The Life

The Life

The Life
Book by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Ira Gasman
Starring Yara J. Williams, Damany Riley, and YaDonna Russell
Directed by Angela Cotto
Musical Direction by Angelyn Rhode
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

There’s a bipolar air to little Breakthrough Theater. One night you have cute kids singing about Jesus, then you come back the next and its all hookers and blow everywhere. That dissonance comes from “The Life,” one of the edgiest and most exciting shows to cross this stage. What we have here is a full blown musical about prostitution in 1980’s New York. Queen (Williams) has a dream and a man Fleetwood (Riley). She’s hooking just to save up money to get out of “The Life” but as fast as she makes it, he put it up his nose for safe keeping. Fleetwood’s pimp buddy and our narrator JoJo (Zachary Smith) advises him to add another girl to his one-horse stable, and he picks up cute yet ambitions Mary (Niashia Aviles). She’s just off the bus from a broken home in Duluth and after about five minutes of Fleetwood’s convincing she’s walking the streets. Mary’s not only good at making money with her money maker, soon she gets a job offer to do porn in LA. Talk about a break! But Memphis (Austin Humphrey), the biggest, meanest of the pimps takes her from Fleetwood and sells her into sex film success with clean cut Lou (Andy Waldinger). Queen tries to leave her man, but to paraphrase another film: “I wish I knew how to quit you, Fleetwood.” This being a play about morals, now everyone either takes a bow, sings a blowout closer, or dies.

Great singing, rough action and some wonderful characters make this show fly. Both Ms. Williams and Ms. Russell have great gospel voices, and they come together at the very end for the heart breaking “My Friend.” Mr. Riley is tall and gaunt; he’s the thinnest person on stage and while he has the junkie look, he too can belt a tune like his swan song with Queen “We Gotta Go.” Other great voices show up as Ms. Aviles teams with Mr. Riley on “Easy Money” and most all of the cast piles on for “Someday Is for Suckers.” On the acting front, Mr. Humphry did excellent work intimidating the cast and audience, and Nick Jewel did good work as the gay and rhyming bartender Lacy.

Sets are minimal and the cast is large, but this is a top notch production that stretches Breakthrough’s comfort zone. I highly recommend it. But know it is not for squeamish or easily offended; it puts a human face on a large segment of the people despised by the good and righteous. So pack your switch blade if you have one and if you don’t, JoJo will sell you one at intermission. Just go around on back, by the railroad tracks.

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