Kansas City’s renowned Coterie Theatre, kicked off its 2014 – 15 season on opening night, Sept. 26, with a history lesson in play form that involves the premier days of the Civil Rights movement, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white gentleman and move to the back of the bus, in their newest production, “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”
The new production provides the audience with an in-depth look at the events change the face of equal rights in the South, and cried open the door for the subsequent civil rights movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King. “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” introduces the key players in that situation and provides background into the social aspects of the time in the deep South.
The show introduces the audience not only to Rosa Parks but also a very young Dr. Martin Luther King and helps the audience understand the beginnings of his journey toward the Civil Rights Movement that change segregation and equal rights in the United States of America.
Depend upon The Coterie Theater to provide quality entertainment aimed at younger audiences. In this case, the offering teaches some valuable lessons and explains the beginnings of changes that affected the American lifestyle. Probably the show is better for those at least 10 years of age and older. A certain background in American history would help the younger students understand the perspective of the characters and the hardships they endured.
“In 1955, when Rosa Parks, a black, upstanding citizen of the community, refuses to give up her seat to a white man, she is jailed, giving the black community of Montgomery, AL, an opportunity to stage a boycott to protest bus segregation,” The Coterie said. “A young, new pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is selected as the leader of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that will lead the boycott. With keen intensity and uplifting songs of the period, a dynamic cast reveals the compelling true story that sparked a movement 60 years ago.”
“Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” incorporates music of the period, including many Civil Rights songs, which are given the gospel treatment. The vocals propel the show to new heights with the outstanding vocals of the entire cast.
The artistic and production company includes Brad Shaw, director, music director, and costume designer; Trevor Frederiksen, set designer, in an arrangement with UMKC Theatre; Art Kent, resident lighting designer; John Story, sound designer;, William J. Christie, resident production stage manager and properties; Scott Hobart, resident technical director; Brant Challacombe, musical consultant; and Chloé N. Robbins-Anderson, production assistant.
For this production, Shaw concocted a stellar cast who can not only act but also sing the Gospel refrains in this production. Each actor wears several hats as they work through the piece and change characters countless times, other than the central character of Rosa Parks. What’s amazing is that each of the different characters requires the actors to change personalities frequently, without leaving the stage. To further complicate the actors’ performances, the show is produced in the round, so they need awareness of all parts of the audience at all times and so structure their movements to include everyone.
The cast for “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” includes: Ron Lackey, Frank Oakley III, Michael Ott, Sherri Roulette-Mosley, Shon Ruffin , Cindy Siefers, and Antonia Washington. Each actor plays several roles throughout the play.
As Rosa Parks, Antonio Washington anchors the cast with a very strong but gentle performance. She is the only actor that does not portray multiple characters in the show. Her role is pivotal to create a believable story. She portrays Parks as a gentlewoman with firm determination to stand up against injustice. All the action in the play centers on her. As such, she must maintain a strong presence throughout the show, which she does.
Most worthy of mention and notice, Michael Ott, opens up his wide chest of colorful characters. Ott said he has 32 changes of costume through the show. The characters he portrays almost matched the number of changes. He brings forth a different quirky character with each change of costume. Watching him work through this piece shows his acting expertise. Each change of costume brings forth a completely different character. Even though most of his characters are small parts, he is the one who brings them to life and demands the audience’s attention.
Another strong performance comes from Cindy Siefers, who brings forth about six different characters and she worked her way through the piece. Ciphers changes from a bus writer to an activist, to a Southern Belle, to a dedicated wife, a librarian, and more. Expect to see each one of her characters have a different accent, stance, and gestures.
Bank on Sherri Roulette-Mosley to bring her A-game in any production. She knows how to create and deliver characters. Her characters in this production are minor characters, but several do stand out–especially her maid and her elderly woman. She gives each character a nuance to help the audience distinguish each.
Not enough can be said about Frank Oakley, III, who gives a stunning performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s just one of several characters Oakley portrays. Portraying a legend, even in his early days, requires an actor to understand the history and the dynamics of this particular character. Oakley speaks in the style of Dr. King, when he is addressing huge crowds. He also gives a general performance as King when he is in conversation with his wife. That character alone requires several nuances that he brings with expertise. Like the other actors, he, too, changes characters throughout the production.
Shon Ruffin opens the show with her splendid vocal talents. She aptly moves from child to adult as her characters change, as do the others in the show. Her longest and strongest portrayal is that of a young Coretta Scott King. Her opening scenes help the audience understand that actors will change characters as the play progresses.
Last, the booming bass voice of Ron Lackey gives an anchor to the production. He is a solid and strong performer with a voice that stands apart from the others when both speaking and singing. He, too, morphs into character after character with ease.
Overall, “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” provides the audience with a positive experience and a history lesson in a 65-minute production. New and unknown materials keep the audience focused on the problem and the strides made since that time. The play is one that older elementary and all middle school students in the metro need to see to give them a different perspective on the history of Civil Rights and segregation.
The show deserves high praise and standing ovations, which it received on opening night. For this run, The Coterie has scheduled special added attractions to all performances.
Each performance of “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” will be followed by a free, post-performance event. After select weekend performances, audiences will be treated to hear members of the Kansas City Boys Choir and Kansas City Girls Choir perform the world premiere of “Rosa,” a new composition composed by 2014 Rockhurst High School graduate, 17 year-old Ralvell Rogers II, under the musical direction of Ah’Lee E. Robinson. All other performances will be followed by an interactive forum, devised by Laurie Brooks, that will delve into themes addressed in the play, such as community leadership and strategic thinking, a Coterie spokesman said.
The Coterie, now in its 36th Season will perform “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” Sept. 23-Oct. 19, in The Coterie Theatre, located on level one of Crown Center Shops in Kansas City, Missouri. Previews began Sept. 23 and the show officially opened on Sept. 26.
Tickets are $10 for youth under 18, students, and seniors age 60 and older; and $15 for adults. The Coterie offers groups of 20 or more a special preview rate of $5 per person the first week of the run, Sept. 23-28. After preview week, groups pay only $5.50 per person on weekdays and $6.50 per person on weekends. Evening performances begin at 7 p.m. Check the website for other times and information.