'Orphan Blue' spotlights talent

Broadway in the Hood's "Orphan Blues: The Gospel Musical," which played the West Las Vegas Library last weekend, is more of a Christian fellowship than a piece of theater. The approximately 35 cast members were nearly all black, as was the enthusiastic and very vocal audience. But I went because I knew some of the best performers in town can be found at these library shows. And for some baffling reason, it continues to be rare to see blacks not only on local stages but in audiences.

Director/writer Torrey Russell began the tale on a crowded city street, full of homeless people, drugs, sirens and alienating fences. Through song and scene, he told the story -- sometimes graphically -- of a group of Vegas residents dealing with all the big issues. At times, dialogue would segue into sermons in which characters would suddenly pull out a Bible verse and preach to the audience.

The shows were full of fun. What amazed me was how many times I shook my head in disbelief at the artistry I was seeing. Much of the dancing, singing and acting were on a professional level. Yet, the cast members were mostly neighborhood locals. And admission was free.

Although I understand Russell's entertainment is more concerned with God than Thespis, I can't help but wish he'd better shape his production, with a help of an outside director who could force some ruthless editing. A show like this should tour other playhouses. The West Las Vegas Library is a great place for casting scouts and local directors to find rare talents. But I don't sense that happening. Some local neighborhoods have very strict borders. …

Those who know what an uphill battle it is to do local theater should be able to appreciate what the celebrating was all about last Friday at the Onyx Theatre. Off-Strip Productions' "Naked Boys Singing" reached its first anniversary. No matter your opinion of the show (it's a simple good time), you have to marvel at Mike Morse's business savvy in keeping the production going.

"It's still running through sheer will," Onyx co-founder Morse says. "I wanted a show that was going to have some longevity to it. It's getting too expensive to mount a short-run show. Of course, the hook is the nudity. But the music and lyrics and showmanship certainly help. There's no lip-synching. Word of mouth is good. Our audiences are increasing."

Morse is on the lookout for intimate, well-received New York shows. Opening soon will be another Vegas premiere musical called "[title of show]." It doesn't have much street recognition but many theater buffs see it as a coup for the Onyx. The show just ended its Broadway run less than two years ago.

"We've had our ups and downs, even with 'Naked Boys Singing,' " Morse says. "But I think we're beginning to find our niche."

Not bad for a 96-seat, 4-year-old playhouse inside a fetish shop that some said was doomed for immediate failure.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas NV 89125.