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Rousuck's Review: "Purlie" at Arena Players

Troy Burton

[Near the end of today's live theater review, news broke of the sentencing of former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh. As he'd promised throughout the hour, Tom brought WYPR's courthouse reporter Emily Sullivan immediately on the line for a live update.  We've left the audio of Emily's 4-minute debriefer in place, beginning at 7:32 into the segment.]

It's Thursday, and time for another of theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck's weekly reviews of the Maryland stage.  Today, she talks with Tom about Purlie, the 1970 Broadway musical hit that's getting a spirited revival at Arena Players, the oldest continually performing and historically African-American theater community in Baltimore.

Set in the segregated, Jim Crow-era American South, Purlie tells the story of a charismatic traveling preacher named Purlie Victorious Judson, who returns to his small Georgia town in the hope of saving Big Bethel, the community's church, and freeing the indentured black cotton pickers who work under oppressive conditions on Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee's plantation.

Purlie - which earned five Tony Awards, including Best Musical - credits its book to the late stage and screen veteran Ossie Davis, and to Philip Rose and Peter Udell, with lyrics by Udell and music by Gary Geld. The musical was based closely on Davis's 1961 Broadway play, Purlie Victorious, which spawned a 1963 film adaptation, Gone Are the Days!  The movie version featured many of the play's Broadway cast, including Davis, Ruby DeeAlan AldaBeah RichardsGodfrey Cambridge, and Sorrell Booke.

Directed at Arena Players by Troy Burton, with musical direction by Tevin Brown, Purlie stars Antoine Williams in the title role, along with Stacey Saunders as Lutiebelle and Katrina Jones as Missy. The cast also includes Nate Couser, Xander Golden, Wanda Tyler, Lisa Wooten, Zolita Lester and Michael Barrett.

Purlie continues through Sunday, March 1 at Arena Players Baltimore, located at 801 McCulloh St.,  Baltimore, Maryland 21201.  Click here for ticket and location info.

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J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.
Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Rob is Midday's senior producer.