Today, most people probably remember Soul and R&B singer Donny Hathaway’s holiday classic “This Christmas,” or his chart-topping duets with Roberta Flack, such as “The Closer I Get to You,” and “Where is the Love?” But what is not as widely known is that Hathaway – who was described as a paranoid schizophrenic – jumped to his death from the balcony of the Essex House hotel in New York in 1979. He believed that white people were trying to get inside his head and steal his music.
To bring greater attention to both Hathaway’s genius and his struggles playwright and actor Kelvin Roston Jr. developed TWISTED MELODIES, a one-man show traveling through the performer’s last days. Originally produced by Chicago’s Congo Square Theatre Company in 2015, the production was praised as an engrossing tale of a brilliant musician’s tragic battle with his inner demons.
In Chicago Tribune’s Theatre Critic Chris Jones 2015 review, the show’s main thesis is “that schizophrenia is what made Hathaway’s music great even as it robbed him of his sanity and his life and the affection of many of his fans and collaborators.” Jones went on to praise the solo performer who also serves as the production’s music director: “Roston inhabits his troubled man, feels what he feels, honors his complexity and sings his songs as if his life depended on doing them justice.”
Roston, an Artistic Associate with Congo Square, began writing on Hathaway in his hometown of St. Louis nearly a decade ago. The original piece was entitled PSYCHOLOGY OF A GENIUS, AN IMAGINATION OF THE LAST DAY OF DONNY HATHAWAY. Thankfully, he found a shorter title. It evolved into TWISTED MELODIES after he moved to Chicago and joined Congo Square. The play has been remounted twice – for a second time in Chicago and a 2016 St. Louis production at The Black Repertory directed by Ron Himes. It is currently in previews in Baltimore presented by Center Stage in association with Congo Square Theatre.
“This play first got on my radar during its run at Chicago’s Congo Square Theatre, where Kelvin is an Artistic Associate,” said Baltimore Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. “When we brought Kelvin to Baltimore and he ran through the show for us in the bare rehearsal space, he lit up the room. In this piece, Kelvin channels Donny Hathaway in a most honest and epic portrayal of a man whose story – let alone mind – eludes us all. People familiar with Donny Hathaway and his impact on American music understand the importance of getting this right.”
TWISTED MELODIES opens Friday, March 24, with previews March 17-23, and closes Sunday, April 16. For more information, visit www.centerstage.org or call the box office at 410.332.0033. Press night is Friday, March 24.