Always and Forever at Illusion Theater, starring Dennis Spears and Julius Collins, III and
featuring Jackson M. Hurst and David Hurst, has “hands-down hit” stamped all over it. In block letters. Whatever your holiday plans are, if they don’t include this show, change them.
This is especially recommended for the family grinch. You know, that one wet blanket who every year makes Scrooge look like the life of the party. By the time they get done enjoying this show, you’ll swear a personality transplant took place.
Sanford Moore and Richard Thompson call themselves conceiving the show with Thompson taking writing and directing credits. Well, quite honestly, there is no concept. Just four guys on stage against the backdrop of a barbershop. And if there is a whole page of dialogue in the entire thing, I’d be surprised. So, there’s no script. Nothing to direct.
Who cares? Basically, it’s a concert. A damned good concert. With four cats so cold-blooded they’d blow a hurricane away. The dance moves, choreographed by Garry Q. Lewis, are tight — modest, economic. And tight. The only drawback: Instead of a pit band, the music is canned.
You have to wonder whether it’s legal for Twin Cities icon Dennis Spears to get paid money for just walking on stage and having as much fun as he does with this show, acting the knucklehead, natural-born, pure damn fool for all he’s worth. Without a lick of sense.
From the moment Spears ditty-bops on stage bringing “Rooster” from the old TV show Barretta straight to mind, right up until the curtain call, the man is off the hook. He perfectly holds character, has Swiss-clock comedic timing, is subtle as a ripple on water and can clown ’til the cows come home. There is, trust me, a butterfly net, strait jacket and padded cell waiting with Dennis Spears’ name engraved on it.
No surprise, Spears sings up a storm, stopping the show in its tracks more than a few times, including renditions of Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” and Bill Withers’ “Use Me” that are to die for.
Julius Collins of Greazy Meal fame is an electrifying, heartthrob balladeer on the order of, say, Howard Hewett. He’s not recommended for insecure guys bringing a hot date. Collins puts silk and grit together, coming up with a tantalizing blend that has to be experienced to be believed. Highlights: his take on the Stylistics’ “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” and Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack’s “Where Is the Love.” And, as straight man, he plays off Spears’ antics beautifully.
Jackson M. Hurst’s rich, crystal-clear voice will put you in mind of Jermaine Jackson. The youngster is out of his depth for the Dramatics’ “In the Rain”; he doesn’t put you away at the climax. However, he wears out Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).” This talented teenager has one hell of a future ahead of him. His present isn’t doing too bad, either. David Hurst has strong vocal chops, there’s no denying that. Regrettably, his style is indistinct.
Bottom line: Spears and Collins blew the walls off the joint. I’m pretty sure a construction crew is still trying to put the roof back on.
Always and Forever hits a solid-gold mother lode. A few more classics: the Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s, “Sing a Song” and the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around.” Encored by a splendid doo-wop version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
How Quincy Jones’ “The Secret Garden,” tailor-made for this production, got left out is a mystery beyond reasoning. You can just imagine the lush tapestry of Dennis Spears, Julius Collins, Jackson M. Hurst and David Hurst weighing in on that number.
I’m seldom one to gush over anything, but I had such a good time that, at intermission, Yolande Bruce buttonholed me in the lobby and told me to stop banging the back of her head with my knee. Weren’t my fault. Put that on Dennis Spears.
I got so distracted wondering how to do the show justice that I was on my way home before realizing my glasses and Dennis Spears-autographed playbill were left behind. The glasses — who cares? But that playbill was a souvenir from the most hilarious fun I’ve had at the theater since Regina Marie Williams burned the building down in Dinah Was at Penumbra.
Do yourself a favor. Go have a ball at Illusion Theater’s Always and Forever.
Always and Forever is at the Illusion Theater through Jan. 8. For more information, see the Spot listings on page 7.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.