Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Uncle Jed's Barbershop" preview: Q&A with Leonard Barett Jr.

Leonard Barrett Jr. (Photo courtesy of Max Talent)

Leonard Barrett Jr. will help bring a dose of local talent to this weekend's performance of the musical "Uncle Jed's Barbershop" at the Aurora Fox theater. The veteran actor and singer has graced the stage in Aurora before as a regular company member at PHAMALY, and he's carved a niche locally with his regular slate of concerts and one-man shows. The Sentinel talked to Barrett about working with a Broadway crew for "Jed" and his own dual role in the staged concert reading.

Aurora Sentinel (Adam Goldstein): How did you get connected with this revived production of “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop”?

Leonard Barrett Jr.: I was performing in Fort Collins starting back in 2004 with “Angels in America.” The artistic director was very kind to let me stay at her home up there while I was performing and I was invited to many of the gatherings that she was a part of. One of the events had David Wohl and Kenneth Grimes performing excerpts from a new musical they were working on, “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.”
I got to hear some of the original early music on that day and became acquainted with both Ken and David. We crossed paths several times and it was David who decided, when this event came up, to pull me in.

AS: What stood out to you about the musical when you first heard it?
LB: David Wohl is a very accomplished composer and I’ve always been aware of his talent. This piece has been hovering for a long time. When I got the call and I heard that Ken Prymus, Terry Burrell, Kimberly Jujuan and Nora Cole from Broadway were going to be involved, I immediately said, ‘Yes.’ It’s my first chance to rub shoulders with New York.

AS: As far as the story goes, what did you like about the plot and the structure of the material.
LB: It’s very unique. Some of the musical is very Sondheim-ish in its structure. I’ve never done Steven Sondheim before; I’ve only been aware of some of his productions.
For the story itself, I don’t know if anything in particular drew me into it, other than David Wohl, to tell you the truth. I have a tendency to shy away from slavery and post-slavery issues in plays. They have a tendency to bum me out. But this one, especially with the young character Sarah Jean, that definitely brightened the whole play for me. It brings a smile, with the relationship they had and her sharing of his dream to have a barbershop.

AS: Tell me a bit about the character you’re playing in the show.
LB: I am playing Amos Jr. … I am part of the enclave that is basically looking at Jed and wondering what he is doing with his dream. There’s a tendency at this time in the South to draw too much attention to yourself, if you move in a certain pattern. He’s going to white banks to open a bank account. He’s making a lot of the neighbors uncomfortable, because at that time, you don’t want to draw too much attention from the white neighbors because it could cause you more trouble than good.
I’m also the father of Sarah Jean. At one point, Sarah Jean gets TB and he has to go to Uncle Jed, because Uncle Jed is the only one to possibly help to get an operation.

AS: How do you like working at the Aurora Fox?
LB: This is my second time working there; the first time was “Our Town” with PHAMALY. With Charlie Packard and Jenn Orf, it’s like family. I’ve gotten to know them, so it feels like home.

AS: You mentioned the parallels to Sondheim in the score. Has the music been particularly challenging in this piece?
LB: It’s been very unique. I liken it to learning a very challenging jazz piece. The loops and turns are unexpected; the harmonies very seldom really repeat. Normally when you get a song in a musical, you have a chorus, a verse and a bridge. You know what’s coming. With these, you really have to pay attention, because there are no repeating patterns whatsoever.
It’s sometimes almost atonal, but it comes together in a very fluidly painted composition. On top of that, it’s a new production so things are being changed daily. That’s been a very unique experience for me.
One of the bright spots for me has been working with Susan Einhorn, a New York director. What I loved about her immediately was the brevity when they give you a critique. It’s the brevity and preciseness of exactly what they want to say. I love that.

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop” by Kenneth Grimes and David Wohl, directed by Susan Einhorn. All performances will take place at the Aurora Fox theater, 9900 E. Colfax Ave. For more information, call 303-739-1970
•  7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27
•  2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28
•  6 p.m. Saturday, May 28 —This benefit performance for the prevention of AIDS will feature a silent auction.
•  7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28
•  3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 29

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