I love when I get to write reviews like this one.
Torie Wiggins, the star of HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW, a one-woman musical about the life of Ethel Waters is sensational in this production. When I learned she wasn’t planning to appear on stage this season apart from this production, I was disappointed. She’s one of my favorite actors; I even took an acting class from her last summer. She’s a mainstay in Cincinnati theatre ever since she moved back here several years ago.
And while I’ve missed her this season, she more than makes up for her absence by putting everything she has into this production. She sings with a powerful, unique voice that’s full of soul. The physicality of her performance – transforming Waters from a traumatized little to a confident, powerful superstar girl as she details the biographical events of this music legend.
But it’s not Wiggins alone that makes this production great. Director D. Lynn Meyers takes the marginal script by Larry Parr (which is based on Waters own autobiography) and together with Wiggins finds all the right beats. Simply staged, Wiggins effectively moves about the set, an old-school revival tent designed by Brian c. Mehring. And do not discount the tremendous accompaniment by Scot Woolley. He seamlessly (in conjunction with Jeremy Lee’s proficient sound design) creates a sound scape with a piano that allows the actress to pace herself – grabbing sips of water as needed. It looks effortless, though it’s definitely not easy.
The songs are classics in the American canon of blues and jazz, as well as the gospel tones of the titular song. They’re toe-tapping, head-bobbing, and at times, they are heart-wrenching. The recounting of Water’s upbringing is sad; the anger she projects about the racism she continued to suffer even as a star is honest. And best of all, her faith journey is the focus of her arc. It’s inspiring and I enjoyed seeing a person of faith portrayed with such honesty. Wiggin’s version of Waters is flawed. Authentic. She’s funny. And tough. And she’s raw. Just like all of us.
I cannot stress enough how much everyone needs to see this tour de force performance. It’s a wonderful production. I’m thinking about going back to see it again. Do not wait to get your tickets. This one should never see an empty seat. HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW is a triumph.
HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW runs through May 19th at Ensemble Theatre in Over-the-Rhine. Click here for more information.