Once upon a time, in 1983, there was The Gospel at Colonus (New Video NYC) a groundbreaking, Obie Award winning triumph that inarguably stands the proverbial test of time. It is an ingenious hallmark, at once culturally specific and completely universal, showcasing the pure power of soul in a classic, mainstream accessible aesthetic. Nothing quite like it had been done before, not since, say, Porgy and Bess.
Colonus also happens to strongly represent Twin Cities talent. Adapted and directed by Lee Bruer with music by Bob Telson, it starred Morgan Freeman and Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. However, the supporting lead roles showcased Isabell Monk, Carl Lumbly, Jevetta Steele, Jearlyn Steele and J.D. Steele with the J.D. Steele Singers.
Sophocles’ historic Greek tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus receives come get the Holy Ghost at the River of River Jordan revival style treatment. From top to bottom and throughout. With innovative turns to boot. Such as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama collectively portraying Oedipus and multiple actors in single roles, for instance Jearlyn Steele doubling for Monk as Antigone.
The performances galvanize, Freeman admirably holding his own, acting with Jevetta Steele, Jearlyn Steele and J.D. Steele with the J.D. Steele Singers. Freeman admirably holds in own, acting with a world of singing firepower going off around him at virtually all times (doesn’t have a half-bad voice, himself). And act he does, portraying linchpin character The Messenger with the vibrant, earthen elegance of a Pentecostal preacher. Jevetta, Jearlyn and J.D. Steele sing up a proverbial storm.
Jevetta Steele is, beyond question, one of the strongest forces of nature to ever step to a microphone. Who, when she steps on stage, gets still stronger, an immediate, mesmerizing presence. Here, she blends into a top-flight ensemble, stepping forward now again for featured turns. Jearlyn Steele, along the way, decided the footlights aren’t a first priority. She performs with her siblings and, over at least the last several seasons, Garrison Keillor, but in the main seems she’s content to be quietly successful. In Colonus, it’s truly rewarding to see her step up a bit more in front, right along Jevetta, the two of them blowing like a hurricane. J.D. Steele, too, is characteristically fine voice. By the by, it’s a fascinating opportunity to gage the creative growth and professional ascent of J.D. An earnest, 30-some years younger Steele brandishes the passion by which he came by his eventual authority as an internationally renowned singer-songwriter-producer. It’s also a chance to catch Mixed Blood Theatre actor Carl Lumbly (Buffalo Soldiers, Battlestar Galactica) before his career truly hit the big time.
All in all, this is true find for Twin Cities music lovers. You can’t get it in the store, owing to contractual red tape. But, it’s at your friendly, neighborhood library and well worth going out of your way to borrow. If it isn’t on the shelf, request The Gospel at Colonus.