Capita Productions and the North Division Campus presented “We Are the Drum-We Are the World” with a special tribute to the legacy of Michael Jackson.
The production was originally scheduled for a four-night run, but came back due to popular demand for three nights week. Each run was held at North Division High School.
CAPITA is a non-profit community theater group founded in 1990 by the late Brother Booker Ashe. While keeping a strong multicultural emphasis, CAPITA has dedicated itself to bringing together people of diverse ages, races and backgrounds through outstanding theater productions.
Drawing from all areas of Milwaukee and the surrounding suburbs, CAPITA works to foster multicultural awareness and racial harmony through the wonderful medium of Community Theater. Performers of all ages, entire families are able to participate in CAPITA Productions; fostering a sense of unity among all racial, economic, and religious lines.
Over the years, many of the performers who came through CAPITA Productions always come back to say hello, donate, volunteer or produce a production.
In the case of “We Are the Drum-We Are the World,” it was not only a CAPITA Production performer that returned, it was a North Division High School, Blue Devil, alumnus, Frank Gatson Jr. who after much fame and fortune as an acclaimed choreographer came home to bring goodness back to the place where he was first introduced to the arts, and first heard the Drum.
At the request of his former teacher, Arlene Skwierawski, he was asked to create a tribute to Michael Jackson after his death for Black History Month. Gatson did what only a Blue Devil would do; packed a bag and headed home.
After all when he left, Gatson told them at North Division that all they had to do was call because they had a friend to pass the same dream opportunities to other children as was passed to him.
The production was filled with young, local talent. My nephew, Dr. Ricardo Anderson was in the production as were many other great local artists.
During the Friday night performance, Dexter Brown, my hero, was my host. I have written about him before. He is a nurse who assisted a young man who tried to commit suicide.
This time he was Gatson’s . Dexter was so excited about the play, saying “I do whatever they need me to do.”
Families of folks were everywhere. It was a multi-generational audience, the smallest child I saw looked to be about 3 years-old.
As the production began, Frank began to beat his drum. In Act1 he took the audience to Africa where the drum began our heart beat and our song.
In a colorful mosaic of people, the story telling began to the beat of the drumtook us through the peace and harmony shared in Africa before our capture. Then came the slave ships.
In between the narration and the dancing there were songs, like “Motherless Child,” “Oh Freedom” and “Steal Away,” among others that were performed We were taken throughout history by narrators, who had perfect diction, pitch and articulation.
The dancers knew how to do it all from, African dancing, and ballet, jazz, bebop to that Holy Ghost dance. Each scene gave us more and more, of a beautiful people, who knew struggle but still knew how to live, love and celebrate life with the beat of the drum.
The migration to the north brought us the song, “Strange Fruit” as sang by Billie Holiday. Here the Jim Crow laws were instituted, where it became common for whites to have picnics and hang a Black man.
We were taken through the Harlem Renaissance-where Dixieland and Ragtime music was the thing and then blues was born. Patricia Bridges was awesome as she sang “Minie the Moocher” It was hot, hot, hot.
As the play progressed, we entered the Civil Rights era of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Dr. King, Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown, the Black Panthers all have raised and they are all taking action on freedom. It was also the time of Aretha Franklin and her first hit single-“R.E.S.P.E.C.T”. launched the music dynasty Motown Records.
During the production, Milwaukee’s own the Tempters took to the stage for one night only and took us on a Temptation rendition. They had folks rocking in their seats. We were then in praise again, as a performer sang “Never Would Have Made It” enjoined by We Are the Drum…
During the intermission, folks were just blown away by the professionalism of the production. But Dexter said we haven’t seen anything yet.
Upon re-enter for Act II, Gatson showed a video of many of the entertainers he has worked with nationally. But it was Beyonce who gave him $10,000 to go with his $25,000 to help put on this $100,000+ production.
Many of you would have really been surprised by the stage set, and lighting and sound system. One would have truly thought we were at the Performing Arts Center, which is where this show should have been.
Act II was the Michael Jackson tribute. Imagine Cameron Moutry, Zaire Adams, Deandre Sabatino and Samuel Guyton all saying, “I’m Michael Jackson.” Well they can add to their resume that they auditioned and captured the role to play Michael Jackson, one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived.
All of these young men and yes, young lady were local artists who played MJ. They were awesome. The tribute opened with Gone Too Soon-Music and Me with a video montage of MJ.
When the video montage ended, everything in the auditorium was black. The next thing we knew we were remembering the time with renditions of the Jackson 5 classics.
As we progress through Michael Jackson’s career we were also amazed by the performance of other MJ hits.
We were also mesmerized by the dancing ability of Chris (Kriyss) Grant of Florida. When Grant took the stage, you truly thought you were seeing MJ. Grant was selected to go on tour with Michael Jackson before his untimely death.
It’s no wonder Michael selected him as a dancer for his tour. During the “We are the Drum” production, Grant captured MJ in so many ways, dancing to “Beat It,: “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Smooth Criminal,” ”Dangerous,” “Man in the Mirror” and many other MJ classics. By Now ya’ll know it was a party up in the theatre. Everybody was MJ. Holla!
The cast’s performance of “They Don’t Care About Us” was really good.
And the performance of “Heal the World” was inspiring. But it was the cast’s performance of “Thriller” that couldn’t get any better. Performed just as the video, the cast rocked the house.
The production closed with “Black or White” that featured a nice video of folks from around the world. I loved it!
As the cast made its way back to the stage for introductions, the house was still partying to the beat of our Drum. It was a great production and performance. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!