Kitsch in Sync

Serial killer, masked man and ghetto diva--but, dang it, not in the same show

Sure, the kitsch factor flows as thick as the stuff in the Paris sewers. Lloyd Webber's goopy melodies, as always, grow repetitive. And the overdone, over-sung opera scenes turn the show into the very thing it attempts to send up. Everybody waits for the chandelier to go crashing to the floor. Why else would it be swinging up there above the audience's heads?

What we don't expect is for the Phantom to show up over there. Or over there. And we don't expect to care so much what happens to the poor fellow by the end. We will never really know who that masked man was. But we'll miss him. That's the beauty of this beast.

The entire production budget of Diaries of a Barefoot Diva: And Other Tales and Stories From the Ghetto probably wouldn't cover one day's dry cleaning for Phantom of the Opera. But the musical now in its premiere run at Fort Worth's tiny Jubilee Theatre offers just as many show-stopping moments as the big-money show, and it could teach Phantom's cast a thing or two about connecting directly and intimately with an audience.
The Mousetrap--with Ashley Wood, Carolyn Wickwire and Laurel Whitsett--is a hunk  of cheese.
Andy Hanson
The Mousetrap--with Ashley Wood, Carolyn Wickwire and Laurel Whitsett--is a hunk of cheese.

Written by and starring one of Jubilee's favorite leading ladies, Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, Diaries, in song and story, tells of a ghetto-fab gal named Lizzie who hopes to become a filmmaker. Her favorite characters are her eccentric neighbors. Aunt Bea (Carolyn Hatcher) serves as "Madea" of the block, watching everybody's business from her kitchen window and offering advice, solicited or not. Mr. Charlie (Robert Rouse) plays street philosopher, pushing his belongings in a shopping cart and reminiscing with irascible Bea over how things used to be.

Porche (Michele Rene) is a single mother of seven kids so terrible nobody will baby-sit. She includes "Ebonics" when a job application says "bilingual people preferred." Blade (David M. Patterson) acts as the gang rule enforcer. Landlord's assistant Ms. Hodges (Teekoyah "T.K." Nickson) collects rent and considers the struggling residents her inferiors.

Class warfare is a major theme of Diaries, and after every few lines of dialogue, everyone comes onstage to sing about it and dance a little. Composers Joe Rogers and Aaron Petite deliver catchy tunes and clever lyrics. They appreciate the traditional structure of musical theater, too, weaving a "dream song" for Lizzie early into the first act and adding some hip-hop interludes and a dash of tango for a burst of energy here and there. Two numbers stand out: Mr. Charlie's bluesy "Every Day," where he warns Lizzie of life's inevitable unpredictability; and Charlie and Bea's comic doo-wop duet, "Back in the Day" ("Nobody cared about a nipple ring/Back in the day we just knew how to sing").

Like one of Tyler Perry's comedies, the acting in Diaries is broad, and the jokes can be groaners. Director Tyrone King also has indulged writer-star Keyton perhaps a bit too liberally in her moments in the spotlight. She has a voice as rich and sweet as caramel but tends to pull out the same vocal tricks on every solo.

This production succeeds on its playfulness and lack of pretensions. It's a little show on a small stage that fills the audience with a big dose of the feel-good spirit. Catch it if you can.

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