Written by Patrick Chavis
Walt Whitman was many things, but he’s remembered mostly for his great poems, especially his brilliant book of poems, Leaves of Grass. If this show had a theme, it would probably be Whitman’s discontent with the status quo of his time and his belief in evolution, not only in the physical but also in the spiritual sense. Speaking deeply from the heart (at least that is how it seemed to me), Slade relentlessly discusses the need to re-examine everything we know and believe. Being a strong believer in science, actually being called the Poet of Science during his time, Whitman’s poetry, as he saw it, was a way of filling a gap science left empty –that gap being the unanswered question of “what does it all mean?” Science can describe and analyze but cannot tell you how to feel about something.
“A new religion was coming and science would ‘open the way.’ Certainly, science was not to be all. It was to be the work of the poet to show the religious significance of the findings of science.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
The show is engaging and slightly goofy at moments, but it’s fun and never overdone. The abrupt transitions are something that cannot be helped. You’re dealing with very serious material, and then, out of nowhere, a rhythmic hip-hop-style beat comes on, which leads to him rapping about the wonders and beauty of nature. It’s pretty refreshing. His Rap and Soul music performances strangely complimented everything he was talking about: this concept of freeness, of accepting the here and now and letting people express their voice through verse. I found myself thinking, man, Walt can actually rap.
The venue chosen right outside the Strawberry Bowl adds so much to the town hall format of this show. Using only his voice and a few pictures to describe people and concepts, Slade does an exceptional job keeping the audience interested and engaged as he sings, raps, and jokes around with the audience –throwing out references like “google it” –while still in character.
Walt Whitman Sings, a show that could easily be boring and self-important, flies to exceptional heights because of the passion of a very enthusiastic performer.
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