Well, the time has finally come for the 1960s to clear the way for the 1970s in the “way back when” spotlight.
The ‘70s will fill the spotlight when it shines in UpStage Theatre for the opening of its summer comedy Livin’ Fat on Friday, July 8.
So, get ready for bellbottoms, wide collars and platform shoes. And prepare to tap your toes to the Jackson Five’s “ABC.”
The show surely will bring back memories for many audience members. It definitely does for Ava Brewster Turner.
She’s UpStage’s founder and artistic director, as well as director of this show. She stands in her office at this particular moment, thumbing through a Grambling State University yearbook, stopping on a specific page. “That’s me right there,” she said, pointing to a photo of a college kid sitting at a typewriter. Turner was on the newspaper staff.
The book is dated 1976. Turner brought it to rehearsal to show cast members clothing fashions and hairstyles from “way back when.”
Livin’ Fat is set in the first half of the 1970s. The story begins when bank janitor David Lee finds a bag of cash dropped by fleeing bank robbers. Lee is honest, hardworking and dreams of getting ahead in life. He’s also a college graduate who couldn’t find a job in his field after earning his degree. So, he works as a janitor to pay the bills. When he discovers the money, he realizes that his job as a janitor can really pay off. Or not.
“He has a dilemma,” Byron Wade said.
He plays Lee. He’s joined by fellow cast member Tony Leverette, who plays Lee’s best friend, Boo Goodwin.
Both actors are in their 20s, and both have been getting a feel for the ‘70s by watching old sitcoms. Just look at the lineup: Good Times, Sanford and Son, What’s Happening,The Jeffersons - all where popular television programs in the 1970s.
“This was a time of soul,” Wade said. “You can feel it in the music and see it in the television shows. And these are shows about people who, like ‘The Jeffersons’ say, dream of ?movin’ on up.’ But ‘The Jeffersons’ did it honestly, through their work. David Lee has to make a decision.”
The honest thing to do would be to return it to the bank. Still, that kind of money - $100,000 - would buy things his family can’t afford.
His best friend Boo urges him to keep the money, saying Lee’s family deserves a chance to get ahead. But Lee’s deeply religious parents examine the moral ramifications of such a decision.
“Oh, it’s funny,” Leverette said. “And David Lee and Boo decide to hide away some of the money in a safe place while waiting for David Lee’s dad to make a decision.”
And the safe place proves to be the story’s twist. But audiences will have to discover this mystery at one of UpStage’s four weekend performances.
Livin’ Fat was written by Grambling alumnus Judi Ann Mason, whose writing career included such credits as the television programs Good Times, A Different World, Beverly Hills 90210 and American Gothic.
The ‘70s is a time that exists in pop culture to Deliarisha Ventress. She’s a 22-year-old theater student at Southern University. She’s spending the summer doing research that’s driving her roommate crazy. “I keep watching all of these shows from the ‘70s and listening to the music,” Ventress said. “My roommate keeps says she’s going to come to the play to find out what this is all about.”
It’s partly about Ventress’ portrayal of the 70-something grandmother Big Mama. Ventress’ grandparents are deceased, so she’s studying friends’ grandparents, as well as movie actors’ portrayals of elderly people.
“It’s fun,” she said. “And I’m getting it. And what I like is how Big Mama is older, but she’s cooler than the parents. Everyone goes to her for advice, and when her daughter starts stressing, Big Mama just says, ‘Chill.’ She’s been there and done that.”
CAST: Byron Wade, David Lee; Deliarisha Ventress, Big Mama; Patrice Leonard, Mary Carter; Shea Stephens, Calvin Carter; Denice King, Candy; Tony Leverette, Boo Goodwin
DIRECTOR: Ava Brewster-Turner