Genius: The Gospel, Soul and Rock’n’Roll of Br. Ray

For first-time producer/director Craig Wilkins, Genius: The Gospel, Soul and Rock’n’Roll of Br. Ray is a damn good effort.

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009

Collins St Baptist Church
Craig Wilkins, Elise Carter and CSBC
Monday, September 28, 2009

GeniusFor first-time producer/director Craig Wilkins, Genius: The Gospel, Soul and Rock’n’Roll of Br. Ray is a damn good effort.

Suitably set in Melbourne’s 160-year-old Collins St Baptist Church, the Rev. Frederick Douglas Jackson (Chris Kirby) delivers his audience a passionate sermon about one of recent history’s most influential musicians – Ray Charles. This show is a true tribute: Rev. Jackson intersperses performances of Charles biggest hits with dialogue about his life from infancy to adulthood, making it easier to understand the context in which much of Charles’ music was written and created.

A big team effort, there is a cast of almost 30 in this show – including a choir and band – and on the whole they do justice to Charles’ undisputed classics such as the slow ballad “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, the joyful “I Got a Woman” and funky “Hit The Road Jack”.

In fact, close your eyes and you could almost feel like you’d been transported to a black Baptist Church in the middle of rural Greenville, Florida where Charles grew up. Although I must admit that I was hankering for a larger, more African-American choir who would have given slightly more power to the music.

Despite this, the choir and Wylie J. Miller’s vocal interpretations of Charles’ infamous “Summertime” was a real highlight.

Chris Kirby as Rev. Jackson was close on brilliant, his energy astounding and inspired. His references to modern culture kept us on our feet (read: Charles’ mother Aretha being compared to TV’s tough nut Judge Judy). This sort of show very much relies on audience participation, and although small (well, it WAS a Monday night!) our audience were clapping along as if they were Rev. Jackson’s Baptist preachers. And that’s the only way to listen to ‘Brother Charles’ there’s something wrong with you if you can’t jive along to at least one of his wonderfully varied masterpieces.

The concept of the show is already a winner, with Charles’ music known and loved universally more than most. But the creative way in which Wilkins presents Charles’ life story, music and legacy is what makes this ultimately a success.

Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au

Until 10 October, 2009

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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