The Gospel at Colonus
|The Gospel at Colonus|
Original Broadway Playbill
|Basis||Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles|
|Productions||1983 Brooklyn Academy of Music|
1985 American Music Theater Festival, Philadelphia
1987 Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis
1988 Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Broadway
1990 American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco
1995 in Malvern, Pa. at the People's Light and Theatre Co. Freefest 2004 Apollo Theater
2010 Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul
2015 Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles
2015 Playhouse on the Square, Memphis 2018 Coatesville Cultural Society at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
|Awards||Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1985|
The Gospel at Colonus is an African-American musical version of Sophocles's tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus. The show was created in 1983 by the experimental-theatre director Lee Breuer, one of the founders of the seminal American avant-garde theatre company Mabou Mines, and composer Bob Telson. The musical was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show had a brief run on Broadway in 1988.
The Gospel at Colonus opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on March 11, 1988 in previews, officially on March 14, 1988, and closed on May 15, 1988 after 61 performances and 15 previews. Directed by Lee Breuer, the cast featured Morgan Freeman (Messenger), Sam Butler, Jr. (The Singer), Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama (Oedipus) and the Institutional Radio Choir of Brooklyn. Breuer was nominated for the 1988 Tony Award for his book.
The production was the centerpiece of the outdoor Freefest in 1995 at the People's Light and Theatre Co. in Malvern, Pa. 20,000 people composed a half white, half non-white audience attending for free as part of director Danny Fruchter's Iliad Project, a multi-year performance research exploration, expanding modern performance forms by including cross cultural and ancient modes. 90 singers, largely from the churches of the racially mixed industrial town of Coatesville, Pa. performed in a suburban Philadelphia theater drawing the largest, most racially and geographically diverse audience in that theater's history.
The production at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles, by the Ebony Repertory Theatre was nominated for the 2015 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for theatrical excellence.
In 2018 Breuer and Telson reunited most of the original 1983 BAM cast to present The Gospel at Colonus at the Delacorte Theater in New York's Central park. The New Yorker magazine wrote: "Superlatives are increasingly difficult to back up, since most of the world speaks and tweets in exclamation points by now, but I think it’s safe to say that the director Lee Breuer’s “The Gospel at Colonus” is a masterpiece. I first saw it at BAM in 1983, when it premièred, and I left the theatre with my shirtfront drenched with tears and the perspiration of relief: here was a portrait of black life—of black music, joy, and pain—that I could understand. Brilliantly recasting Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus at Colonus” as a Pentecostal sermon, Breuer and his incredible composer, Bob Telson, got at the heart of difference and history and how the two helped create America. A limited run of free shows at the Public’s Delacorte Theatre, Sept. 4-9, features the legendary groups the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Original Soul Stirrers." — Hilton Als
Breuer and Telson handed the storytelling duties to a black Pentecostal preacher and the choir of his church, who in turn enacted the story of Oedipus's torment and redemption as a modern parable. They employed the unusual device of casting The Blind Boys of Alabama to collectively portray Oedipus as well as the Institutional Radio Choir in Brooklyn and Chancel Choir of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Other casting innovations in the performance include multiple actors in single roles, such as when The Messenger is called upon to assume the role of Oedipus in tandem with the singer cast when the role calls for stage motion that would be difficult for the blind singer to negotiate alone, the multiplicity of Oedipus's daughters and one son when the children of Oedipus appear collectively (with Jevetta Steele as Ismene, her sister Jearlyn Steele doubling for actress Isabell O'Connor as Antigone, and brothers J.D. and Fred Steele standing in as Polynices and Eteocles, with actor Kevin Davis doubling as Polynices), and, indeed, with different portions of the cast, singly and in groups, assuming the duties of the traditional Greek chorus.
The New York Times's Mel Gussow has expressed the view that the result was the translation of the Greek myth into a Christian parable. In his review of the BAM production, Gussow noted: "It is surprising how organically "Oedipus" can fit within the framework of a gospel musical... the evening has the shape of a church service."
While the traditions of Greek theater as religious ritual are unfamiliar to modern audiences, Gospel at Colonus reaffirms those possibilities by its use of call-and-response and ecstatic, sung re-enactment of a culturally important story.
Television and film
In 1985 PBS televised the original Brooklyn Academy of Music production, as presented by the American Music Theater Festival at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia, as part of the Great Performances series. The performers included Morgan Freeman as The Messenger, Carl Lumbly as Theseus, Jevetta Steele as Ismene, and Robert Earl Jones as Creon. In the 1985 incarnation, The Soul Stirrers (credited collectively) and the Institutional Radio Choir assume roles as citizens of Colonus. In 1995 WHYY/Philadelphia aired a one hour special, The Peoples Gospel at Colonus, highlighting Director Danny Fruchter's thought that Greek Theatre and the African American Church reflect ideas about community essential to both cultures. This community involvement, in fact the chorus making the story, was central to his 1995 production at the People's Light and Theatre Co. during the 3rd Annual FreeFest, in which all tickets were free and most performers were part of the same town of nearby Coatesville, PA.
The first-act song "How Shall I See You Through My Tears?" was used as the opening number of the 2003 film, Camp.
- "Live Where You Can"
- "Fair Colonus"
- "Stop; Do Not Go On!"
- "Who Is This Man?"
- "How Shall I See You Through My Tears?"
- "A Voice Foretold"
- "Never Drive You Away"
- "Come Back Home"
- "Evil Kindness"
- "You'd Take Him Away"
- "Numberless Are The World's Wonders"
- "Lift Me Up (Like A Dove)"
- "Love Unconquerable"
- "Sunlight Of No Light"
- "Eternal Sleep"
- "Lift Him Up" Listen
- "Now Let The Weeping Cease"
- Gussow, Mel. The Gospel at Colonus, The New York Times Guide to the Arts of the 20th Century: 1900-1929, Taylor & Francis, 2002, ISBN 1579582907, pp. 2785-2786
- "Arena Stage History - 1984 – 1985 Season". https://www.arenastage.org/. Retrieved 4 March 2017. External link in
- O'Conner, John J. "'The Gospel at Colonus' on Great Performances" The New York Times, November 8, 1985
- Klein, Joe. "Sounds", "Raging Glory" New York Magazine, February 27, 1984, p. 76
- "1980s | Alliance Theatre". alliancetheatre.org. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
- "Bob Farley reflects on retirement and 25 years at Georgia Ensemble". ArtsATL. 2017-09-15. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
- "Stage News: The Gospel at Colonus,' Threepenny's Brilliant Traces,' etc". Retrieved 2018-06-01.
- "The Gospel at Colonus Broadway" Playbill (vault), accessed March 20, 2016
- "Pulitzer Prize, Drama" pulitzer.org, accessed March 20, 2016
- "Obie Awards, 1984" obieawards.com, accessed March 20, 2016
- Gates, Anita. "Lost in the Joyful Noise of Sophocles" The New York Times, October 30, 2004
- Gans, Andrew. "Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Nominations Announced; Deaf West Theatre Will Be Honored" Playbill, January 29, 2016
- Nichols, David C. "'The Gospel at Colonus' proves timely, timeless" Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2015