Paris may be exotic to many, but two visitors touring with their music in 1989 had opposite takes: for Osceola Mays, (Lillias White) untrained singer from Dallas formed by gospel at church and a history of slavery, Paris was a place that did not discriminate for her color. She never wanted to leave. For John Burrus, (Scott Wakefield) white rodeo cowboy who had been there before, during the war, the concert series was a job working his guitar, in Western regalia, pointy boots, wide-brimmed hat, and cowboy shirt. A more unlikely pair you will never meet but for the York Theater production at Saint Peter's that brings them together. Alan Govenar's Texas in Paris tells a little known story of these two, brought to Paris to entertain; Govenar deftly teases out their world, creating a dialogue about race, justice, and class in America. Director Akin Babatunde makes the music dovetail beautifully. That the two come to understand each other is no surprise, but the fine performances are this entertainment's miracle.
Tony-winning Lillias White (for her role as a prostitute in The Life), and recent recipient of the Bistro Award for her run at 54 Below, accompanies herself clapping palms, hitting hips, her beats syncopated with that powerhouse voice. Scott Wakefield (from the short-lived but excellent Hands on a Hard Body) does country western. They solo, and duet on standout songs and classics: "When the Saints Go Marching In" "Git Along Little Doggie." You only wish to know more about how those Paris audiences greeted them and their music. Confined onstage with videos behind them to suggest Paris outside, they seem hermetically sealed, but that atmosphere then becomes very intimate with split screen hotel beds, and two different chairs strategically placed. This gem of a musical evening is a rare treat.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.