By Bob Evans
Original Review on KC Applauds

Regular Fringe entrant, Br. John again sings and performs to capacity crowds with his blend of biographical insights into legends of the R&B genre–this year’s treat–Marvin Gaye.

“If I Should Die Tonight” tells the back-story of Motown legend Marvin Gaye and his struggle with drugs, reality, pressures to succeed, and domestic insecurities that plagued his childhood and adult life. From the material presented by Br. John, a long history of physical abuse by Marvin’s father, a Pentecostal pastor included a steady stream of violence, beatings, bruises, criticisms, and the painful oft heard comments that his “father” was not really his father. Such continued comments by Marvin’s dad meant that Marvin’s dad questioned his wife’s virtue and the connection to Marvin.

The story also claims that Marvin’s pastoral father carried on countless affair with women but had the audacity to question the marital vows of Marvin’s mother. As such, Marvin felt lifelong insecurity because of his father, who eventually shot and killed him. Marvin, Br. John claims worked hard to sustain his success, carve out a name for himself, and reward his mother with a new house as his fame grew.

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By Kelly Luck

Justine Ryan is a remarkable individual, a young woman with obvious gifts whose talents have already taken her to experiences most of us can only imagine. She is also someone who has had to face some serious challenges in her young life, coming from multiple sources both internal and external. In her one-woman show, “Lessons From My Suitcase,” she gives us a frank look into her past and present.

Ryan starts with introducing us to a six-year-old version of herself, brimming with confidence and ambition, but at the same time deathly afraid of her secret being found out. As a young adult, she moves upward, finding her voice and her passion as an actress. She travels the world in a leadership program, even goes to Cambridge...and then it all comes apart and she winds up at home, in her old room, having an anxiety attack and wondering if her life is going anywhere.

There is a certain fashion among persons of a certain mindset to lay at the feet of the millennial generation every failing of the world into which they have been unceremoniously dropped. Ms Ryan’s story should give the lie to such notions, for those willing to listen. She is part of a generation working harder than ever, raised in the panopticon of the Internet, standing at the base of a ladder bereft of rungs. What happens to this generation, and the one that follows, should be of utmost concern to us all. Ms. Ryan has talents to bring to the world, some of which were on display in this fine performance.

By Natalie Leslie

What’s goin’ on?

FRINGE is going on, as seasoned FRINGE artist Br. John claims The Pearl’s black box stage as his own. The first showing of If I Should Die Tonight: A Musical Tribute to Marvin Gaye opened to a full house.

Br. John, backed by Bryan Austin, Rick Cole, and Suzette Woods, illuminate the stage and set the tone of love in the room. Scenes teeter back and forth between an ongoing concert and an isolated bedroom, where thoughts of depression and pain linger in Gaye’s mind. The contrast of success and rewarding feelings mixed with more complex, darker reflections gives the viewers a genuine impression of the misunderstood artist.

This series of scenes is dedicated to a raw, deeper understanding of the Motown superstar. As the show progressed, flashbacks of relationships and triumphs are presented side by side with personal struggles and long term emotional damage. John accurately expressed moments of loneliness and indecisiveness in Gaye’s life.

As Marvin reminisces on the challenges he faced as a child, he is forced to try and understand the influence his alcoholic father played in his life. Gaye’s emotional intensity pushed the crowd to better understand the mental state in which he was struggling with while simultaneously soothing viewers with sweet like sugar melodies.

An authentic soul undivided to music and feeling, even feeling at its most vulnerable state, was presented center stage. The audience was grooving as the cast loosened up, and the crowd got to clapping for classics like What’s going on?, Sexual Healing, and Let’s get it on.

Following Marvin’s journey for peace, one may find some in attending this interpretation of an Icon.

“If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else.” – Marvin Gaye