The Gospel at Colonus
|The Gospel at Colonus|
|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
2004 Apollo Theater
2010 Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul
|Awards||Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1985|
The Gospel at Colonus is an African-American version of Sophocles's tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus. The show was created in New York City 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 original script was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show had a brief run on Broadway from March to May in 1988. Breuer was Tony-nominated for his book.
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.
Some people[who?] have expressed the view that the result was the translation of the Greek myth into a Christian parable. Others[who?] observed that the name Jesus is not mentioned and is irrelevant to the story.
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.
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.
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"
- "Numberless Are The World's Wonders"
- "Lift Me Up (Like A Dove)"
- "Sunlight Of No Light"
- "Eternal Sleep"
- "Lift Him Up" Listen
- "Now Let The Weeping Cease"