From the time that Daniel Beaty began his one-man show “The Tallest Tree in the Forest,” your attention was grabbed and maintained. Beaty, who has a superb singing voice, started off with an emotional, amazing performance of “Ol’ Man River.” Beaty was Paul Robeson. He not only treated his subject with a great deal of respect, he also conveyed that he came from a proud father who emphasized education and tried to teach his sons to be careful as Black men when it came to dealing with prejudiced whites. The audience was introduced to his father and his older brother through the outstanding character changes that Beaty effortlessly performed, as he does in all of his productions.
The audience got to learn a great deal about the real story behind Robeson, his personal life, his career and the responsibility that he felt to his people. A responsibility that he took very seriously, Robeson felt that his celebrity status should be used to speak up for Blacks, which, of course, wasn’t popular with the government, but he didn’t care. He was a bold, courageous, educated and gifted man.
I think it is always an honor when Beaty focuses his sights on a particular person. He learns the ins and outs of this person’s existence then brings their story to the audience in a way that no one else can. You can always see the depth of great respect that he has for his subjects and the painstaking details that he researches and brings to the attention of the audience.
I especially love Beaty’s gift for smoothly transitioning between characters. He makes it look easy as he goes from being a man to a woman, a father to a small child. Beaty’s creativity and theatrical gifts are vast. Watching him work is always a treat and is very moving. I especially love his ability to take a difficult moment and bring levity to it.
Beaty performed “The Tallest Tree in the Forest” and let the audience see a fantastic and detailed side to Robeson for one week at BAM’s Harvey Theatre in Brooklyn. I hope that the show finds another venue soon. If you hear of it being staged again, make it your business to see it, and take family members with you so that you can share this memorable and moving experience. For that matter, if you hear that Beaty is doing any show, make plans to see it, because he creates and delivers every one of his productions with such passion, amazing vocals and humor and that not to see it is doing yourself a disservice.