robert Johnson lived for just 27 years, WROTE 29 songs, and changed the direction of music, forever.
Born in 1911 in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Johnson left a legacy of some of the most important music of the Twentieth Century. His influence on the direction of blues, jazz, and rock and roll cannot be overstated. His guitar style, which is known as, “The Robert Johnson Progression,” IS blues.
Legends surround his life story. Not the least of which, is the one about the Devil with whom, it is said, he made a pact, so that he could play the guitar the way he did. But Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, who are just two of the guitarists whose careers were greatly influenced by Johnson’s immense talent will tell you he was touched with genius.
Charlie Romano has left a visible mark on the music culture of New Haven during his time at Yale. Now in his senior year in Yale’s Music Department, Charlie has written original compositions for the Whiffenpoofs, and the Yale Catholic Centre, and has conducted many shows (see my article on DREAMGIRLS from 2017) It is with a full heart of love and admiration that he wrote this musical based on the life of the enigmatic legend. The play centers on the personal life of Johnson; the mother who adored him, Virginia, who bore his only child (an amalgam of two women in Johnson’s life) and his first ventures out as a professional musician that leads to the legendary recording sessions that secured Johnson’s place in music history. And then of course, there is the Devil who he meets at the Crossroads, and changes the course of the music.
Charlie’s music and lyrics are gorgeous. The music is modern American musical rather than Delta Blues, although, of course, there are some moments when we are treated to the riffs for which Johnson is famous.
I honestly feel that Charlie is going places. Charlie wants the world to know about Robert Johnson, and I want the world to know Charlie. So please watch for my interview with Charlie which will be posted soon.
The book was well written by Jordan Harris and Christopher Puglisi, and the onstage band was terrific, especially the guitar work of Eric Krebs.
The exuberant cast, headed by the very gorgeous and talented Xavier Johnson, did a wonderful job of bringing Johnson’s life to the stage. Mr. Johnson is the full package. He is handsome, charismatic, and possesses a beautiful voice. Xavier is a member of the class of 2020, so that means we get to see a lot more of him, and that is good news.
The role of Virginia is played by the very lovely Me’Lena Laudig, and Sarah Speller is very moving as Robert’s loving mother who knows her son has something special to share.
The show ran for four performances, and were submitted as a senior project. But this is the first step for this show, and the first complete musical Charlie has written. I look forward to watching the piece evolve and cannot wait to see what Charlie does next.