David E. Talbert, writer-director-producer of “Love in the Nick of Tyme,” is not likely to displace August Wilson in theater history. At the same time, it’s not difficult to see why Talbert’s dozen plays have outdrawn and outgrossed the late Pulitzer winner’s works. The production lacks technical polish, but the audience, with what looked like a preponderance of women middle-aged and over, was positively lapping it up.
“Nick of Tyme” is setting off on a 19-city tour, playing huge-capacity houses in Miami, Detroit, L.A., Philadelphia, At-lanta, Chicago, etc. Tour winds up May 20 at the Warner in D.C., by which point, no doubt, satisfied urban customers in the tens of thousands will have seen it.
This new “musical stageplay” seems likely to please the fans of Talbert’s 11 previous plays, which reportedly have grossed in excess of $75 million. (Four of the titles are on DVD, including “His Woman, His Wife” and “He Say She Say … But What Does God Say?”)
The production is just the latest example of a barely visible but highly lucrative theatrical circuit geared almost exclu-sively to black audiences, far away from Broadway, Off Broadway and the regionals. (Talbert describes it as “the urban inspirational musical and comedy theater genre.”)
These attractions garner almost no mainstream notice, although one recently broke through with a vengeance: The 2006 filmization of Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion” outgrossed the motion picture versions of Broadway’s “Proof,” “The Producers” and “Rent” combined.
For its New York engagement, “Tyme” is playing in what happens to be the largest theater on Broadway. (There were peddlers doing a brisk trade with “Nick of Tyme” T-shirts from 72nd Street up to the Beacon, above 74th.) Even so, these shows are so far off the radar that little is heard from unions, which usually object to non-union troupes in far less visible venues.
The play itself? Well, the dramaturgy is rather basic, with echoes of the Queen Latifah movie “Beauty Shop.” Tyme (Terry Dexter) runs a salon on Chicago’s South Side, which is not all that busy but filled with a handful of flavorful regulars.
Tyme has been separated for 17 years from ne’er-do-well trumpeter Marcelles (co-producer Morris Chestnut, best known for “Boyz n the Hood” and recipient of hoots and hollers on his initial entrance — to say nothing of when he starts to take his pants off in the second act).
Tyme falls for UPS man Harvey (Andre Pitre). Talbert admirably resisted the urge to name this character Nick, though he does call another character Portia, if only so the two-timing Marcelles can tell her that every so often a Porsche needs a tune-up and a lube job.
Tyme breaks up with Harvey to return to Marcelles; Portia gets pregnant by Marcelles; Tyme fires Portia (a hairdresser with only one client, by the way), and then rehires the girl because the place is so lonely without her. Meanwhile, you have a fat boy-fat girl romance and a big-mouthed busybody, kept around because she cracks jokes better than anyone else.
At the opening-night perf, Al Sharpton wandered into the salon at the top of the second act, was given a jar of hair cream and wandered back off, to minimal effect.
There is constant musical underscoring throughout, played by a live band of seven. Occasionally — beginning 32 minutes into the hourlong first act — we get a real song, penned by R&B vocalist Vivian Green.
Opening night was so marred by overamplified sound that it’s hard to judge the songs, the dialogue and even the staging. With as many as eight people talking at once, their whispers magnified beyond comprehension, it was frequently impossible to tell not only what they were saying but which actor was saying it.