Robeson’s life coming to local stage
“Paul Robeson” by Phillip Hayes Dean is coming to the Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 North Spruce St., later this month.
Presented by Winston-Salem-based United in Music, the production chronicles the life of the iconic Paul Robeson, a child of New Jersey who went on to become an All-American athlete and Columbia-educated lawyer who faced the racism prevalent in the early 20th century.
Realizing that racism would not allow him to practice law, Robeson turned to singing, something he had learned to do well in the church choir. His singing led to acting and his acting led to invitations to showcase his talents around the world. But every place he visits, he sees the strains of racism in its many forms. The more he sees, the more he speaks out, using his influence and stature to try and enlighten those around him.
After some time in Europe, he returns to the United States to perform and speak out about the injustices in the country he loves. He is eventually accused of being a Communist and is blacklisted. He continues to speak out and fights for eight years to clear his name.
The play is a powerful look at the many facets of Robeson the man, as well as Robeson the star.
Jason McKinney, a bass-baritone, plays Robeson, and Christopher Bagley plays Lawrence Brown, Robeson’s longtime collaborator.
McKinney graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he studied voice. While at UNCSA, he was the recipient of the Helen Odom scholarship, the Music Dean’s Talent scholarship and the Chancellor’s Grant for Excellence.
McKinney was the winner of the 2001 and 2002 Civic Music Association of Milwaukee’s Harold Levin scholarship competition and was awarded the Judges Choice award at the 2001 Metropolitan Opera’s district competition. In 2004, he won that competition in the South Carolina District and continued on to place second in the Southeastern Regional Finals. McKinney has performed at venues around the world.
When not on the stage, McKinney sings as a section leader in the Centenary United Methodist Church Chancel Choir and serves as cantor in his synagogue in Spartanburg, S.C. He also composes Jewish liturgical music for Temple Emmanuel in Winston-Salem.
Performances will be on Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $16.50. The public is invited to the final dress rehearsal at 7:30 on Thursday, Jan. 23. It is a “pay what you can” evening.
For tickets, go to http://www.hanesbrandstheatre.org.