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Amen Corner

Musical in 2 Acts 6 Scenes. Book by: Peter Udell and Philip Rose : Lyrics by: Peter Udell : Music by: Garry Sherman : Based on the play The Amen Corner by James Baldwin

Nederlander Theatre, Broadway - Opened 10th November, 1983 : Closed 4 December, 1983 (29 perfs)

Synopsis

Margaret Alexander, the strong-willed female pastor of a storefront church in 1960sHarlem, is suddenly all-too-human in the eyes of her devout congregation when her long-lost musician husband returns. Margaret struggles to keep herself – and her leadership of the church – together as she confronts her feelings for this “wicked” man and her wayward son who has lost his faith. Her final reconciliation with her husband purges Margaret of bitterness and gives her the strength to continue her religious mission.

James Baldwin’s powerful play about the double-edged sword of righteousness is transformed into a rousing, emotional musical of faith and redemption with a spine-tingling contemporary Gospel score. A fine book by the authors of “Purlie” and “Shenandoah” showcases a cast of talented back actors in this fiery, inspirational and poignant drama.

Story

It is a bright Sunday morning at a New York Church where Sister Margaret Alexander is preaching to her congregation. She tells the people over and over that they can't serve two masters. They can only serve the Lord! The Lord is the only way to salvation. Sister Moore, Elder of the Church, helps lead the congregation in praise of Sister Margaret. They are certainly lucky to have a shepherd like her lead their flock. Sister Moore then calls upon souls that need the healing of Sister Margaret. With that, a young woman comes forward with a baby in her arms and approaches Sister Margaret.

The woman's name is Ida Jackson and her baby's name is Daniel. The baby has been sick, and Ida asks Sister Margaret to pray for him. When Sister Margaret asks the woman where her husband is, she can only say that he doesn't want to hear the Lord's name ever again. The Preacher chastises Ida and her husband for whatever wrong they have done; however, she asks the congregation to join in as they pray for the baby. She then tells Ida to go, and when she comes back with her baby all-better, she needs to bring her husband along. Ida agrees and goes back to her seat. A collection is then taken up and Sister Moore encourages everyone in the congregation to give as much as they can.

Later that morning in Margaret's apartment, Margaret's older sister, Odessa, is pouring the preacher some coffee. Margaret is going to Philadelphia to do some "healing" - visiting Old Mother Phillips whom is very sick. It appears that the congregation there needs some spiritual help. She informs Odessa that she wants to take her son, David, with her. Odessa doesn't want David to go with his mother - solely because he plays the piano for the services, and he plays it well. They both wonder just where David is, and he suddenly appears and Margaret tells her son that she would like to take him with her to Philadelphia. David, however, has no desire to go with his mother since he doesn't want to take a week off from music school. Also, he doesn't want an inferior pianist (Sister Price) substituting at church. Margaret is a bit horrified to see just how "saucy" her son has suddenly become.

Brother Boxer, Sister Boxer, and Sister Moore, having finished their chores in the church, enter Margaret's apartment. Margaret tells her son to go pack for the Philadelphia trip, and he tells her that if he is going to be gone for a whole week, there is something he needs to do. He must run down the block and borrow a music score from a friend. His mother tells him to hurry back, and he rushes down the alley. The adults all comment on what a good boy he is. And what is even better is that Margaret raised him all by herself - without a husband and father. Odessa and Margaret then exit to the bedroom while the others talk amongst themselves. Brother Boxer tells the women that David's father is back in New York - working in a jazz club downtown. They all suspect that David knows his father is in New York. Poor Sister Margaret! The father she has tried to keep out of her son's life is back in town. Brother Boxer, Sister Boxer and Sister Moore all then discuss their current state of affairs. It appears that Brother Boxer has had the opportunity to drive a liquor truck; however, Margaret sees it as sinful. Brother Boxer needs that job! They have to find a way to make Margaret understand that religion doesn't always put food on the table. They have to eat - don't they?

When Margaret and Odessa come out the bedroom with suitcases, Sister Moore is just about to talk with Margaret about the "work ethic "situation when David rushes into the room and asks to see his mother. Margaret asks her son to wait, and when she hears Sister Moore's case for Brother Boxer's Liquor Truck job, Margaret shoots her down saying that a pastor shouldn't be questioned by anyone. They need to listen to what she has to say. No questions!

With that Luke, David's father, enters the room and greets everyone. A startled Maggie is angry at her son for obviously knowing this all along. Though Luke just tells her that he has come only to say "hello," Margaret wants nothing to do with her ex-husband. He has only brought her trouble in the past, and she figures that he is going to do the same again. Yes, Luke admits life with him wasn't always the easiest, but he reminds Margaret that she is the one who got tired of his constant touring with jazz groups and up and left him. Luke assures his son that he never would have left the family on his own. Luke invites David to visit him at the jazz club where he is working. In fact, David went down the night before. Margaret orders David to get his coat and leave with her.

After assuring Margaret that he has no intentions of staying, Luke gets up, sways, and falls into a chair. It is obvious that he is not well - probably needing to go to the hospital. Margaret, however, has no intention of helping Luke. On the other hand, David tells his mother that he is going to stay in New York and care for his father. The others try to convince Margaret not to go to Philadelphia, but she says "no." As far as Margaret is concerned, the Lord comes first, and Luke is not a member of the Lord's group. She leaves.

Late afternoon that following Saturday, Odessa, Sister Boxer and Sister Moore enter Margaret's apartment. They all are discussing their pastor. In actual fact, the woman that always came off so "holy" to them is nothing more than flesh and bones like the rest of them. Luke is the living proof of that. Sister Boxer reminds them all that they need love, affection, and sex in their lives. They are human after all. Is Sister Margaret trying to serve the Lord? Or is she just trying to put herself up above everyone else? In reality, her husband is dying in his own sins, and her son, David, has been lying to his mother. He's been going to bars at night - Brother Boxer has seen him. Also, with all the rumblings, people of the congregation are suddenly questioning just how much money Margaret can take for herself while the rest of them have a hard time paying their bills. With that having been said, they all go into the church and pray.

David then enters the house, tired and nervous. He sits in a chair as Luke enters form the bedroom. David confronts his father asking why he never came to look for them in the past and why he is here today. Luke confesses that he was selfish in the past; however, he realises now, more than ever, that music isn't enough for a person to have - everyone needs love. David remembers how Luke used to play for him on his trombone when he was trying to fall asleep as a child, and how he dreamed of the day when the two of them could play together. Luke tells him that they can still play together though David feels it is too late. Luke presses the matter with his son and David softens.

Inside the church, Sister Moore, Sister Boxer, Brother Boxer are all talking about Sister Margaret while Odessa keeps her distance. They appear to be upset by the fact that Margaret took a train to Philadelphia - which cost more than a bus. Also, she bought herself a new refrigerator which the congregation had to pay for. Odessa finally steps in and tells everyone that she paid for the refrigerator herself. Nevertheless, it is quite evident that Margaret is going to have her hands full once she returns from Philadelphia. Also, she has Luke living in her house, and David has gone the route of sin. The congregation further continues to discuss the issue at hand, and when Odessa tries to object, Sister Boxer simply reminds her that they are simply preparing themselves to take over the congregation just in case the Lord wants Sister Margaret to step down.

Sister Margaret then returns and is happy to see what she thinks is her congregation praising the Lord. Her trip to Philadelphia was a huge success, and the congregation from there is making a trip to New York tomorrow for the evening service. They are bringing drums and trumpets with them for the service, and Sister Margaret appears quite excited about it. When Sister Moore objects, however, Margaret reminds her that there is nothing wrong. More importantly, Margaret doesn't like being questioned; however, the church Elders are making their case known. Before things get too tense, Odessa suggests that they all kneel down and pray, and when they do, the sound of Luke's trombone fills the air. Realising what has been going on, Margaret orders everyone to pray to the Lord and also learn to obey.

Margaret then goes to her house where David is playing one of his father's old records. She orders him to turn the record player off! David then gets ready to leave, and when he is questioned by his mother is interrupted by Luke who tells Margaret to leave David alone. He's eighteen after all. Margaret objects to Luke's meddling; however, Luke doesn't want to hear anything she has to say. He tells David to go out, and he does. With David gone, Luke tries to talk with Margaret. Yes, he did leave ten years ago, but there was a time when they both loved each other, right? What happened to that fiery woman David knew back then? Margaret tells him that she has been changed by the Holy Ghost, and the "fiery" woman is gone. No! As far as Luke is concerned, she still does something to him every time he sees her.

Luke tries to reason with Margaret about their son. Won't the day come when David leaves home? Margaret wants to hear nothing of this! As far as she is concerned, David is going to stay with her and become pastor of the church when she is finished. Margaret tells him that after their second child, a girl, died at birth, she just had to run from Luke and run to the Lord. She saw this child's death as punishment for living the free and, easy life. Luke reminds her that they were poor, back then. She was sick - that's why the baby died! She reminds Luke that he was a drunk, too. Yes, he was, but he's changed now and he wants he back! She begs him to crawl to God for forgiveness and save his soul, but he refuses. He begs her to stop talking about his soul! Doesn't she care anything about him?! Even after he implores her, she doesn't soften. All she can say is that she hopes the Lord has mercy on him because he is going to die - soon. He won't ask for any mercy; rather, he asks Margaret to go away, and he sits by himself.

Early the next morning, Odessa is making coffee. Margaret hasn't slept all night. It appears that David never came home that night. Also, it is pretty clear that the Elders are rallying against her. As she goes to lie down, she remembers that Luke was someone who could make her laugh when she was younger. Was there really anything wrong with that? Margaret further asks Odessa if she knows what "Amen" means. It mean "Thy Will Be Done." It means "So Be It." Margaret tried to say it all morning; however, she wasn't able to. Left alone, Odessa asks the Lord to have mercy on her sister and everyone else for that matter this morning.

Brother and Sister Boxer enter and ask to see Margaret. Yes, they are early, but they still want to talk with her before the service. Odessa questions them both, but they are quick to fire back about salvation and their pastor. Sister Moore finally enters and it is then revealed that they have actually come to tell Margaret that most probably she will be out and Sister Moore will be taking over. Sister Margaret's life isn't suited to one of a pastor. They want to advise her to step down gracefully. Odessa tries to argue in her sister's defence, but the elders don't want to listen. They leave her alone. After a moment, Margaret enters and meets David as he comes in after the night out. When questioned about where he was, David can only tell her that he was out visiting some people and slept at their house because it was late. As she moves closer to her son, Margaret realises that he stinks of whiskey. She slaps him twice. David collapses to the table - his head in his arms. He tries to talk with his mother, but Margaret wants to hear none of his reasons or excuses. When she tries to tell to go and play piano for Sunday school, David refuses - saying that he doesn't feel anything in his heart. Margaret tries to humiliate her son, but it doesn't do any good. She tells him that he might as well go, but he tells her that he left a long time ago. In fact, he's leaving the house tonight - going on the road with some other guys. He can't stay home. Having said that, he leaves her there, alone.

She reflects with Odessa about love and all the trouble it brings in life. Instead of Odessa telling her sister to step down from the congregation, she tells Margaret to pull herself together and face the people once again. Margaret wonders if she indeed threw her life away, after all. She asks to speak with Luke, but before he makes it in the room, Brother Boxer comes back to bring her to church. They are ready for her. He confronts her once again - telling her to drop being so holy holy.

When she finally talks with Luke, she is able to tell him that David is gone to the world. She now realises that Luke is indeed dying and that she must make peace with him. Luke knows that he'll never see his son again, but that's okay. He was able to see him go off into the world. Left alone, Margaret and Luke finally reconcile their differences. They hug, but Luke feels a bit weak and lies down with Margaret attending to him all the while - finally telling him that she never stopped loving him. He dies in her arms - finding happiness at last. She, too, has learned what true love really is and always will be.

Margaret is last seen with her congregation as they join her in singing. Even the Boxers join in, realising that their plan to "dethrone" their minister will not succeed. Sister Margaret is a new woman who can serve her people with a new understanding and love.

Cast:

Members of the congregation

Instrumentation:

Orchestrations by Gary Sherman and Dunn Pearson

Musical Numbers

  1. Amen Corner - Margaret, Congregation
  2. It Ain't No Fault Of His - Magaret
  3. That Woman Can't Play No Piano - David
  4. The Real World - Brother Boxer
  5. You Ain't Gonna Pick Up Where You Left Off - Margaret, Luke
  6. The Real World (reprise) - Sister Boxer
  7. We Got A Good Thing Goin' - Luke, David
  8. In His Own Good Time - Sister Boxer, Brother, Boxer, Sister Moore, Odessa, Elders, Congregation
  9. Heat Sensation - Luke
  10. Ev'rytime We Call It Quits - Luke
  11. Somewhere Close By - Odessa
  12. Leanin' On The Lord - The Boxers, Odessa, Congregation
  13. I'm Already Gone - David
  14. Love Dies Hard - Margaret
  15. Rise Up And Stand Again - Margaret, Congregation

Scenes and Settings

Act 1

Act 2