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‘Grace’ Celebrates Black Family Traditions & Food, Warns of Gentrification

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Entertainment

By encouraging us to sample African American culinary traditions, Nolan Williams, Jr. warns of the dangers of gentrification in historically Black areas.

Eight members of the Philadelphia Minton family prepare a memorial lunch to honor their late Gran'Me. "Here We Go Making Preparations" sets the tone for the meal.

The location is Minton Place, a 100-year-old family restaurant serving Southern soul food. Ruthie, the current owner and granddaughter, is battling to keep the restaurant afloat.

Beautifully performed and scored, Grace is a complex tapestry of the African American experience. D.C. resident Nolan Williams, Jr. co-wrote the book and created a wondrous piece inviting us to sample Black foods, customs and traditions while also alerting us of the dangers of gentrification in established Black areas.

Within the joy and laughter of this musical lies a far hidden truth that defines Black culture. Some of the songs remind you of Sondheim's pacing and storytelling, while others are pure rhythm & bluess or jazz. Some ballads are lullabies, while others are funkadelic. As the family flailed their arms to the Funky Chicken, the crowd laughed out loud at Haley's brilliantly disrespectful song “This Holy Bird.”

Presenting The Mintons:

Miss Minnie, the matriarch, rules with love, understanding, and military precision. She is the family tree's roots. For example, in "Three Okra Seeds," Minnie talks of an ancestor who left slavery with only a few seeds in her hand, a practice that dates back to the beginnings of slavery.

To everyone's dismay, Joshua, a cute, hyperactive hip hop child, prepares to DJ the gathering. "Yo Fam!" With his cheery tone, he greets his Twitter followers.

Jacqui, "I'm not bougie. I'm Afro chic," is the opposite of Haley, who is enraged that her name has been omitted from the restaurant's historic plaque.

Paul, the PhD nephew in charge of the memorial event, teaches the family on historic African American chefs. And then there is E. J., the financier whose daddy held him away from the Mintons, because of their "lack of class." "’Dady’ Used to Say," he sings, finally getting their love was distant.

The cast sings 22 songs, but no one can match Nova Y. Payton's deadly, sweet, silky voice and incredible range. Audiences reciprocate the spirit in kind with all the grace we can muster.

Grace stars Nova Y. Payton (Ruthie), Virginia Ann Woodruff (Miss Minnie), Rayshun LaMarr (Joshua), Arica Jackson (Haley), Raquel Jennings (Jacqui), David Hughey (Paul), Jarran Muse (E. J.) and Solomon Parker III (Lawrence).

Directed and Choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming with Co-Book by Nikkole Salter. Conducted by Paul Byssainthe, Jr. with Orchestrations by Joseph Joubert. Scenic Design by Jason Ardizzone West, Costume Design by Dominique Fawn Hill and Lighting Design by Xavier Pierce.

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