Theater review: ‘The Women of Brewster Place’ at Celebration Theatre


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Exuberantly channeling 1970s-style soul, R&B, funk and blues into a musical theater showcase for eight talented African American women, composer-lyricist Tim Acito’s accomplished 2007 adaptation ‘The Women of Brewster Place: The Musical’ raises the roof in its West Coast premiere at Hollywood’s Celebration Theatre.

With a limited production budget and an even smaller stage, Michael Matthews’ scrappy, impassioned staging triumphs through the same indomitable spirit that gets the show’s impoverished characters through the adversities of life in a big-city housing project circa 1975.

Faced with dramatizing the seven short stories that comprise Gloria Naylor’s popular book, Acito impressively captures their core plots almost entirely in song lyrics, with only one major change to reduce moral ambiguity in the persecution of a gay character.


Without relying on mics, the singing and acting chops of Kim Yarbrough, Cheridah Best, Erica Ash and Christine Horn lead the ensemble in giving fine voice to Naylor’s prototypical characters (earth mother, jezebel, lesbian couple, and so on). Kelly M. Jenrette amuses as an Afro-coiffed social crusader.

Like its source, the show feels like a collection of individual character studies that only coalesce in the finale. Many songs are heavy on narration, but they’re easy to follow and laced with the epiphanies of inner reflection expected from well-crafted musical theater.

Acito may be best known locally for last year’s high-camp ‘Zanna Don’t,’ but this show is an emotional roller coaster, lunging from hilarity to tragedy. In form and style it’s a direct musical descendant of ‘Hair,’ with its loosely connected stories and aching social conscience.

– Philip Brandes

‘The Women of Brewster Place: The Musical,’ Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 6. $30. (323) 957-1884 or Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.