Breath and Imagination is the remarkable story of Roland Hayes who made history by becoming the first world-renowned Black classical singer. The story, by Daniel Beaty, is simple and straightforward. He tells the story without a soapbox in sight. What is even more remarkable is that director Sandra MacClain, with help from casting director Patricia Cullen, has found a cast of tremendous actors that more than fill the bill.
Kevin Ashworth plays the Accompanist as well as Preacher, Officer, Pa, and Hayes’s teacher Mr. Calhoun. He is a terrific accompanist as well as an accomplished actor. Karan Kendrick plays Hayes’s mother, Angel Mo. Born of slaves this character is very complex and must give Hayes’s strict guidance as well as loving support. She wants him to sing in Church but eventually becomes his staunch supporter, and critic. Roland Hayes is portrayed by a remarkable singer and actor, Elijah Rock. He even shows us briefly that he is a gifted tap dancer. He is required to sing everything from spirituals to grand opera. He has a powerful instrument and expressive way of singing. Ms. Kendrick sings some spirituals herself during the course of the play and adds a nice musical balance to the classical. Eventually Rock is required to sing both spiritual as well as classical arias.
The play is deceptively simple and you might find yourself wanting some more drama but that simplicity is the point. Hayes did all that he did with dignity and without bravado. A very worthwhile evening in the theatre.