Southern musical tries to accomplish too much

Kudzu is a fast-growing plant from Japan used for decoration. But it often spreads wildly as a weed over trees and foliage in the South. “Kudzu: A Southern Musical” playing at Ford’s Theatre, is much like the plant – its beauty is obscured as weed.

The musical is based on Doug Marlette’s comic strip “Kudzu.” In the show, Kudzu is a boy trying to begin his career as a writer. On his 18th birthday he inherits land in his small southern town, Bypass, from his father who abandoned him at a young age. Kudzu is torn between keeping the land – or selling it to a businessman who promises to make Bypass a great, exciting town.

The plot extends beyond Kudzu’s decision. There is love. There is deceit. And in the end, there is confusion. The musical attempts to encompass too many aspects. A musical based on a comic strip needs to remain simple, like its base, in order to convey its message.

Despite the complicated plot, the score is innovative and captivating. Much of the music has a southern flavor, but it does not get bogged in it. Upbeat rhythms quicken the show’s pace in places it could have dulled.

The Red Clay Ramblers, a North Carolina string band, replace the orchestra. The five members are on stage during almost the show and have roles in the performance. They add a unique facet to the show.

While each musical number is performed with energy and intensity, one wonders why the entire cast seems present during each song. At times, characters unexpectedly and needlessly enter a scene to sing, which creates questions and confusion for the audience. The most memorable songs are performed by one or two characters.

The imaginative score is brought to a new level by the amazing voices of the cast. Each sings with passion and strength. Ironically, James Ludwig, who portrays the lead character Kudzu Dubose, has one of the weakest voices. He is overshadowed in every number by the talents of Beth Leavel (Mama Dubose), Joilet F. Harris (Mazee Jackson, friend of Mama Dubose) and Rodney Hicks (Maurice Jackson, friend of Kudzu).

Leavel and Harris perform an amazing number, “We’re Your Mamas.” Their voices, both of which acquire an element of blues for the number, blend together exquisitely. The song is powerful and unforgettable. Unfortunately, Hicks only is highlighted a few times, but it is enough to recognize his talent.

The script is extremely humorous. But some of the comedy is lost in the confusing plot. Often too many things take place simultaneously. The audience suffers sensory overload, and humorous lines are missed.

“Kudzu” tries to accomplish too much. A complicated plot and questions about the script leave the audience unsatisfied. Despite its problems, “Kudzu” is undeniably humorous and entertaining.

If one is willing to weed through the complicated aspects of the show, the comical elements, brilliant score and upbeat cast will surface and reveal the musical’s beauty.

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