nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
October 12, 2010
I'm not generally into musicals: people don't normally burst into song and dance. Trav'lin doesn't solve that problem. It's your typical love story—boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl and boy have big fight, but boy gets girl at the end. Typical, yes; but what makes this stereotypical musical extraordinary is the stellar work of its cast. Their voices are stunning and no note goes unnoticed.
Trav'lin takes place in Harlem during the 1930s. There is a definite bluesy jazzy feel to the score (by J.C. Johnson and others) that is set from the beginning. The show opens with a high-energy number by Doug Eskew. Eskew is an undoubtedly talented showman who has great skill. He knows how to work an audience and drew me in completely. His booming voice could fill large halls like Lincoln Center. Also noteworthy is Michael Jean Dozier whose innocence and naivete are adorable. He plays his character with such enthusiasm, that it's contagious and infectious. He is a joy to watch, with a voice to match.
But undeniably Brenda Braxton steals the show. She plays an older woman grappling with love and meeting her long lost love after a bitter departure. Her vulnerability and subtlety are top-notch. She has an incredible voice and outstanding comic timing. Her quieter moments are equally powerful. I was utterly blown away by her amazing talent!
The other cast members, guided by director Paul Stancato, do a good job as well. I only had reservations about Soara-Joye Ross, who is absolutely talented, but it felt like she was pushing her performance, thereby making her seem over-the-top. But this is only a slight concern, and she turns in an otherwise fine performance.
So for someone who doesn't like musicals, Trav'lin made me a fan. I thoroughly enjoyed the actors. Maybe musical theater playwrights can find a new way of telling a love story, But for now we have the same old story with wonderful performers. While it was predictable, it was certainly entertaining.