Thunder Knocking on the Door With Rhythm & Blues at Stages

Kaleb Womack, Troi Coleman and Sarah Sachi in Stages' Thunder Knocking on the Door,
Kaleb Womack, Troi Coleman and Sarah Sachi in Stages' Thunder Knocking on the Door, Photo by Melissa Taylor

In legendary stories, making deals with the devil rarely works out for the people negotiating with Satan in whatever form he takes. Yes they gain immediate power, money or fame, but the day of reckoning is rarely said to be a pleasant experience.

Still, what's left out of the equation are the ramifications for loved ones and family members, Stages Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin points out. And that's part of what makes Thunder Knocking on the Door written by Keith Glover and making its regional premiere at Stages, such a special musical, he says.

"It's a fairy tale about love told through the lens of a new myth. It's sort of the Robert Johnson myth, the artist who goes to the crossroads and sells his soul to the devil to be a great artist," McLaughlin says. "That's the underpinning but then it takes that idea and says 'Well, then what happened? What happened next? If a great musician were to sell their soul to the devil, what would happen to their legacy? What would happen to their children?' So it asks great questions about legacy and ultimately about art."

Crucial to the story is the music by five-time Grammy Award winner Keb'Mo with its blend of rhythm & blues beginning with the song "This House is Built on Rhythm and Blues." Singers are supported by a five-piece blues band.  There are some more traditional show tunes as well, he says.

The two-act musical is the story of the Dupree family living in Alabama in the early 1960s that is visited by a mysterious stranger who comes playing the blues. The stranger Marvell Thunder  (Labraska Washington) arrives with a bargain to offer, carrying with him some baggage all his own after being bested in guitar playing by their late father, Jaguar Sr.

At its heart, the musical asks the question about how much artists are willing to give up in terms of family and friends in order to reach the pinnacle of their craft, McLaughlin says. Directed by Tevyn Washington, its cast also includes Sarah Sachi as Glory and Kaleb Womack as her brother Jaguar Jr. Troi Colmen plays Good Sister who lives with and is weighing an offer of marriage from her late husband's twin Dregstar Dupree.

Glory and Jaguar are also twins and talented guitarists although Jaguar has pretty much abandoned the blues for more profitable rock and roll. Glory has remained a blues artist but lost her sight in a car accident and was abandoned on her wedding day.

McLaughlin had seen the musical three times in other cities and wanted to bring it to Houston for years, thwarted in turn by the rights not being available and the years of COVID.  "It's mesmerizing to me. I feel like I’m under a spell watching the show.  The music is just off the hook. Every time a song starts your heart starts to race because you know you're going to hear something amazing.

"The story is so unique and interesting you get excited about what's going to happen. It just has the best elements of theater all crashed together in such a unique way."

It's being presented in the Smith Theatre, in the round. "That was very intentional on my part," McLaughlin says.  "This play is a true classic. People being that close to big ideas is really exciting."

Asked why he selected this musical for Stages, McLaughlin says: "To lift up these artists who have something really unique to say. To have their words that they wrote 20 years ago resonate today, I'm really humbled and grateful to be able to do that. And   a play that asks us how far are you willing to go if you have love in your life? And a play that so dramatically and so sweetly explores that question.

"I think if people miss this show they will regret it forever."

Performances continue through August 6 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Stages, 800 Rosine. For more information, call 713-527-0123 or visit $30-$84.
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