No one could possibly assail the versatility of Ernest McCarty Jr. Not only did he write, compose and direct Kuntu Repertory Theatre's premiere of his The Chelsea Arms, but there he is on stage, providing the keyboard accompaniment. The one-time sideman for Errol Garner and Oscar Brown Jr. (not to mention the artistic director of Pittsburgh's New Horizon Theatre) has fashioned an easygoing musical that complements Kuntu's resources and people.
The title refers to a high-class, luxury-service residential hotel for folks in show business. The play focuses on five of the residents and the sympathetic manager, all of whom consider the theater their passion and the Chelsea Arms their home. The plot explores and explodes those feelings while the characters learn more about themselves and each other.
At the center of the action are three veterans: one working warhorse, one retired and one who can honestly, if uncharitably, be called a has-been. (She definitely needs a better agent.) The performers reminisce, fight and wrestle with the passing of time in blues-tinged song. At the performance I saw, Stephanie "Stevie" Akers filled in for Etta Cox in the star turn as the glamorous, haughty, high-maintenance Maria Hawkespeare. The granite-chinned Charles Timbers delivers a solid performance as the once-great Louis Gilchrist, whose résumé spanned Shakespeare and musicals. Cheryl Walker provides plenty of sass as struggling Anna Sterbich.
For counterpoint there are three more varied characters. Delana Flowers lights up her role as an up-and-coming dancer — a metaphorical human exclamation mark — with all dials set at 11. Kim El shows well the cracks in the businesslike demeanor of the hotel manager and her struggle to subsume her feelings. And Michael Moats provides a few surprises as the "villain" critic, unfortunately named Jonathan Krackorne.
Applause also to: Adam Turner and Adonis Whitner as various supporting characters; sound and lighting designer Wayne Gaines; set designer and technical director Kenneth M. Ellis; and Herb Newsome for set construction, among others. Apparently everyone at Kuntu Rep multi-tasks.