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Madea’s Class Reunion

Tyler Perry is a raw, major talent just beginning to hit his stride. Although "Madea's Class Reunion" and his five previous plays have been targeted exclusively for black theatergoers, Tyler's subject matter -- adultery, work problems, ageism, identity crises -- guarantees a wider fan base and crossover potential.

With:
Band: Mike Frazier, Jimmy Wyatt, Lamont Allen, Eric Morgan. Opened Sept. 2, reviewed Sept. 3, 2003; runs through Sept. 7. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Tyler Perry is a raw, major talent just beginning to hit his stride. Although “Madea’s Class Reunion” and his five previous plays have been targeted exclusively for black theatergoers, Tyler’s subject matter — adultery, work problems, ageism, identity crises — guarantees a wider fan base and crossover potential.

Peter Wolf’s two-level hotel set, with its faux marble pink bar and registration desk, and Maria Cooper’s madcap costumes establish the zany mood, and before long a group of dysfunctional graduates for the class of ’53 pour into the Pandora Hotel lobby. These include Stephanie (Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley), hooker-daughter of 74-year-old Emma (Chandra Currelley-Young), who has worked as a maid for more than 30 years and despairs about Stephanie’s damaged life. Corey (Terrell Carter), Stephanie’s abusive pimp husband, barges in, determined to keep his wife turning tricks.

Sex is also the stumbling block for two other couples: Clarence (Selmo Gordon), cheating on wife Diana (Judy Peterson) with hotel manager Ann (Chantell Christopher), and Trina (Pam Taylor), who wants forgiveness from her angry husband Horace (D’wayne Gardner) after a brief affair. Hilariously presiding over these squabbling spouses is Willie Leroy (Perry), loudmouthed bellman and bartender. An inspired bit has Leroy forcing Clarence to strip and hand over his sweatshirt, pants, watch and Nikes, as a reward for helping Clarence conceal his infidelity.

Perry’s portrait of the outspoken, duplicitous Leroy is a comedic gem, and his second-act drag transition into Madea, gray-wigged mama with massive breasts, is crowd-pleasing but too submerged in schtick. Some of Madea’s bizarre advice is funny, such as a spiritually motivated suggestion to forgive an abusive mate, and if that fails, to give him a swift kick in the groin. Madea is also a hoot in a film clip that features her arguing with a policeman over a ticket, then racing away, football breasts bouncing, the officer in hot pursuit.

Keeping the plot on course is Christopher’s villainous Ann. When she fires the aging Emma, she represents every boss who only views business via the bottom line. Christopher’s portrayal maintains its hard edge, despite a mistaken script attempt to humanize her through the threat of cancer. Resolution of the hooker-pimp relationship, in view of the stark reality shown, goes for the gag at the expense of logic and character.

In a notable cast, Tamela Mann stands out, vocally and dramatically, as assistant hotel manager Cora. Currelley-Young raises the rooftops with “I Need Thee.” Best of all is Cheryl Riley’s “Taking My Life Back,” an intense blend of anguish and newly restored hope. First-class musicians heighten the impact of Tyler’s songs, although the sound levels are too high, obliterating some key lyrics and dialogue.

Madea's Class Reunion

Kodak Theater; 3,400 seats; $42.50 top

Production: A Peachz Entertainment in association with ALW Prods. presentation of a play in two acts with book, words and music by Tyler Perry. Directed by Tyler Perry. Sets, Peter Wolf; costumes, Maria Harper; sound, Mike Charbonneau and Bruce Danz; production manager, Greg Stewart; stage manager, Chris Lear; musical director, Mike Frazier.

Cast: Band: Mike Frazier, Jimmy Wyatt, Lamont Allen, Eric Morgan. Opened Sept. 2, reviewed Sept. 3, 2003; runs through Sept. 7. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

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