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Rarely does one's senior thesis attract so many spectators. But, then again, rarely is one's senior thesis as good as The Errols, a musical written, composed and directed by Todd Fletcher. This unusually successful and impressive production charms the audience with excellent music and beautiful voices.
Fletcher has created a sparse setting for his music--he sketches an initial situation rather presenting a comprehensive plot. A white Southern father, Lawrence Errols (Charlie Cardillo), disowns his son for marrying a Black woman, Elizabeth (Alexis Toomer). Twenty years later Lawrence, in ill health, invites his mixed-race grandson, Cedric (Ted Collins), to the family seat, Egania. We join the Errols as they arrive in the South and grandfather and grandson learn to appreciate and forgive each other.
The potentially charged plot evolves into a study of personal atonement and reconciliation, and Fletcher effectively side-steps any more controversial racial commentary. Although this play purports to deal with racism, there are only a few instances of racial inequity in the plot. When racial issues are discussed, it is mainly through allusion and not direct depiction. For example, when the Black and White church choruses interchange lines in the very effective opening and closing scenes, the White chorus' line, "Love those who cheat you," is offset by the Black chorus' "Love those who beat you," in an interplay that evokes the extreme unfairness of the society.
Despite the stereotypical treatment of racial inequality, outstanding music and voices make this production a delight. Especially notable is Toomer, whose vibrant voice resonates with emotions ranging from anger to sorrow to resigned defiance within a few bars, giving the character of Elizabeth admirable depth. In many scenes, the power of her singing transcends the somewhat repetitive lyrics.
Likewise, Cardillo sings masterfully, convincingly portraying an ailing gentleman while retaining a forceful voice. Collins, though occasionally overshadowed by these formidable vocalists, still possesses a laudable voice. Not only are these two talented singers, but they interact well; their exchanges provide this musical's most enjoyable moments.
The rest of the cast is practically seamless. Particularly shining contributions come from Joe Hill, as Charles Errol, a conniving, racist cousin; and Amanda Frye, as a zealous church soloist. The only low point in this area is another church soloist. Beth Salm's, flat and slightly nasal voice.
The orchestra deserves credit for accompaniment that at no point diverts attention from the on-stage action but interact with the voices in a delightful manner. Fletcher's piano playing complements Toomer's voice particularly well.
John Clafin's set was adequate, with few props that served many purposes without becoming distractingly dull. The juxtaposition of Confederate and American flags, for example, conveyed a timely and potent message of racism. But the blocking in this show was extremely stiff. In several scenes the actors appeared to be glued to the stage, and their movements were often jarring. Anna Banks and Cinque Hicks provided a notable exception to this rule with their lively choreography for the Fourth of July sequence.
Like this semester's production of Daisy, The Errols proves that Harvard undergraduates can create superb musical compositions and assemble talented casts. Although in future plays Fletcher should attempt to flesh out the plot and production values associated with his musicals, this play remains a significant triumph.
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