With no Technicolor competition, there can be no multicolor progress,” costume designer Marcel Christian reminded his fellow nominees, as he accepted a 1998 AUDELCO Award for his work on Julius Caesar in Africa. His lanky, double-breasted stride across the stage of Aaron Davis Hall should have earned him Runway. Nothing, however, could compare in fierceness to blues singer Sandra Reeves-Phillips’s performance of “Take Me As I Am,” her show-stopper from Rollin’ on the TOBA, which earned one of the awards for Best Female Performance in a Musical.
Though the “Word” was the theme of last week’s celebration of the best in African American theater, language had to sashay extra hard to avoid being
upstaged by all the deliciously flamboyant theatricality. Glamour-host Ntozake Shange tilted the balance in favor of dramatic poetry with her sultry champagne voice that
transformed even banal names and titles into lyrical shards. Novelist Ishmael Reed was also eloquently on hand to honor Dutchman author Amiri Baraka, who, along with Ed Bullins and Melvin Van Peebles, received an Outstanding Pioneer Award. “Baraka is to English syntax what Thelonious Monk is to the chord,” Reed intoned.
Community spirit was high, with nearly everyone commenting on the importance of being recognized “by your own.” “These awards are the sunshine of black theater,” Lillie Marie Redwood said after winning top playwriting honors for Imperfection Flawed. Her script takes its place in the rich 26-year-old history of AUDELCO-winning plays, which includes A Soldier’s Play and The Colored Museum—powerful evidence of the word’s ability to both move and shake us.