Monday, August 30, 2010


From left: Willena Vaughn, Aaron Jamal Vickers and Sir Earvin Williams from "Real Life" (photo by KingYella)

Real Life 'gets real' at Grandel
by Marcus "Ma'at" Atkins

At first glance, the production of 'Real Life: A Street Paradigm" performed at Grandel Theater in St. Louis last week, was a grittier, St. Louis version of the Broadway production "Rent," but when it was observed and studied, it had a distinctive place in the musical/opera genre.

Although touted as a hip-hop, pop musical, "Real Life," produced by JPEK, and directed and written by its producer, Joel P.E. King, " was actually more of an urban "Godspell" with a hip-hop conscious hood star as its main character. It told the tale of Ray, the black urban manchild (played by newcomer Aaron Jamal Vickers) who's survival was tested in the streets of St. Louis (specifically St. Louis Avenue) by his challenging surroundings.

The 20 plus cast included solid supportive actors Kline nominee Willena Vaughn as Ray's mother, Nakischa Joseph as the Grandma (both also sang brilliantly in the production) and Sir Ervin Williams who plays Ray's buddy, Tez. Other cast members included Unity Theater's Herman Gordon as store owner, and father-figure Mr Johnson as well as others who gave lively performances in acting, singing (mainly the God-fearing, soul saving church women which included Olivia Neal and Cody Aaron) and dancing--all the right elements for a musical opera.

The decorative set also helped personify the street motif that consisted of a quaint working class home, a basketball court, a neighborhood store and a St. Louis styled stone-stepped apartment complex. An added club scene, with aided props, also was a nice touch to the street life atmosphere.

Running close to three hours, the real in "Real" was a display of post-Reaganomics urban life and its issues (single parent, female ran households, (in) voluntary unemployment , drug addiction, A.I.D.S). After the solvent, happy ending involving a paroled Ray reuniting with his son, "Real" gave a sense of hope to future generations growing up in the 'hood. Although there were no actual solutions given to the paradigm cycle , "Real" at least showed that second chances can and do occur.

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