While awaiting the start of "Twelve Blocks From Where I Live," which is kicking off a cabaret series that Theater Latté Da describes as "stories and songs in the meantime," I pondered the word "meantime." Latté Da intends these virtual shows to entertain us until it's safe to gather for live theater, but there's no getting around the fact that the past several months have sometimes felt like a very mean time.
"Twelve Blocks From Where I Live" finds actor Regina Marie Williams shifting between the natural beauty she observed near her south Minneapolis home last summer and the ugly events that occurred the titular distance away on May 25, when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. Throughout the half-hour program she also discusses the violence that occurred in response to the killing, but she seems inclined to focus on beauty: birds in flight, people feeding each other, peaceful protests.
Accompanied by the musical trio of Sanford Moore, Jay Young and Steve Jennings, Williams opens with a passionate "Make Them Hear You," from "Ragtime," standing on the same Ritz Theater stage where Latté Da produced the show in 2016 and where Williams last performed for a live audience, playing the title role in "Bernarda Alba." A song about the importance of giving voice to the stories of the oppressed, "Make Them Hear You" is an inspired choice that becomes even more meaningful when Williams' soaring vocal is paired with her images from the area now known as George Floyd Square, including a concluding photo of a sidewalk near where he died.
Throughout the program, Williams' images share space with songs, which also include her "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," a civil rights anthem usually associated with Nina Simone, whom Williams played in multiple productions of Park Square Theatre's "Four Women," as well as a slightly altered version of the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' It to the Streets," on which she's joined by Latté Da vets Thomasina Petrus and Aimee K. Bryant.
The latter two also get solos, Petrus on "What a Wonderful World," which she injects some church into by mashing it up with "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," and Bryant on "Easy to Be Hard," the showstopper from "Hair."
It makes for a promising start for Latté Da's five-part "meantime" series, which is dubbed the Ghostlight Series and will include "Heroic Acts of Music" and "Re-cast." Yes, I know "meantime" is the usage of "mean" that refers to something like "in the middle," but even so, the message of hope in "Twelve Blocks From Where I Live" does make the world feel a bit less mean.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
The Ghostlight Series: Twelve Blocks From Where I Live
Who: Curated by Regina Marie Williams and Kelli Foster Warder. Directed by Warder.
When: On demand through Aug. 31.
Tickets: $75 per household for five-show series, latteda.org.