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‘Broadway in the Hood’ show a spirited event

I suppose what surprises me most when I go to a free “Broadway in the Hood” show at West Las Vegas Library is that the production is not professional. As the troupe’s founder has told the press, “About 70 percent of these kids have never been onstage before.” More than that, a good number have had troubled pasts and have gotten involved in “Hood” as a kind of therapy.

This surprises me because when I caught the songfest last weekend — this year called “The Best of Broadway Las Vegas 2: A Soulful Musical Celebration” (which has since closed) — I naturally assumed the bulk of the nearly three dozen cast members made their living performing. I keep leaving these shows wishing Vegas saw more of this group, and that they visited performing arts centers in other parts of town.

(It’s that old “West Las Vegas Library is the bad part of the city” thing that seems to continue to keep “Hood” from getting more racially mixed audiences. I never understood that. You drive into a parking lot filled with security. You walk a few steps into the theater. And then later you walk back to your safely parked car. What’s the threat?)

Friday night’s opening got off the ground quickly with three spirited numbers from “A Chorus Line,” the hilarious title song from “Book of Mormon,” the beautifully formal love theme from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” and the wickedly funny “Don’t You Bring Me No Bad News” from “The Wiz” (featuring Vanessa Williams-Jackson as the witch in melodically scowling voice, overstuffed dress and mad, mangled hair).

“Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” had strong vocals from the stage while the auditorium was filled — overwhelmed — with dancing puppets. And we were treated to a rousing rendition of “Let the Sunshine In” from “Hair” that made you want to stand up and cheer.

I regret not having the space to mention more names, but I could fill several pages with the reasons so many cast members were so enjoyable. I feel obligated to again mention Williams-Jackson, an attractively heavy-set woman who ended a number with a full split. She made you feel anyone can do anything if they want to bad enough.

Niles River, from the Luxor’s “Lion King,” completed the evening with an inspirational solo. His easygoing manner was a welcomed contrast to the night’s frantic activity.

I don’t mean to imply that everyone connected to this show has had a troubled past (I recognized one performer, Melody Wilson, as an accomplished Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas). But Russell makes the point that the production serves for some as a life-saving rope. I felt that “rope” when I was growing up in East Harlem, when theater made me realize that life was full of many more possibilities than my unhappy world suggested.

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

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