Ossie Davis’s brilliant and hilarious play is part vaudeville, part sermon. And if preaching is theater, theater is preaching. And the lesson is that “faith in the futureness of this cause” must not die when that cause is freedom. Under Kenny Leon’s terrific direction, this breakneck, impassioned farce swoops, long overdue, onto Broadway.
Leslie Odom, Jr. (the actor we loved to hate as Aaron Burr in Hamilton), plays Purlie, a fast-talking, snazzy-dressing preacher whose dream is to restore an old church, now used as a barn on this cotton plantation in the Georgia of the Old South, to its righteous use. To this end he has brought Luttiebelle Gussiemae Jenkins (Kara Young, adorable) to impersonate his dead cousin so as to reclaim the $500 inheritance which will pay for the deed to the church.
Looming over the family shack (superb set by Derek McLane) is the Big House on the hill where Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee (Jay O. Sanders, towering over everyone in his Colonel Sanders white linen suit and his bullwhip) lives. He is the central stereotype of the bad old days, the bigot who clings to cruelties and entitlements of segregation and slavery.
The performances that round out the cast— Noah Robbins, Heather Alicia Simms, Billy Eugene Jones, Vanessa Bell Calloway—are all pitch perfect, walking that tightrope between the punchline and the passion.
For a show that is laugh-out-loud funny, it is deadly serious at its heart; Purlie Victorious manages to mix the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence into the fun.
[Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St] Ongoing. Previews began September 7, 2023; opened September 27. purlievictorious.com