After Avant Bard’s successful Helen Hayes Award-nominated production of The Gospel at Colonus last season (the original cast was nominated for “Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical – Helen” category), the company has staged a remount, now running through March 25. Sandra L. Holloway, who served as choreographer last time around, has directed the show, based on the original direction by Jennifer L. Nelson.
Kenton Rogers, a well-known gospel recording artist and ordained preacher, has taken on the role of Singer Oedipus for the new production. An accomplished singer and actor, Rogers has performed Off-Broadway in God’s Creation and Black Nativity, and appeared on stages across America and internationally.
When Rogers was asked to be a part of the show, he jumped at the chance. “When I was much younger, back in the ’80s, I saw The Gospel at Colonus and it really grabbed my attention,” he says. “They came to me last year about doing it, but I had just come out of doing Black Nativity and I had some conflicts on my schedule so they went in a different direction.”
Thankfully, the opportunity presented itself again for the 2018 run, and there was no way he was going to turn it down again. However, he admits he wasn’t completely forthcoming with those running the show.
“What I didn’t tell them is that I had a stroke last year and had some neurological damage. I had partial memory loss and I would forget things, and this was going to be the biggest role that I had ever done,” Rogers says. “I didn’t tell them of my health problems and it presented a real challenge for me. But it’s a role I always wanted to do. I knew I had some issues, but I knew therapeutically, it would help me as well.”
When Rogers started memorizing the script, learning the songs and getting the nuances of the role, he found it really wasn’t that difficult, though he was constantly given notes from the director and music director. Still, he kept his medical problems to himself.
“I kept it to myself and would not tell them what the reason was that I was forgetting some things,” he says. “By taking the notes, staying with it, taking the criticism, in my mind, I knew there was a legitimate reason, but I didn’t want to get any kind of sympathy from them. I wanted them to be just as hard on me as anyone. I wanted to stand up to that challenge.”
The show started running less than two weeks ago, and Rogers notes it has been going great, but he still looks over his script every day and makes sure he doesn’t forget anything.
The Gospel at Colonus
from Avant Bard
closes March 25, 2018
Details and tickets
“I do notice none of the others have their scripts anymore, but I keep it with me every day,” he says. “Every show that we do, I make it a habit of going into the dressing room before everyone else gets there and I go through the entire thing.”
An unplugged production of the legendary gospel musical by Lee Breuer and composer Bob Telson, Rogers describes The Gospel at Colonus as being a show about “good news.”
“When people hear the word ‘gospel,’ they mainly think about religion, but the real breakdown of the word is good news. This is a show about redemption,” he says. “To me, this story is about how wonderful it feels to be loved when you’ve been rejected and pushed aside. None of us is perfect. We all know what it’s like to enjoy being loved and being accepted.”
Also in the show, William T. Newman Jr. is back as Preacher Oedipus, but other new cast members include Ayanna Reed as Antigone, Jessa Marie Coleman as Ismene, and Gregory Wright as Balladeer.
“We have a great cast of people and great music,” Rogers says. “I think when people come, and maybe they feel sad, they will be in a place where they will be lifted. The storyline will lift them, the music will lift them and they will leave in a better place than when they came in.”
Originally from Paterson, N.J., and currently living in Baltimore, Rogers made his recording debut on Melvin Williams’ Live! In Living Color, and has his own recordings, Just Look At Me and Alive & Pressin’ On.
The gift to sing was just something he was born with. While a child, he sang at a dinner where Rosa Parks was the featured guest, and he went to East Side High under the tutelage of Joe Clark, the man and school featured in the movie, Lean on Me.
“Principal Clark himself was a great inspiration to my life,” Rogers says. “He would call me out of classroom to sing on the loudspeaker and he was always supportive when people called me to sing for different engagements. He never stood in my way.”
As a teen, Rogers’ dad took him over to the Apollo Theater to audition for amateur night, and they asked him to come to the next show, not knowing if he was going to perform or not. “They put me on and I came in first for the night,” he says. “After that performance, I was approached by a music exec to do some R&B music, but my mother, having come from the church, wanted him to stick to gospel music, so that’s what I did.”
That path has led him to what he calls “a dream role” in The Gospel at Colonus.