On Sunday evening, the Illusion Theater closed out its 40th season with the beloved musical, “Always and Forever.”
The show, written for the Illusion Theater’s stage, debuted almost 20 years ago in 1996. It ran for three months and played to standing-room only crowds, returning twice in 2010 and 2011.
The story is a simple one; three men attempt to define love and explain what it means to love to a young teenage boy. It’s set in a 1970s urban neighborhood barbershop, and instead of using words the men use pop songs of the ’60s and ’70s to express themselves.
“We know this show is loved, we also know this show itself exudes love, two good reasons why we wanted to include this “Concert Version” in this 40th year celebration,” Bonnie Morris and Michael Robins said in a recent press release.
Julius C. Collins III and Dennis Spears returned to the 2015 run to reprise their roles as Quenton Jones and Leviticus Tucker respectably. Gevonee Ford and Isiah Cummings joined the cast as Durius Wright and Jahmal Purdy.
The show begins with young Purdy explaining that he has fallen for the lovely Charmaine, but is unsure how to proceed.
Ford, Jones and Tucker then proceed to explain romance and love to him each through their own lens, using the words of The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more.
Cummings was a strong presence on a stage filled with immense talent. At risk of possibly being over shadowed, the 13-year-old held his own during group numbers and sounded confident during his solos.
In a show that is mostly sung, and at a time when a young man’s voice goes through a lot of changes, Cummings powered through the few runs that appeared to be a bit challenging. Proving he has a stage presence worthy of a professional.
Returning to his role as the lady-loving Leviticus Tucker, Spears brought out the humor in the show.
His characterization of the self-confident-but-failing philanderer was humorous without being offensive and added just the perfect bit of excess.
Spears strutted and sashayed his way across the stage, all the while crooning hits like “Let’s Get It On,” and “Me And Mrs. Jones.”
If Spears acted as the comedic relief, Ford was straight faced companion
His Durius Wright acted as the moderator when Spears got everyone riled up. His even temper and sound advice offered up a realistic look at love and thoughtful advice as how young Purdy should proceed.
But the show truly belonged to Collins.
Reprising his role as Jones, Collins soulful, tenor vocals and emotional performances secured his spot as the star of the show.
His renditions of “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “Have You Seen Her” put him on par with the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince.
However, despite Collins’ show-stopping performance, the musical wouldn’t have been as strong if the four men didn’t support and balance each other out.
Combined with a strong downbeat from the drums and amazing songs from decades past, “Always and Forever” was the perfect love note to the Illusion Theater as they bid their 40th season goodbye.