‘Bella,’ a bootylicious musical at Playwrights Horizons
Linda Armstrong | 7/13/2017, 4:01 p.m.
“Bella: An American Tall Tale” had a recent world premiere run at Playwrights Horizons. The musical, with book, music and lyrics by Kirsten Childs, featured an amazing cast with incredible voices, energy and wonderful comedic timing. It starred Ashley D. Kelley in the lead role, and she was delightful to watch as Bella, a big booty gal. What was interesting about Bella, besides the fact that her behind attracted men’s attention, was that she was a constant dreamer. She had a creative imagination and would make up stories about people she came in contact with. Bella was also a strong, proud, young Black girl, who came from a family of strong Black women. Her grandmother, powerfully and playfully played by Natasha Yvette Williams, taught her to believe in and trust the ancestors, especially the Spirit of the Booty.
Set in the 1870s, Bella is from Mississippi and is on the run because she assaulted a rich white man, Bonny Johnny, when he tried to take advantage of her. Bella changes her name, catches a train and tries to flee to a buffalo soldier, Aloysius T. Honeycutt, to get married. She has many adventures on her train ride, including a holdup. She and the porter escape the train by her using her big booty, but exactly how it happens I won’t share. If this show is mounted again you need to experience it firsthand. I know
I couldn’t believe it.
Bella, because of her bounteous booty, is recruited as a circus act and gets fame and fortune. She also gets proposals and is treated like a freak. Her buffalo soldier feels humiliated by the reputation Bella has in the circus show and breaks things off with her. Bella has to find her way to knowing, loving and accepting herself, her big booty and what life has to offer.
Britton Smith has a smooth voice as he sings love letters to Bella as Aloysius. Brandon Gill gives a charming and funny performance as the porter. Other cast members of this mainly African-American cast included Kenita R. Miller, who played Bella’s mama and a passenger on the train, Miss Cabbagestalk. Miller was captivating in each role. This fantastic cast also included Marinda Anderson, Jo’nathan Michael, Gabrielle Reyes, Olli Haaskivi, Yurel Echezarreta, Kevin Massey and Paolo Montalban.
This very entertaining musical had stunning costumes by Dede M. Ayite, lovely scenic design by Clint Ramos, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Lindsay Jones, choreography by Camille A. Brown and enchanting direction by Robert O’Hara.