Golden Globe winner Regina Taylor's Oo-Bla-Dee runs from June 8 through June 30 at Two River Theater.
Oo-Bla-Dee follows Evelyn Waters and the Diviners, an all-black, all-female jazz band, as they travel from St. Louis to Chicago in order to set up a record deal following the end of World War II.
Taylor joined Obie-Award-winning composer Diedre L. Murray (orginal music for Oo-Bla-Dee) and Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson on stage recently for a live panel discussion, hosted by WBGO News Director Doug Doyle.
Taylor (Crowns, I'll Fly Away) told the theater audience that one of the main characters, sax player Gin Del Sol (portrayed by Allison Semmes) has caught up with Evelyn (Marva Hicks) The Diveners with hopes of becoming the group's newest member.
"Gin Del Sol, we see her on the road and catches up with the group in St. Louis. She's trying to prove herself. She's a sax player. They just lost their last sax player. She's trying to prove herself that she can blow well enough to earn a spot on the stage with these incredible players. They're playing this new type of music at the time, Bepop, which has moved from Swing to Bepop. She has to go through each of the women to earn that spot. Then when she does earn that spot on the stage, she has to find that place within herself that merits her to earn her wings to find this sound that will be everlasting. I think artists want to be able to find their own voice that is like no one else."
Jazz cellist and composer Diedre L. Murray (Running Man, Eli's Comin') can relate to the "Diveners" group. Many times she experienced being the only woman in the jazz bands. She's play with such legendary performers as James Brown, Archie Shepp and Henry Threadgill. During the panel discussion at the Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theater, Murray talked about how she comes up with a musical score.
"You read the words, you hear music in your mind. I kind of dream on it. I meditate on it. As I dream it, I write it out. And then what you try to do is once you've written some vignettes of different pieces, you start trying to put a through line to how they all fit together so you can tell a musical story that's in parallel to the story of they playwright."
Oo-Bla-Dee Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson (August Wilson's Jitney and Lackawanna Blues) praised the music in this new production.
"Music is such a very important part because one note say or do a whole monologue. The thing about Diedre's music is that she doesn't overwhelm you with it. She sets the stage and lays the blanket and she makes you lay on it and then she wraps you in it. It's a different way of doing things. It's story telling. Music is story telling and when you have extraordinary music with a wonderful play, that marriage together, you just have to find out where they intersect, how they meet and don't get in each other's way but compliment each other."
Santiago-Hudson, a Two River Theater favorite, says the people who he works with are always extremely passionate about music because for most people music is the time clock of their life and there are certain songs that take you back to places in your life you remember. Music elicits certain memories, certain feelings and certain ideas that you had. I think music is, particularly in African American life as well, you know Bepop was jazz musician's Declaration of Independence. It was the first time they could come from behind anything and anybody and any note and actually be free, totally free."
Joining Semmes and Hicks in the cast are Amber Iman (Luna C), Stanley Wayne Mathis (Shorty), Monica J Palmer (Ruby), Cedric Sanders (Arthur/Soldier), Stacy Sargeant (Lulu), Chesney Snow (Vocal Foley), Corinthia Cromwell (Saxophone), Eli Fountain (Percussion), Mimi Jones (Bass), George Caldwell (Music Director, Piano).
Regina Taylor says she feel blessed to have the opporunity of presenting this piece and sharing with the audience.
You can hear the one-hour panel discussion by clicking at the top of the post.