It takes more than a nice voice to sing a cappella well. And it takes powerful voices with depth and personality to sing a cappella predominantly throughout an entire musical. But that’s what the Alliance Theatre has done brilliantly with its current production of Avenue X.
Directed by Susan V. Booth, the theater’s artistic director, Avenue X takes audiences back to 1963 where Black newcomers to an Italian neighborhood clash with their new neighbors. However two young men (one Black, one White) find they share a love of singing and their distrust of each another falls away as they do wop and harmonize in a sewage tunnel and street median.
There’s music here and there throughout the performance, but the actors are at their best when it’s their voices alone showcasing their considerable talents. With 14 numbers in the first act and 10 in the second, fans of rhythm and blues and do wop will find themselves immersed in an array of songs such as “She’s Fifteen,” “Big Lucy,” “Stay,” “Follow Me” and “Where is Love.”
Nick Spangler as Pasquale and J.D. Goldbatt as Milton are charming and believable as two young men whose family and friends attempt to impede their connection. Steve French as Ubazz adds his amazingly deep baritone, which contrasts with Jeremy Cohen’s pitch-perfect falsetto.
The cast of eight work well together singing, dancing and delivering lines written by John Jiler that explore young desires to escape their neighborhood, past hurts over talent rejected in the face of racism, prejudice that accompanies culture conflict and the commonality of artistic expression.
Hats off also to Todd Rosenthal who designed the set that brings Brooklyn to the stage with its suspended apartment windows and fire escape grates. The muted tones of the streetscape and the realistic look of the brick apartment buildings convey the grittiness of this borough of New York City. And Ken Yunker’s lighting equally enhances the experience.
The play has a jolt of an ending that I didn’t see coming and won’t elaborate on and spoil it for those who plan to attend.
Avenue X runs through Feb. 7 at the Alliance, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. For more information, visit www.alliancetheatre.org.