Soul Man

9.23.2009

By Derek de Koff

Soul. Do you have it, and if so, where do you get it? This is the question Colman Domingo asks in his one-man performance piece A Boy and His Soul, a manic, inspired and hilarious tour de force in which he plays every character, often setting his bittersweet, awkward childhood reminisces against a soundtrack of old records by Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.

Domingo, who starred in the award-winning Broadway music Passing Strange (as well as the Spike Lee adaptation) and who can currently be seen on the Logo Network's The Big Gay Sketch Show, sat down to talk to us about ghetto queens, his working process, and why some audience members are frightened by the show.

Out: What should people know about this show?
Colman Domingo: It's about an inner-city black gay boy from Philadelphia finding his soul through his illustrious collection of soul music while he deals with loss, changes in his neighborhood, his evolving family, and moving away from the home he once knew.

How long were you in Philly?
I grew up there and left when I was 21. I went to San Francisco and that's where I started acting, directing, and writing. I was there for 10 years and moved to New York eight years ago. I love it here. It's home. It's beautiful.

Tell me more about the role music plays in this show.
I use the music in a very unusual ways. It's not a traditional musical. It's not even used like a jukebox, really. It's more like a listening room. I basically sing along to the music, and the lead singer in a song becomes my mother or father or some character in the story. I think a lot of times, the music is underscoring the scenes and I know how the music propels the story. Each song is very specific and well-chosen, I think. I call it a play with soul music.

What are some of the bands featured?
Donnie Hathaway, Gladys Knight, Teddy Pendergrass, Kool and the Gang, The Spinners, The Isaac Brothers, and stuff like that -- Tina Marie. So it's not classic soul but soul from the late '70s and early '80s.

What sparked the initial inspiration for writing the play?
I basically started writing the play while my family was going through a lot of changes. My parents were both suffering from illness and my childhood home was being sold. The idea came from this stack of records my parents left in the basement in a storage closet. They rented the house out and it got more and more run down. Whenever my parents needed money, they would think of selling the house and want everything discarded. So there was all this stuff in the basement -- old records, an old Christmas tree. I kept saying, 'Are you sure you don't want this stuff?" They said no -- they wanted to let go, but I didn't.

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