The Tallest Tree in the Forest

Jan. 10—Feb. 16 $75–$90
Arena Stage
1101 6th St. SW, Washington, DC
(202) 488-3300
The Tallest Tree in the Forest proves to be a very solid rendering of performer Paul Robeson’s story, delivered with outstanding sound design, production, and music. The show opens with—what else?—Robeson singing “Ol’ Man River,” the Showboat anthem chock full of racial stereotypes. “It’s not a bad little ditty, is it? I made that song famous and that song made me famous,” actor Daniel Beaty says, going on to acknowledge that the character he’s playing is remembered for being much more than a singer. The show then lurches quickly back and forth in time, from Robeson’s boyhood days in New Jersey to his ardent work as a pro-Communism civil rights activist. These opening moments of the show are its weakest. But once Robeson heads to Columbia and is sucked into the Harlem Renaissance, the show gets hopping, aided by music, projections, and Beaty singing Fats Waller’s “The Joint is Jumpin’.” Robeson’s not Harriet Tubman, Beaty says, but Robeson’s story does fit comfortably well into this one-man history play. [RJR]

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