The Christmas season is in full swing, and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has outdone itself once again with this year’s “A Motown Christmas.” When performed in 2015, I really enjoyed the show, which was a nice balance of a mini-history lesson of the significance of the Motown sound in our musical lexicon and the Christmas spirit. This year’s production was largely the same as in 2015, but the performance felt entirely fresh and new.
Since they last performed the same mix of songs ranging from “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “My Girl” to traditional Christmas ditties like “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” the company has reached new heights, specifically, killing it in “In the Heights,” the Lin-Manuel Miranda production.
“In the Heights,” the season opener, in the hands of this nimble and endlessly talented troupe was epic. The WBTT regulars were pushed to excel in a Broadway level production. Just coming off of Usnavi (the part Miranda originated), Michael Mendez was at the top of his game hitting amazing falsetto notes in several Motown classics, building to “Tears of a Clown.”
Similarly Brian Boyd, who portrayed the other lead, Benny, in “In the Heights” has an electric stage presence. He has clearly grown into a leading man since being paired with the lovely and talented Nina Negron, his love interest. He did a fantastic job in “My Girl” and was simply sublime in “Can I Get a Witness.”
Raleigh Mosely, II really came into his own in this show after also excelling as “In the Heights’s” Graffiti Pete, particularly in the beautiful duet with Carmi Harris in “Mary Did You Know.”
JoAnna Ford is a graceful presence on stage, and she did a wonderful rendition of one of my favorite songs “My Favorite Things.” I was so impressed with her in “Broadway in Black” and was delighted to see her back on the WBTT stage.
Finally, Tarra Conner Jones’s voice is the gift that keeps on giving. She has an unbelievable range that she showcased throughout the evening culminating in “Oh Holy Night,” which was the highlight of the show.
The audience rose to its feet for multiple standing ovations throughout the night, and the final standing ovation turned into a major dance party for the whole WBTT audience.
In tough times, it is wonderful to let the spirit move you; and I dare say the WBTT stage may just be the best place to reflect on the true meaning of the holidays – peace on earth and goodwill to all.