This excellent production is superbly led by the gifted British actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste (best known for her Oscar nominated turn in Mike Leigh's 1996 film 'Secrets & Lies' and for her ongoing role as FBI agent Vivian Johnson on the long running American TV show 'Without A Trace') who plays Margaret Alexander, a pastor of a small church in 1950's Harlem. This leading light of the community lives with her son, David (Eric Kofi Abrefa) and her sister Odessa (Sharon D Clarke) and portrays her absolute love and loyalty to God for all to see and follow as a leading example of how to live your life. However David, after years of being sheltered from the outside world and its temptations, now as a young man is finding the call to venture beyond particularly alluring, in no small part due to the hot jazz music being heard all around him. He finds himself torn between his God fearing mother and her lessons of life and his own secret ambitions to become a musician. At this critical point of time David's long gone father Luke (Lucian Msamati), a hard drinking, trombone jazz player who we assume abandoned his family reappears, now seriously ill and professing his love for Margaret. What follows causes the pastor to face some long-hidden home truths and re-evaluate her whole life, not to mention the effect it takes on her congregation. Several lives change direction due to revelations uncovered.
The cast displayed their versatility with the bible thumping, soul stirring gospel singing throughout. The uplifting joyous sounds penetrated the auditorium and you could feel the spirit moving among the audience, generating the feeling that at any moment somebody may jump up and yell out "Testify!!" Although my only knowledge of Ms Jean-Baptiste is as an excellent actress, she showed me she also has quite a capable singing voice. Indeed her presence in this very worthy production is mighty and adds weight. When she wails and cries out, we feel the turmoil and pain within her soul. When praising the Lord, you believe every word she utters. Ms Jean-Baptiste gave a great performance and was admirably supported by a stellar group of players. All involved, including director Rufus Norris should be proud of what they have accomplished and I feel it would bring joy to the late, great James Baldwin knowing his first effort as a playwright is still being seen, and thought of as relevant by audiences 60 years after it was first published.
The run for 'The Amen Corner' ends shortly. If you can, see this great show.
Here is a clip of some member of the cast of 'The Amen Corner' (including Marianne Jean-Baptisite) talking about the production: