This weekend, I went to one of the preview performances of Arena Stage's new play, Thunder Knocking on the Door. This is another variation on the southern/blues legend of contesting the a trixter or the devil to a musical showdown at the crossroads. Perhaps you'll recall other variations from the Ralph Machio (Karate Kid) movie 'Crossroads' or the Charlie Daniels classic 'Devil went down to Georgia'.
In this variation, the trixter, Marvell Thunder (Peter Jay Fernandez) is bested by Jaguar Dupree. After Jaguar's death, Mr. Thunder returns to seek vengance on Jaguar's children, Jaguar Dupree Jr. (Kevyn Morrow) and Glory Dupree (Marva Hicks). The trixter must best both of them in a "Cuttin' contest" or he'll turn to stone (for no adeqately explored reason).
The play is basically a blues musical. You've never seen a crowd clap along to Sound of Music have you? It fits in quite well with these original musical selections; which have been penned by Anderson Edwards and Keb' Mo'. They were all sung well by the actors, though some seemed a bit more schooled than bluesy. Marva Hicks did not have this problem. She was a powerful blues/gospel influence singer. Her solo, Movin' On, at the end of the show brought the house down.
The story has a few holes but nothing that can't be glossed over. The biggest nit that I'm gonna pick is that the actors don't play guitar, and they don't do a good job of faking it either. With this held at the Filchander stage, a theatre-in-the-round, their lack of aptitude can't be hidden. And unlike 'Crossroads', they don't have movie majic to cover up the actor's inability.
The band in the orchestra pit did a great job. They were as much a part of the show as the actors and didn't get much credit. So here they are: Anderson Edwards (Director, Bass, & Keyboards), Tony Cothran & Thomas Newman (Guitars), William Ford (Keyboard), and Richard Seals (Percussion). Someone else was playing Marvell Thunder's harp part too, but isn't mentioned in the program. [Apparently I was wrong, Peter Jay Fernandez played his own harmonica.]
It is definitely worth seeing especially for blues fans. Come prepared for the faux-guitar playing and you'll have a good time. It plays through December 27th at Arena Stage in SW DC.