Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls. James Monroe Iglehart in Aladdin. And now, Joaquina Kalukango in Paradise Square.
Each of these actors has a moment in the show that is pure magic and it is the reason I go to the theatre. Not only do their vocals soar through the theatre and out into the street, but their strong vocals make us feel their emotions and it astonishes me that they can give so much of themselves eight times a week.
How they can give it their all at every performance is beyond comprehension — but I am totally engaged in their performance and feel I am part of something bigger than just sitting in the theatre.
Kalukango is captivating throughout Paradise Square, where she plays the owner of a saloon, which proves to be a safe haven for Black Americans and Irish immigrants in lower Manhattan. But it’s her second act show-stopping number “Let It Burn” that brought me to emotional tears and made me not only relate to the plight of her character but made me also giddy that I was there to witness such a performance. My heart and mind say Tony Award – let’s just see. But awards or not, her performance will go down as one of the greatest musical performances I have seen in my many years of theatergoing.
While she is definitely the star, she is supported by a wonderful cast. Chilina Kennedy as Annie Lewis, a strong Irish woman, almost stands toe-to-toe with Kalukango’s Nelly character – but Kennedy is off-stage a bit more than I’d like.
Then there’s that dancing. Not only is Bill T. Jones’ choreography flawless (no easy feat with the size of the cast) but he manages to put together a dance-off between Sidney DuPont and A.J. Shively, which will leave you as breathless as the actors themselves.
Director Moises Kaufman offers a master class in stage production. “Paradise Square” is set on a grandiose scale, rivaling “Les Miserables” with sets and “Ragtime” with characterization and pace. Perhaps having three people work on the show’s book was a great thing as we get a taste of Ireland from Larry Kirwan, modern sensibilities from Christina Anderson and sage wisdom and input from Tony nominee Craig Lucas.
I went into “Paradise Square” not knowing what to expect. I left with a wonderful theatre experience that I will remember for a long, long time. Check it out for yourself at www.paradisesquaremusical.com.