Inspired, educated, motivated—that’s how I felt as I watched “A Band of Angels” at Theater 3, located at 311 W. 43rd St. The production was presented by the New York City Children’s Theater, and it was a powerful history lesson that let our young people know why education is important and that it is something that should never be taken for granted. There were many people who couldn’t get educations, and slaves were forbidden from learning to read and write.
“A Band of Angels,” written by Myla Churchill, had gorgeous direction by Colman Domingo and captivating music direction by Kristen Rosenfeld. The musical was about the Jubilee Singers and showed how this group that originated from Fisk University came to be. Ella, a teen from present day, is failing in school, and her Aunt Beth sends her on a journey with the ancestors to see what it was like to be her namesake, her Aunt Ella, who was a student at Fisk and a Jubilee singer.
The production featured beautifully performed songs like “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “All God’s Children Got Shoes.” Ella sees how rough things were for Blacks. She experiences being a slave on the ship, being sold on the auction block, having to work in the fields and then being able to go to school but having to worry about Night Riders, Ku Klux Klan members who would ride at night and kill Blacks trying to better themselves and their people. She experiences the injustices and also sees how precious education was for Blacks, thereby gaining a new appreciation. She realizes that knowledge is power.
“A Band of Angels” also showed how amazing the Jubilee Singers were to stand up to the racism and the hatred they faced as they toured the country to raise money to keep Fisk open, including how they ran into racism even in the North.
This production was a startling, lovely, touching piece of theater. The cast was delightful and included Cynthia Nesbit as Ella, who made her stage debut—and a glorious one it was. The rest of the cast was very versatile and had marvelous singing voices, as did Nesbit, and included Denielle Marie Gray, Bryson Bruce, La’Nette Wallace, Sekou S. Luke and Sam Ray. The musical was so marvelous that it was recently announced as the winner of Best Family Musical 2015 by the Off-Broadway Alliance, an award it will receive at Sardi’s June 16. Congratulations!