Rare Revival of Musical Jamaica Plays Philly's Prince May 31-June 22

News   Rare Revival of Musical Jamaica Plays Philly's Prince May 31-June 22 Prince Music Theater's revised revival of Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's 1957 Broadway musical, Jamaica, begins May 31 in Philadelphia.
Barrett Doss
Barrett Doss

Most of the cast hails from Philadelphia, although Barrett Doss, a New Yorker, plays the leading lady, Savannah, a Caribbean girl who longs for a life beyond her island. Lena Horne created the role. Originally from St. Cloud, MN, Doss is in her second year at New York University.

This revised production seeks to restore some of the original intent of composer Arlen, lyricist/co-librettist Harburg and co-librettist Fred Saidy.

Opening is June 7. Performances continue to June 22.

Prince bills Jamaica as "a comic fable of a Caribbean girl, Savannah, with a talent for cookery and who longs to escape the confines and drudgery of the island for the modern American high life. When a fast-talking New York businessman arrives to take over the island with plans for big money and fast growth she is swept up in his promises of fame and fortune. However, the island's conjuror, Mama Obeah, weaves her spell and in the swirl of magic, music and calypso, true love is discovered where least expected."

* Playing Koli, the fisherman who fights for the love of Savannah, is Julian A. Miller. Recent Temple University graduate Sean Thompson plays the handsome Joe Nashua, "who sweeps into the island from New York with promises of wealth and glamour."

Returning to the Prince after her critically acclaimed performance in this season's Ain't Misbehavin' is Chanta C. Layton as Ginger. Victor Rodriguez is Cicero. Veteran Philadelphia actor Dan Schiff plays the British Colonial Governor. Darlene B. Young will play Mama Obeah, "the island conjuror who wants nothing but true love for Savannah."

The local ensemble includes Karama Butler, James Rodney Clark, Terrence Clowe, Donnie Hammond, Peter John Rios and Sheree-Monique Roberts.

Jamaica is directed by Barrymore Award winner Ozzie Jones, who won Philadelphia's top theatrical prize for Freedom Theater's Black Nativity.

Tania Isaac and Jumatatu Poe choreograph, "infusing this production with the exciting pulse of Caribbean dance." Fight direction is by J. Alex Cordaro.

"Hiring local is a return to the roots of the Prince Music Theater, which was founded in 1984 as the American Music Theater Festival," according to the casting announcement. "It is also a testament to the rapidly growing and extremely diverse pool of musical theatre talent that Philadelphia has developed over the last two decades. Among the cast are Philadelphia theatre veterans as well as up-and-coming actors who are ready to make their names known."

The Prince revival includes new "tropical" orchestrations by John Baxindine and music direction by PMT resident music supervisor Eric Barnes. Returning to the Prince to round out the artistic team will be scenic designer Daniel Boylen, costume designer J. Derwin Cooper, lighting designer Shelley Hicklin and sound designer Nick Kourtides.

Jamaica was developed as a show for Harry Belafonte, who ended up dropping out due to illness. Horne earned a Tony Award nomination and played opposite Ricardo Montalban. Ossie Davis was also in the original cast, as was throaty Josephine Premice (who sang a handful of rambunctious numbers). All are preserved on a cast album of the brassy score.

Despite a year-and-a-half run, the show has never been revived, according to the Prince.

"Push de Button" might be the best-known song from the score. Horne would sing it in her club act and on Broadway in The Lady and Her Music.

The score also includes "Savannah," "Pretty to Walk With," "Incompatibility," "Cocoanut Sweet," "Little Biscuit," "Pity de Sunset," "Take It Slow, Joe," "Monkey in the Mango Tree," "Ain't It de Truth," "Leave the Atom Alone," "Yankee Dollar," "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today," "Napoleon," "What Good Does It Do" and "For Every Fish."

"I became intrigued by Jamaica when we produced Stormy Weather, a show about Lena Horne, last season," Marjorie Samoff, Prince Music Theater's producing director, said in a statement. "As I read more about Jamaica the more I knew I wanted to put it back on stage. We were given access to original work tapes, notes and scripts. As we went through them, a completely different story began to emerge from that which David Merrick produced in 1957. My goal has been to restore as much of Harold Arlen and 'Yip' Harburg's vision as possible."

According to the original Playbill, the musical is set on Pigeon Island, "a mythical island off Jamaica. Time, the present." The setting and time gave Harburg — known for his delicious wordplay and liberal leaning — the chance to take swipes at such social ills as consumerism ("Yankee Dollar"), celebrity, power and leadership ("Napoleon") and the nuclear age ("Leave de Atom Alone"). Putting these words in the mouths of Caribbean natives made the score an odd experience — part New Yorky social satire, part sultry island romance. It ran 557 performances on Broadway.

Prince Music Theater is located at 1412 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. For ticket information call (215) 569-9700 or visit princemusictheater.org.