Voices of Thunder is a choir composed of nine inmates from Orleans Parish Prison. The ensemble supplied the stirring musical accompaniment to James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones, recently staged and extended for extra shows at the Anthony Bean Community Theater. The piece is a collection of poetic sermons offered in tribute to, in Johnson's words, "the old-time Negro preacher."
The choir sang hymns accompanied on keyboard by Tanya Boyd Cannon, who also added some moments of soaring harmony. On the opposite side of the stage sat Sister Caroline (Donna King), a bit of dramatic license added by director Anthony Bean. She is 100 years old, and well-placed to reminisce about the power and persuasiveness of old-time preachers.
Johnson's sermons were delivered with verve by a core group of actors including Harold X. Evans, Tony Felix, Darryl Lutcher, Alfred Aubrey, Damany Cormier, Derrick Deal and Bean.
Because of the lack of narrative and conflict, the presentation seemed a bit long. But the actors threw themselves into their monologues with grace and gusto. And The Voices of Thunder earned their sobriquet, and their work was deeply moving.
Johnson was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance and one of the founders of the NAACP. God's Trombones, which was first published in 1917, gave us a chance to savor the past and the African-American spirit that drew on religion for strength amid difficult times and racial injustice. — Dalt Wonk