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Hip Hop Musical Theater & Sacramento History on Local Stages

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"Vietgone" at Capital Stage is a musical love story set to a modern beat.

“Vietgone” now at the Capital Stage may be the future of musical theater. Certainly it’s the beginning of a new branch from its musical tree — a hip-hop, rap branch — as it is a logical extension of what Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” started.

Qui Nguyen’s play is an American love story, except the young lovers are Vietnamese refugees from the fall of Saigon who meet at a relocation camp in Arkansas. Quang (Jomar Tagatac) is a brash helicopter pilot for the South Vietnamese Army, who was trained in the United States. Tang (Rinabeth Aspostal) is a sharp, do-what-she-wants modern woman who, with her mother (played by Michelle Talgarow), escaped on the last flight out, as it were.

Quang was married and had children and had planned to return to them in Vietnam after he helped evacuate his countrymen (and women), but the U.S. military blocked him. Tong left a fiancé and a brother behind. They had no way of learning the fates of their family. And so, eventually, they got together — two people who had lost love find it anew.

David Crane, Anthony Chan and Talgarow portray a variety of characters, including outrageously stupid military personnel and silly, blissful hippies . They represent Nguyen’s more gentle attempt at political commentary.

Playwright Nguyen basically tells us his origin story. Quang and Ton become his mother and father.  He tells his story in jump-cut fashion, flashing back and forth from Vietnam to Arkansas. The stage is vivid red and black and video screens project images from the tale. The staging and props are pretty ordinary, except for the motorcycle that is extraordinary.

“Vietgone” plays a lot like a musical comedy film. You never know when someone’s going to burst into song — or rap.

“Vietgone” performances are at 2 p.m. Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 14. Tickets are $22-$47, with discounts for seniors, students and military personnel.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 995-5464 or go to CapStage.org.

Some Sacramento History

Now on the Pollock Stage at the Sacramento Theatre Company is “When We Were Colored: A Mother’s Story,” a tender study of family dynamics and courage in tough times.

Based upon a memoir of the same title by Eva Rutland (who died in 2012), this new play by her daughter Ginger Rutland traces a family from a comfortable life in segregated Atlanta in the late 1940s to a less comfortable welcome to Sacramento in 1952.

Eva Rutland was a member of Atlanta’s elite black community, but when her husband got the offer of a promising job as a civilian administrator at Mather Air Force Base, she picked up the kids and moved. Eva was an accomplished writer of magazine articles and books (Harlequin romances, mostly), which she continued in Sacramento, with new fodder for her “mother’s story.”  That story is lovingly told by her daughter.

Stephen Eich directs an excellent cast. Nathalie Autumn Bennett plays Eva from early adulthood through old age and blindness, and she does so seamlessly as the recollections take her back and forth in time. Michael J. Asberry plays Bill, the handsome and funny young man who married Eva (and built her a home in Sacramento in a formerly all-white neighborhood). Brooklyn Solomon takes the role of Ginger from school integration to Black Power struggles to finding a solid sense of herself and her strength. (The real Ginger Rutland was a member of the Sacramento Bee editorial board for 25 years). Elizabeth Anne Springett and Steven Ross Thomas play a number of characters, while the role called Little Girl is played at different performances by Abisola Forrester or Lauryn Taylor-Piazza.

The intimate Pollock Stage at STC is perfectly suited to this little story with a big impact. Performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sunday, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 28. Tickets are $20-$38. STC is at 1419 H St.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-6722 or go to SacTheatre.org.

Photograph by Charr Crail.

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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