You could go to Jomama Jones‘s BLACK LIGHT, and just enjoy Jomama’s considerable talent as she presents herself in sparkling evening gowns, a foot long afro and four-inch spiked heels. You could listen to the songs, bask in the talent of the band and the sweet currents of the Peaches’ backup singing. Goodness knows that would be entertainment enough. But BLACK LIGHT, a mix of singing and storytelling with a subtitle of: “a soulful embrace of life and love” is more than just a fun night out at the Penumbra Theatre.
Daniel Alexander Jones, who created the show and inhabits the lovely and astute Jomama, offers the audience both solace and a proposal for the next four years.
The evening starts with Jomama reciting a litany of what if’s. “What if I told you it is going to be all right?”….”What if I told you things are going to get much, much worse?”….“What if I told you, you are going to be brave enough?” The list goes on through questions that many of us (I would say a majority of us, given the results of the popular vote) have been holding in our hearts since the election in November. Jomama answers are both provocative and sensible.
Don’t get the wrong impression, the show is anything but glum agitprop theatre and Jomama is no cold, unapproachable diva. She’s a muse, an inspiration and she knows how to amuse. Vibrant songs and funny stories abound in the 90-minute show. She invites us, in a voice which often carries a deep, back of the throat growl, ponder, “to muse,” with her about the future.
Early on a tale about her high school astrophysics class, circa 1979, and a contraband magazine with a centerfold of a nearly nude Prince Rogers Nelson sets the theme for the evening. Things spin off into side bars on black holes, supernovas and electric torches (flashlights). The latter, Jomama tells a younger audience member, are what we needed to carry around for light before we had cell phones.
The songs feature Jomama’s warm baritone voice. Her backup singers, Trevor Bachman and the excellent Helga Davis are up to the task of keeping the songs’ energy flowing with a wider range of voices. The piano with Samora Pinderhughes (music director for the show) was especially nice in the lead-in to the ballad, “Sometimes There is Magic,” featuring a gentle jazz riff that allowed Miss Jomama a backstage costume change. Geoff LeCrone played guitar opening night and Benjamin James Kelly took the bass. Matt Edlund, on drums who seemed a little heavy handed for my taste, rounded out the band.
The songs, all co-written by Jomama Jones (all but one with Bobby Halvorson; one with Dylan Monk) are a good mix of up tempo dance songs and a ballad or two. The lyrics carry the theme of the stories with lines like: “Supernova means a star is dying” and “Can I get a witness for the need in me?” These aren’t unforgettable hooks and none of the songs standout but together they carry the evening along with likeable sincerity.
The show is no political treatise but for a piece of entertainment put together in a short time frame there is a considered approach and much to think about the day after.
This isn’t surprising given that Daniel Alexander Jones is a resident of NYC and an assistant professor of theatre at Fordham University. He has received several awards including a Doris Duke Artist Award. In the person of Jomama, Jones creates a chanteuse and raconteur who holds our moment in time. By evening’s end we are well acquainted with Jomama’s Aunt Cleotha who is both a guardian of her family and an active witness of her times. Like Aunt Cleotha, Jones shines a light into the dim corners of the future to keep the devil at bay as we prepare our way forward.