The Oxford English Dictionary defines déjà vu as “A feeling of having already experienced the present situation”. It is a word of French origin in the early 20th century, meaning literally “already seen.” Watching The Justice Theater Project’s production of Zuccotti Park: The Musical, it’s hard not to feel that overwhelming sense that We’ve been here before. The play documents the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in September 2011 to protest economic and social inequality. Six years later, it’s hard not to see the similarities between organizations like Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL, and the Women’s March on Washington.
Despite some great performances, it’s hard not to get the sense that Zuccotti Park’s subject matter is more powerful than the actual writing. While solos, monologues, and two-person scenes were captivating, the scenes written for the group of protesters at large seemed cluttered and clunky, even in the dialogue. That being said, it is a solid musical with a great cast to match.
In particular, the work of Moses T. Alexander Greene as Michael and Chanda Branch as Kate were the highlights of the production. They both not only were able to forge great onstage chemistry, but stood apart from the cast in their vocal ability. Whenever one of them was offstage, you wondered when the other would come back on.
While we’re talking about singing, David Thomas is a powerhouse. I initially brushed off his character Tom as some comedic homeless character, but seeing Zuccotti Park is worth it just to hear his song in the first act. It will blow you away.
JaJuan Cofield, who plays Cooper, the musical’s romantic lead, also gives a powerful performance and has great chemistry with Chanda Branch, even though I found myself wishing his singing was a little stronger.
Ovderall, the ensemble does a great job making the characterizations to form this movement, but I was wishing that the group musical numbers had stronger vocals. On the whole, Jesse Presler and Aya Wallace’s directorial work shone in how real the protest looked; but the stage did sometimes feel cluttered and awkward. In addition, some of the movements and fight choreography weren’t as tight as they should have been. That being said, overall it was a powerful production; and every actor onstage was able to create a powerful collective.
The set, although simply furnished, provided a flexibility that allowed us to travel all over New York City. Using projections, practical lighting on the trees, and glowing bricks in the stage floor, going from Zuccotti Park to Central Park to an office building was seamless and gorgeous to watch. It’s a testament to Jeffrey Nugent, Sage Twiss, and Deb Royal’s practical design eye.
In addition to her work designing the lights and projection, E. Rennee Eisenhour’s sound design set the perfect tone for the show. The preshow of archival music, interspersed with the Hamilton Mixtape, set the perfect tone for the show to come as the audience “occupied” the theater.
In addition to the projection, Eisenhour’s lighting helped transform the space and mood. With props and actors sometimes intermingling with projection and lights, it created a beautiful surrealness. Brenda L. Hayes’ costume design was great, in virtue that it was hardly noticeable. From soldiers to real-estate agents, bankers to the armed forces, police to all the children — they all looked like the people you’d run into at any protest.
Nothing was jarring or stood out in a bad way, and it helped support the framework of the story. The music provided by Alfred Wilson, Carolyn Colquitt, and Joe Wimberley, under the direction of Ron Cornelous, was amazing; and I still have some of the melodies stuck in my head. In general, though, I found the volume for music and singing low, which I feel may be because of the carpeted church that the show was presented in.
My criticisms about musical volume aside, Zuccotti Park is the perfect reminder of where we’ve been and the direction we’re going as a nation. When you think about looking at history and seeing things repeat, you don’t think you only have to go back six years. This fun and spunky musical can help you see how far we’ve come and how we can continue to grow. Occupy Zuccotti Park while you still can.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 13th Triangle Review review by Shannon Plummer-White, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/the-justice-theater-projects-regional-premiere-of-zuccotti-park-is-nice-in-theory/.
The Justice Theater Project presents ZUCCOTTI PARK: THE MUSICAL at 8 p.m. Feb. 17 and 18,3 p.m. Feb. 19, 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25, 3 p.m. Feb. 26 in the fellowship hall of the Umstead Park United Church of Christ, 8208 Brownleigh Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27617.
TICKETS: $22 ($14 students and $17 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except $14 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-264-7089, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/zuccotti-park-the-musical/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1165950536850801/.
2016-17 SEASON http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/20162017-season-of-shows/.
PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458.
VENUE: http://www.upucc.org/, https://www.facebook.com/UmsteadParkUCC, and https://twitter.com/upucc.
NOTE 1: At 7:10 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18th, meet playwright and lyricist Catherine Hurd and composer Vatrena King for a preshow discussion.
NOTE 2: At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19th, meet Justice Theater Project artistic director Dr. Deb Royals, playwright and lyricist Catherine Hurd, and composer Vatrena King for a preshow discussion entitled “The Economy Serves the People — Not the Other Way Around.”
NOTE 3: Starting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25th, there will be an hour-long FREE-to-watch, $5-to-drum drum circle, facilitated by Drum for Change. Also, learn about the Human Microphone employed during the Occupy Wall Street protests.
NOTE 4: Starting at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26th, there will be a preshow discussion on “Citizens, Democracy, Advocacy,” with Lindsay Saunders of RESULTS Raleigh.
NOTE 5: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26th, performance; and there will also be FREE child care for potty-trained and older children. Both require prior reservations.
Zuccotti Park: The Musical (2015 musical): http://www.zuccottiparkmusical.com/ (official website).
Catherine Hurd (book and lyrics): http://www.zuccottiparkmusical.com/our-team (Zuccotti Park: The Musical bio) and https://www.facebook.com/Tootcat (Facebook page).
Vatrena King (music): http://www.zuccottiparkmusical.com/our-team (Zuccotti Park: The Musical bio) and https://www.facebook.com/vatrena.king.7 (Facebook page).
Jesse Presler (co-director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100014062534897 (Facebook page).
Aya Wallace (co-director): https://www.facebook.com/aya.wallace (Facebook page).
Katy Koop is a writer, comedic actor, and stage manager based in Cary, NC. As a freelance writer, her work has been published by Later, Femsplain, and Hello Giggles. When she’s not writing or involved in a local production, she’s tweeting under the handle @katykooped. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.