BY LOUIS C. WARD
EUSTIS – A person’s relationship with God, the belief that God is a person’s refuge, and the challenges a person faces during life were motifs constantly showing up and very poignantly depicted in “How I Got Over: Mahalia Jackson”. The play, a musical, was performed Sunday evening, October 29, 2023 at Theatre 1901 in Eustis, Florida.
“How I Got Over” was written and produced by Lavarious Slaughter, a Black man and new owner of the theatre with a focus on “producing the best theatrical and film productions possible at the community’s new arts venue.”
Past performances at Theatre 1901 indicate Lavarious is on the right track. “How I Got Over” was received well, according to the audience’s response at the end of the play. At moments, it was a church worship service, with the audience raising their hands in the air, and singing along with Mahalia: “I know it was the Blood for me…”
The plot of the two act musical is strategically set when the stage opens with four individuals dressed in black with umbrellas, singing “Wade in the Water, a historical African American Slavery spiritual, which warned trouble is brewing. “Harriet Tubman used the song “Wade in the Water” to tell escaping slaves to get off the trail and into the water to make sure the dogs, slave catchers used, couldn’t sniff out their trail. People walking through water did not leave a scent trail that dogs could follow.”
The Wade in the Water scene connected Mahalia’s life big challenges, failed marriage, traveling to Alabama, meeting Tommy Dorsey, all times, especially when “trouble was brewing.” What did she do? She always went to God, her refuge, asking Him for guidance and direction.
The title, “How I Got Over”, provides a heads-up about the play’s theme: that someone will face challenges and hardships that he or she will be able to overcome because of their relationship with God… always including Him in the mix. That’s Mahalia’s story, whatever she went through, “God gonna trouble the water” and she was going to get through it because of her faith in Him.
“How I Got Over: Mahalia Jackson,” is well written in an informative and amusing format, providing snippets of historical experiences of Black people in America during the Jim Crow south era, and how Black people were treated regardless of their economic or social status.
The acting was great because the characters were convincing in the roles they played. The amusing moments included the scene when individuals were seeking auditions and the lady, happy to be interviewed, shook Mahalia’s hands to the point that her son, sitting next to her, shook violently as well. Another was Mahalia and Mildred driving to Alabama. Both were hilarious.
Kudos to the entire cast!
What can we say about Mahalia? Simply this: the performance was outstanding! She was superbly and realistically played by Shamira “Shine” Matthew. Shamira’s voice exemplified the real Mahalia, and the body gestures only enhanced her performance. Shamira mastered Mahalia’s character to an almost unbelievable status. I witnessed it, so I know it was real.
From Markques Menefee, playing Cousin Fred, who encouraged Hayley that God had something for her in life where she would do extremely well, to Mahalia’s son, John, what a voice that young man has. He was portrayed by Santiago Pickney. Mildred Falls, Mahalia’s pianist and assistant, portrayed by Staphany G. Louis nailed the driving to Alabama scene. That was a hell of a car… prop maybe. I believe the audience is still trying to figure out what kind of car it was. Aunt Duke, seriously and wonderfully portrayed by Carole J. Davis, to the angel with the strong vocals, Kendra Farrior, to Sarah Grant, Adrian Moore and Tanya Wilder who performed “Wade in the Water.”
“The goal of Theatre 1901 is to get more locals to financially support and get involved with Black theatre in the Lake County community. Hopefully, people who want to learn acting, stage production, playwriting, and other crafts involved in theatre will be able to learn those crafts at Theatre 1901 in the future,” said Artistic Director and owner Lavarious Slaughter. “Overall, it was a good production, the cast rehearsed diligently, and I’m pleased with the night’s outcome.”
According to Lavarious,”Theatre 1901’s Capital Campaign is a way that patrons can financially support the theatre, raising funds to make some improvements to the building.”
“How I Got Over: Mahalia Jackson” was enjoyable, entertaining and a must see. Please catch the next performance. You may find yourself on “YouTube”, listening to Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over” or “Precious Lord”.