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'I Can't Stop Loving You: The Music of Ray Charles'

by Gretchen Collins

November 14, 2006 -- Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

I can’t stop loving Ray Charles’ music. Being deprived of his eyesight at age seven, and raised in the appalling poverty of the 1930s Deep South didn’t rob Charles of his musical vision. That was evident when Tulsa’s Celebrity Attractions presented “I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Music of Ray Charles” in the Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

In the theatre, there was a stage within the stage, surrounded by a frame of piano keys. Ten musicians, under the direction of David Williams, played their hearts out on the upper most level. Were there only 11 dancers? Under dance captain, Paul Omasta, it seemed like many more. Lighting ranged from gentle illumination for emotional moments to disco strength strobes when the music called for it. 

The legendary songs of Charles were more than capably sung by Regi Brown, Nedgra Culp, Mike Davis, Terrence D. Forsythe, Truth Hurts (stage name), Jureef, and Chris Murrell.              

Mike Davis nailed “Busted,” a concept that Charles was well-acquainted with. Davis’ interpretation had just the right about of humor and humility.

In “Route 66," Terrence D. Forsythe sang about the Mother Road--part of which runs through Tulsa. It also involved a lively dance sequence, à la goin’-to-the-hop, with girls in can -can full skirts and hair bows.  The guys competently swung their partners and bounced them over their shoulders.  In keeping with the lyrics, there was a whole lot of kicking going on. During “Basin Street Blues” there was some nice soft shoe. In “Swanee River Rock,” some of the singers and dancers carried church fans--a staple in the hot South. These touches added authenticity and depth throughout the performance.

“Bye Bye Love,” which closed out the first act, was a hoot! All six singers made lovely harmony and left us wanting more–exactly what you want from the first act closer. Meanwhile, the dancers were hitting their target heart rates by stomping and clapping to the movements of the Roaring ‘Twenties. The tap sequence was breathless and spicy!

Gary Lloyd’s choreography sizzled in “Fever,” lustily rendered by singer Truth Hurts. The Fosse-style steps were both hot and cool with just enough accoutrements in the form of cocky hats and folding chairs.

Although perennial favorite “America The Beautiful” was dropped in this performance, the audience got what they came for in “What’d I Say.” In this boisterous hit, everyone joined on stage in a blast from the recent past. Dancers in flapper attire shook their booties and the men performed one-armed handstands. In a rush of exuberance, the dancers took it into the reveling crowd.

The first act seemed a bit slow, perhaps due to the medley of country tunes which just didn’t have the impact, or the delivery, the other songs did. But in the second act, it would have been difficult to find fault. Singers, dancers and musicians were in the moment and in the mood.

“I Can’t Stop Loving You” was faithful to Charles, but no one can wear the shades quite like he did. It didn’t, however, stop any of us from feeling a lot more soulful by evening’s end.

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