A very pleasant evening that will attract lovers of Robeson’s music
Robeson was born in 1898, only thirty-five years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, clearing the route for an end to slavery. While the law might have changed, attitudes modified only very slowly and, in some cases, not all. He was to bear the brunt of discrimination throughout his life.
Much of Call Mr Robeson is narrative: a monologue that passes through the ups and downs of a strongly principled man who would not succumb to the pressures he encountered. As such it is highly informative, chronicling his time as a football player at Rutgers and the other career he nearly had, his graduation in law at Columbia, his marriage to Essie, his support for the Spanish Republicans in the Civil War, his affection for the USSR, communism and espousal of worker’s causes, his Welsh connections, his career decline in the McCarthy era and his appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and ultimately his declining health and death. It is not just the big events he outlines. There are touching stories of his family life and also revelations concerning his private life. These events are filled out with anecdotes in an informal style, often with humour and the skilful deployment of different voices for the characters involved.
At times, this history seems to overtake the songs that many will specifically have come to hear, and look forward to. In this respect, there might be slight disappointment, but the great numbers are present, sung with a voice that comes close to one that is difficult to replicate: Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Going Home, Steal Away and, inevitably, Ol’ Man River, among others. The show is well-staged with a dramatic entrance and exit, and props to support his storytelling.
Overall, it’s a very pleasant evening that will attract lovers of Robeson’s music and maybe those who would like to know just a little bit more of his story.