It is never clear with A Boy And His Soul how much of Colman Domingo’s tale is based in real life. I hope it is the majority.
For the characters created by Domingo, both on the page and on the stage – he is both writer and performer – are so colourful, so likeable, so simply yet vividly embodied that for the sake of a possibly imagined childhood I wish there to be truth in them.
Jay sent to clean up his childhood home discovers a dusty record collection amid the flotsam and jetsam in the basement. Blowing away the dust and giving the aged vinyl – yes, vinyl! – a whirl kick starts a 90-minutes remembrance.
From his rotund belly-clutching stepfather to his chain-smoking sister and from his crotch-grabbing big brother to a rather worse for wear stripper, Domingo uses the simplest of actions and vocal changes to bring this tale of childhood and growing up to life.
While it always feels like a large, outward-facing performance rather than an invite to introspective dissection, we’re soon drawn into a world where life is punctuated by music, where different bedrooms vie for sound supremacy, where Earth Wind And Fire concerts are revolutionary and where a “nerd with an inner city bad boy deep within” struggles to leave Beethoven and ballet behind in favour of the Hustle.
It is hard not to be won over by Domingo’s easy charisma, the US star, who will reprise his role in Broadway hit The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic following this Tricycle engagement, claiming the stage as his own from the minute he sings an announcement about turning off phones and begins dancing as though he were in his own room with not a single eye on him.
There are references in his richly detailed writing that, unless you were raised in the US in the 70s and 80s, will probably pass you by like a speeding Soul Train. While that’s a shame, it rarely feels that you lose much because the piece’s heart and, yes, soul, is so universal. Who doesn’t have a song that immediately transports them to another time and place? Some may accuse it of sentimentality, but why should that be a dirty word when dealing with familial relationships?
A Boy And His Soul won a trio of awards when it played off-Broadway in 2009. It is easy to see why. Like Marvin Gaye’s provocative tones or the disco beats of Donna Summer, it is difficult to resist.