They may not be able to cope, but they sure can sing.
The 10 singers and dancers of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope have more troubles than they can count, but that has no effect on their abilities to belt out some great numbers in this musical that opened Friday at Jubilee Theatre.
First a word about this show, by Micki Grant, which debuted in Washington, D.C., in 1971 and moved to Broadway in 1972, where it had more than 1,000 performances.
It is not really a musical, since there is no plot and little spoken dialogue. It might more accurately be called a revue or even a song cycle, since all of the tunes are at least loosely associated with the general theme of life in predominantly black, urban neighborhoods of the early 1970s.
But whatever you call it, this production is a well-executed bit of fun that makes you wonder why this show does not come around more often.
The structure of I Can’t Cope is simply an unbroken string of numbers performed by the whole ensemble or smaller units broken from it. Some are solos, some pass the vocal lead around and some separate the five men or the five women of the cast into gender-pure groupings.
The things that these various settings have in common are that they are all exceedingly well sung (there is not a weak voice in the cast) and nearly all feature some clever staging or smooth choreography.
The songs that stand out in this generally strong score include the title song, Good Vibrations (no, not the one by the Beach Boys) and the closing All I Need.
And don’t let the 1970s origin mislead you. There is no disco ball in this show. Most of Grant’s compositions sound like show tunes, gospel numbers or pop hits of the show’s era.
They run the gamut from the darkly humorous (Harlem Streets) to the grimly serious (Fighting for the Pharaoh). One of the most impressive aspects of this show is its ability to have a good time while also shining a light on important issues of its time, such as the Vietnam War and social and economic injustice.
It is hard to single out particular vocalists in this production, because all of them are so strong and because this score is very egalitarian. The vocal chores are spread evenly, and few singers are in the spotlight more than their cohorts. But among those who might have a few more lyrics to sing, and do nice things with them, are Malcolm Beaty, Chimberly Carter Byrom, Gabriel Lawson and Ebony Marshall-Oliver.
But perhaps the most powerful element of this presentation is a group of people we never see — the entire production crew.
This show has such a consistently engaging look, sound and feel that it suggests an extraordinary amount of creative cooperation among those shaping this production around its fine performers. In almost every number, you see the direction by Akin Babatunde, the choreography by Shate Edwards, the lighting design by Nikki Deshea Smith, the set design by Rodney Dobbs and the musical direction by Geno Young all joining together to create something special.
Be aware that this is a relatively slight piece of entertainment, where a few of the tunes fall a little short. But it is so nicely composed overall, and so expertly staged and performed, that its few flat moments are more than forgivable.
In fact, you will be happy to cope with whatever this tuneful revue throws at you.