Thursday, March 23, 2023



Yours Truly in the audience holding up the program for the musical opera.

The New Work Collective, directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, presented  its inaugural piece--a three collaged musical opera where three different works by various composers and librettists were staged at The Berges Theatre MARCH 16-18 located at The Center of Creative Arts (COCA) of St Louis. The works, which were produced by  the Opera Theatre of St Louis, told stories involving Black Woman Empowerment, Asian American hate awareness, and the Black Queer culture.

FROM LEFT: Olivia Johnson, Flora Hawk and Kimwana Doner-Chandler  in a scene from Cook Shack (Photo by Opera Theatre of St Louis)

The first opera, Cook Shack, told the story about a timid 11-year -old student, Dayo (played by Flora Hawk), and her getting bullied at school. She received her confidence after taking a school field trip to the St. Louis Griot Museum where she learned about three African American women who made historic feats in America in the "Superheroes of Invention" exhibit. The women featured were Annie Malone (played by Ardeen Pierre), Marie Van Brittan Brown (portrayed by Kimwana Doner-Chandler) and Dr. Patricia Bath (performed by Olivia Johnson). Each woman from the exhibit came to life and had spoken to Dayo about their experiences and their Black Girl Magic power.

This piece, which was written and produced by Samiya Bashor and Del'Shawn Taylor, was excellently executed as far its production and the main actress, Hawk, is delightful in her role as the winsome nerdy student-cum-supergirl enhanced by her angelic soprano voice. The standout of this piece was the fantastic visual photos of historical black women throughout time projected throughout the performance.

Matthew Pearce in a scene from Slanted: An American Rock Opera (Photo by Opera Theatre in St Louis)

After the first intermission, the next piece staged was Slanted: An American Opera, which told the story about a rock musician named Simon Tam (played by Matthew Pierce) who, along with his lawyer stood before the Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginzburg (played by Dorothy Gal) fighting for his right to trademark the name, "The Slants," for his Asian American based rock band. The conflict arose when the Solicitor General (performed by Keith Klein) claimed the name is hate speech.

This was a very moving and empathetic musical heralded by the invigorating singing of Pierce whose tenor voice captured the essence of being  heard and seen as a minority. Another standout was Klein who gave a comedic, bumbling performance along with his booming bass voice. The display of photos of different Asian American struggles (WWII camps) and triumphs (the recent Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan) throughout the production enhanced it as well.

Namarea Randolph-Yosea (main), Olivia Johnson (center) and Kyle Oliver (right) in a scene from Madison Lodge (Photo by The Opera of St Louis)

After the second intermission, the last piece of the night was Madison Lodge written by Tre'von Griffith. Set in the summer of 1928, X (played by Yosea) arrived in Harlem from Alabama to live their life, truth and dreams. When they reached their sister's house (played by Olivia Johnson) who, unbeknownst to X, was a drag king performer. Thus, their sister had taken them to one of the popular drag balls where she worked (Madison Lodge). Conflict occurred when the police raided the venue and X and the cohorts there raised money to get the sister out of jai. As a result, X received courage to come out as gay and a drag queen.

The standout of this piece were the dazzling costumes (designed by Davario Simmons)that depicted excellently the 1920s Harlem drag world with sparkles, tuxes and flapper outfits. Yosea was marvelous as the doe-eyed dreamer with an enticing tenor voice to match, The only drawback was it was the shortest length of the three pieces and most of the story felt a bit edited for time and rushed.  However, the background photos, that were displayed on screen behind the performers  of various heroes to the black queer movement (Stonewall, singer Sylvester) and the two male dancers (Ka Thomas and Kelly Marsh who also danced in the other two pieces staged) who dressed in flapper drag with their lean and lanky dance routines were added touches.

Additionally, orchestral music throughout the operas was conducted by Darwin Aquino and students from the COCA Theatre Artists Pre-Professional Division, read poems at the end of each intermission before each staged piece were performed. Also noteworthy was the video designer Tom Ontiveros who produced the splendid display of photos throughout each staged show. 


There was a Q and A with the librettists and composers of each opera FROM SECOND LEFT of Moderator: Joe X. Jiang (Slanted), Samiya Bashir (Cook Shack), Tre'von Griffith (Madison Lodge),  Del'shawn Taylor (Cook Shack) and Simon Tam (Slanted)

The producers introducing themselves to the audience.

Griffith explaining to crowd about his piece Madison Lodge.


Coming to theatres April 21 is the sci-fi film SPACE WARS: QUEST FOR THE DEEPSTAR. It also will be on Blu Ray May 2.



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