Morisseau, Seymour, Brown Throw a Spectacular Dance Party!
by Daniel Augustin Macri & Barry David Horwitz
“Hippest Trip” is the ultimate Spectacle. This stunning party features vibrant lights, explosive dances, and energetic singing. Jason Sherwood’s scenic design bursts off the stage onto the walls in swirling streams of orange, red, green like a giant throbbing juke box. Inside the swirls, videos of Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, and Malcolm X keep us up to date. It’s a whirlwind tour of African American art through music—a divine fusion.
“Hippest Trip: The Soul Train Musical,” a captivating theatrical journey, unfolds the remarkable life of Don Cornelius, the visionary who brought African American culture to television through the legendary “Soul Train.” The show ran for 30 years, leaving a great legacy of groundbreaking music, songs, and dance styles.
Thanks to Dominique Morisseau’s overflowing book, the story holds our attention. Thanks to Kenny Seymour’s dazzling music, we are treated to musical genius—from soul to funk, from disco to hip-hop. Thanks to Camille A. Brown’s choreography, we thrill to cascades of incredibly talented dancers.
Ingenious director Kamilah Forbes showcases Don Cornelius (dramatic tenor Quentin Earl Darrington) who relentlessly pursues his place in the white-dominated television world Cornelius is driven by a burning desire to be seen and to create a legacy for Black artists. As Cornelius, the impressive Darrington reminds us: “Let others underestimate you, but never underestimate yourself.” He shows young dancers how to value themselves—even while he exploits their talents.
With inspired youth talent scout Pam Brown (angelic, soaring Amber Iman), we witness Don’s internal struggles. He needs her humanity to understand the evolving cultural and musical landscape. He even asks Pam how she manages not to drop the ball, to which she replies, “I drop the ball sometimes, but then I pick it up.” Can Don learn from Pam who loves the kids? It’s not easy for him—he craves control.
After the intermission, Morisseau’s story dives into Don’s harshness to his son Tony (powerful Sidney Dupont). Dupont’s frustration as he confronts his father’s legacy offers touching, personal scenes. As they sing so beautifully, their conversations prompt tears .
The revival of ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s music ensures a nostalgic journey, making “Hippest Trip” a guaranteed two and a half hours of superlative music and emotion.
American Conservatory Theater’s world premiere pays homage to trailblazing African American dancers. So many great dancers here, portraying generations of dancers on the show. These spectacular dancers are the beating heart of the show. The production breaks open the jukebox musical with fabulous costumes, lighting, and dance. The super-abundance of talent ensures a fantastic night out.
The rainbow of costumes by Dede Ayite captures the essence of “Soul Train,” reflecting the joy and exuberance of the era. Choreographer Brown skillfully blends more than 40 social dances, creating fluid and mesmerizing movements.
The voices of the cast, including Darrington’s pure tenor and Iman’s captivating timbre add depth and beauty to the musical experience.
“Hippest Trip” is a dazzling production that pays tribute to African American arts. It delivers an unforgettable journey. “Soul Train” delivers a magnificent legacy at ACT.
“Hippest Trip: The Soul Train Musical” —book by Domenique Morisseau, music supervision & arrangments by Kenny Seymour, choreographed by Camille A. Brown, directed by Kamilah Forbes, by American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco. Info: act-sf.org – to October 8, 2023.
Scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costume designs by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Jen Schriever, sound design by Jonathan Deans, projection design by Aaron Rhyne, wigs design by Mia Neal.
Cast: Terence Archie+ Ensemble, Angela Birchett Delores Cornelius, Quentin Earl Darrington Don Cornelius, Kayla Davion Jody Watley, Sidney DuPont Tony Cornelius, Jennifer Marie Frazier Ensemble, McKenzie Frye Ensemble,
Cameron Hah Cheryl Song, Ensemble, Amber Iman Pam Brown, Rich James Tyrone Proctor, Ensemble, Jaquez Jeffrey Daniel, Justin Jorrell Ensemble, Jahi Kearse Ensemble, Alain “Hurrikane” Lauture Don Campbellock, Ensemble,
Alora Tonielle Martinez Ensemble, Miki Michelle Ensemble, Mayte Natalio Rosie Perez, Ensemble, Aché Richardson Ensemble, Roukijah “NutellaK” Rooks Ensemble, SeQuoiia Ensemble, Charlene “Chi-Chi” Smith Damita Jo Freeman / Ensemble, and Maleek Washington Ensemble.
Banner photo: The cast of “Hippest Trip — The Soul Train Musical” – Photos: Kevin Berne & Alessandra Mello