Theatre Review: ‘Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope’ at The Paul Robeson Theatre

Can’t cope? Dreary winter weather got you down? Finding the TV as dull as dirty roadside snow since the Winter Olympics ended? You may want to take a trip to the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center where the musical revue “Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope” is sure to ignite a spark to thaw the winter blues away.

. . .one of the best musical ensembles you’ll see in Buffalo Theatre this season.

The 1973 Tony nominee for Best Musical, with music, lyrics and book by Micki Grant, celebrates the African-American experience as seen from the heart and disco soul of the 1970s. Its message of tolerance and perseverance still resonates today.

Director and choreographer Carlos R. A. Jones has assembled a talented group of singers and dancers who raise the theatre with spectacular voice and electrify the stage with extravagant foot work from nearly every imaginable dance step.

Video projections draped along the back of the stage, from the Obamas to The Cosby Show families, provides a history of Black America, and while changing as rapidly as the dance steps, never obscures the powerful messaging coming from the stage. I especially liked the history of popular dance steps, with the names of the dances – from the Charleston to The Twist and on –  projected on the screen as the cast changed from one dance to the other in exuberant joyous timing. 

The militant and fiery stomping during “They Keep Comin’” while the ensemble shouts/chants milestones in African-American history, is a thrilling theatre experience. Perfectly synchronized, the complex dance arrangement with the emotionally charged vocals, delivers a loving sucker-punch to the gut.

While the first act explodes with rapid-fire pace and surprising turns, the second act is a little less exciting, centering mostly on the same wonderful singing and dancing, but contained within the confines of a Sunday church. This change tempers the revue significantly, as Black Gospel seems a more ordinary response to the street-level activism expressed in the first act.

But that’s a tiny quibble in a show where performances are so engaging, it is difficult to single out any one player. Certainly, London Lee sets the stage solidly with a fine baritone vocal in the first song, “I Gotta Keep Movin’”. Naila Ansari-Woods and Kayla Henigan, in separate dance moments, offer gentle and seductive dance that expresses a global, nearly hypnotic level of freedom from oppression.

The musical combo – David Wells (Bass), Abdul-Rahman Qadir (Percussion), and Musical Director, Frazier Thomas Smith (Keyboards), provides expert accompaniment. During pre-show and intermission, they got me thinking about my old Ramsey Lewis Trio records.

“Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope” is as warm and inviting as a fireplace in winter. It is one of the best musical ensembles you’ll see in Buffalo Theatre this season.

Running Time: 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope” runs through March 25, 2018 at the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center. Tickets can be purchased here.