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The Mystery of Love

The banal packaged as the ultrahip, with shades in place and clothes to die for, "The Mystery of Love" is either a trite play about a love triangle with a rhythm & blues band playing backup, or a tame concert with a lot of talk out front. Sekou Sundiata narrates much of the story into a hand mike while the events are pantomimed. The actors and musicians -- the band is onstage throughout -- are far better than the material.

With:
Cissy ... Angela Lockett Maceo ... Ramon Melindez Moses Shine ... Robert Tyree Eartha ... Fuschia Walker Swamp ... Craig Harris Poet ... Sekou Sundiata

The banal packaged as the ultrahip, with shades in place and clothes to die for, “The Mystery of Love” is either a trite play about a love triangle with a rhythm & blues band playing backup, or a tame concert with a lot of talk out front. Sekou Sundiata narrates much of the story into a hand mike while the events are pantomimed. The actors and musicians — the band is onstage throughout — are far better than the material.

Plot involves two men — Maceo and Shine — whose blood brotherhood began when they were teenagers and Maceo saved Shine from drowning; since his original heroic act, Maceo has become cold, self-centered and coked up. He manages a band called the Mystery of Love; Shine, the lead singer, is separated from another singer in the band, Cissy, who has been having an affair with Maceo.

The two men fight during the band’s big-break show, all is lost (record deals , girlfriends, etc.), Shine jumps in a cab, has a heart attack and dies. His spirit haunts Maceo, trying to force him to take his ashes to Angola so that the “mother ship can swing low” and pick up his soul.

Plot resolves predictably with ghost being laid to rest, mean guy being restored to humanity, and woman finding selfhood. Never mind love and the band, both of which disappear. Book is suitably supported by lyrics on the order of “This is my greatest gift to you/To thine own self be true.”

The show’s refrain, “Anything can happen on the bandstand,” is mocked by the tight script and the rehearsed jamming. The music is cliche pop-rock, although the band is fine, and the choreography runs to slo-mo swimming and karate moves.

Robert Tyree and Fuschia Walker have voices you want to hear sing better songs, and Ramon Melindez Moses has an intense, sweaty, evil presence that needs a better role. Craig Harris plays a couple of long, one-note riffs on the trombone and does a goofy turn as a mysterious cabby.

The Mystery of Love

Production: An American Music Theater Festival presentation of a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by Sekou Sundiata and music by Douglas Booth. Directed by Talvin Wilks; choreography by Marlies Yearby.

Crew: Sets, James Schuette; lighting, Jackie Manassee; sound, Darron L. West; masks, Natalie Walker; production stage manager , Monique Martin. Opened, reviewed May 13, 1994, at the Plays & Players Theater; 260 seats; $ 28 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 32 MIN.

With: Cissy ... Angela Lockett Maceo ... Ramon Melindez Moses Shine ... Robert Tyree Eartha ... Fuschia Walker Swamp ... Craig Harris Poet ... Sekou Sundiata

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