulate the moment.
We Shall Overcome also had a translation in Spanish reflecting the heritage of the other cast members present in the musical.
The final scene of the musical gives a brief look into the boycott itself as the cast takes the stage with picket signs saying things like “Hombres=Men” and “My Feet Is Tired But My Soul Is Rested.”
The song I’m Still Here captures the spirit of the boycott. The musical ends when the boycott ends 382 days later and the Civil Rights Movement begins to gain momentum.
Once the musical finished, the audience erupted into cheers.
A CD featuring all the songs in the musical was available for purchase by contacting Professor Price at her email address: [email protected]