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A sassy Mint Rainbow 

Plus, Northwest's piquant Pippin

If you saw the crowd at Levine Museum on MLK Day swelling out onto 7th Street, you may already know that the overflow queue was for "Q" – Quentin Talley and his new On Q Productions. With a free presentation of Douglas T. Ward's A Day of Absence, a new day was born in the Queen City. Crowd control may have been a work-in-progress, but the concept was an instant hit.

Talley's success was underscored last weekend when he had to add an extra Sunday matinee to the run of his latest exploit, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. This was out in Commuterland, far from the mighty Lynx, at the Mint Museum -- proving that the Q concept has legs and his followers have wheels.

For a Thursday evening miles from the launching pad of ACC March Madness, it was a fairly healthy walk for Sue and me from the Mint parking lot to the lobby. A good 20 minutes before the 8 p.m. start, only scattered seats remained. When a horseshoe of extra seats was plunked right in front of our front row, we scrambled forward to protect our sightline.

The On Q cast seemed admirably oblivious to this constriction of their performing space. While the candy-colored costumes and lighting made them look like girls as they descended to the stage, their celebration of Ntozake Shange's text -- spiced with extended interludes of sass, seduction and brutal melodrama -- clearly made the point that these were ladies, each one of them a handful.

In fact, the maturity of the actresses and the silken design and production values were what elevated this Colored Girls above the pathfinding JC Smith production of 1988. Talley had his own way with the script, dropping an innocent 11-year-old rainbow, Zelyn Valdes, into the vortex of mature colored girls who swirled around her. Leah Palmer-Licht as Lady in Purple was the most wanton of our urban griots, unwinding the various escapades of "Sechita." LeShea Stukes certainly was the most emotional as Lady in Red, relating the sensational tale of the deranged father in "No Air."

Anysia Welsh was suitably juvenile and coquettish as Lady in Brown, spinning the "Toussaint" reminiscence, while Zorana Valdes widened the overall palette as Lady in Orange, celebrating salsa and Willie Colon. Somebody had to pick up the short straw and portray the virginal Lady in Yellow of "Graduation Night," and Winthrop grad Kimberly Johnson excelled in her Charlotte debut.

Janalyn Moonie-Walton and Regina Davis, as Ladies in Blue and Green, added zest to the incantatory choreopoems. Moonie-Walton, memorable on film in brother Jeff's Donor documentary, brought a cynical edge to "Then I Moved to Harlem," while Davis perfectly calibrated her outraged attitude for "Somebody Almost Walked Off With My Stuff."

There's an On Q original scheduled on April 19 at Duke Power Theater, Miles & Coltrane: Blue(.). On the strength of For Colored Girls, I'm predicting it will be a tough ticket -- even if it isn't free.

Two pre-eminent high school powerhouses of the Metrolina region opened big musicals to the delight of their fans.

Across the border, where Fort Mill High School staged Disney's High School Musical, delight reached the level of delirious ecstasy. To the right of me, Morgan's themed birthday party of middle-schoolers screamed so much louder than Randi & Caitlin's across the aisle.

Enthusiasm was most justified when all Wildcats of East High sang and danced the concluding "Megamix." These teens, expertly drilled by choreographer Elizabeth Dukes, were gymnasium glitz personified, and director Michael L. Dove has created a championship juggernaut at the FMHS Choral Department so harmonies were tight.

What continues to irk me, with such willing, energetic, talented teens onstage, is that funding still hasn't materialized to bolster the acting when the music stops. Nothing the Dove Machine can do about that, I suppose, but staff and students could rally 'round the cause more effectively in the sound booth. When mics worked on the principals, sound cues were often missed.

So the stars had to be troupers. Among those who slogged through best were Kelsey Mula and Joel Dixon as the scheming thespian twins, Sharpay and Ryan Evans. Zach Runnels and Rachel Tripp had the look of leads as sweethearts Troy and Gabriella -- but sometimes the look of panic replaced the look of love. Among Gab's fellow Brainiacs, Kaitlin Lieck had the most pizzazz as Taylor, while Jordan Lukens stood goofily apart among Troy's accessory Jocks.

Attacking a more nuanced and sophisticated script in Stephen Schwartz's Pippin, Northwest School of the Arts was far more compelling in the relatively small Booth Playhouse. Sound was nearly flawless, a 17-piece orchestra under Shane Marcus never missed a beat, and ace choreographer Eddy Mabry was able to reimagine Bob Fosse for a new generation -- of audience and dancers.

Most commanding of all was triple threat Charles Osborne as Leading Player. The devilish tinge co-directors Charles LaBorde and Corey Mitchell layered on our narrator gave him -- and the entire realm of Charlemagne and his questing son -- an edgier feel than the Theatre Charlotte version of yesteryear. Kyron Turner's main strength as Pippin was his dancing and his earnest naiveté, but he found himself diabolically sandwiched between Osborne's fiendish bravura and Elijah Allred's comedy as his conceited Emperor dad.

Hell, there was additional upstaging from dorky Colin Moore as Pippin's warrior brother Lewis. While Amanda Roberge may have been stretched too far to convincingly rock out of Grandma's walking cane, Jessica Richards had the right brass for Pippin's scheming mom, Queen Fastrada, and Blythe Reinhard was ultrasweet as Catherine, the widow who wins his heart.

Good weekend for North Carolina schools in both their matchups with border rivals.

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