Based on a true story from the early 1800s, Henry Box Brown follows the journey of a slave’s pursuit of freedom. The story begins in Virginia, with the main character Henry Brown setting the context of what life is for a slave. Separated from his family and sold as a child, the musical is dramatic and emotional as the audience resonates with the characters through a unique mashup of R&B beats with gospel singing.
Written by Mehr Mansuri, the level of professionalism is evident with the cast boasting experience of performing at Broadway. Well-written and eloquently delivered, Henry Box Brown matches up to musicals at the West End and Broadway and does not fail to disappoint. Starting off with a dramatic scene that shows the segregation of the white and black ethnic community, the musical provides a lesson in history. And yet, the story is very relevant to today’s political context. Mansuri says, “Henry’s story truly resonates today – a father thrown into despair and exile after the brutal separation of his family by the greedy and powerful. But it’s also about Henry’s faith in the face of evil, maintaining his belief in the simple goodness of people and the human capacity to make great scarifies for others.”
After his wife, Nancy, and children are sold to slave traders, Brown is determined to escape and hatches a plan. With the aid of the reverend and a gambler, Brown is mailed in a crate to Philadelphia where he can finally be free. While the storyline is simplistic in nature, the raw emotions and the incorporation of live African drumming and gospel singing adds to the experience. The crowd feels the anguish at the moment when Brown realizes his pregnant wife and children have been sold.
The only pitfall of the musical is the venue it is staged in. The cramped space in the Big Yin studio Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose has a small stage makes it difficult for people sitting in the back to appreciate all that is happening on stage. However, the cast makes good use of the space given to them and the crowd is constantly engaged with the performance, with never a dull moment.
Overall, Henry Box Brown is for people looking for an emotional experience, with a lesson in history.
Henry Box Brown was on at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Big Yin
Image: Henry Box Brown Press