Have you ever heard a particular song that instantly triggered a childhood memory?
That’s the premise of “A Boy and His Soul” at Round House Theatre, running through May 2.
“The play is ultimately about Black joys, Black families and Black music,” actor Ro Boddie told WTOP. “The line is, ‘Keep a song in your heart and you will always find your way.'”
The story follows Jay, who clears out his family’s West Philadelphia house to be sold. When he finds an old record collection of disco, R&B and classic soul albums, he is transported to various memories of coming of age and coming out in the 1970s and 1980s.
“This music holds cherished memories with them,” Boddie said. “This music helps conjure up pivotal moments that helped to shape him: backyard memories with his mother, lectures about music from his stepdad, playful bickering back and forth with his brother and sister, and so on. The music takes the character and the audience down memory lane.”
What musical artists will we hear on the soundtrack?
“You have some classic Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Earth Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield,” Boddie said. “These are all hits that you would hear on classic soul and R&B stations across the U.S. … It is a one-man show, but I’m with these people!”
It’s not easy doing a one-man show for 85 minutes straight.
“It is a challenge,” Boddie said. “I play nine different roles, 10 if you include me. They are family members, but then you have some characters that I come across along the way that’s part of me coming out as gay to my parents. There’s a lot of secondary characters.”
There’s also a challenge in keeping up with the soundtrack.
“Because it’s set to all of this music, there is a rhythm to it, so I can’t fall behind in any of the meters of the text or then I’m gonna miss my cue to sing the lyric that I need to sing that’s coming up,” Boddie said. “It’s written in the text that way. It comes across when people watch it as improvisational, but it takes a lot of work to make it come off that way.”
The production was filmed over the course of two and a half days.
“Normally you rehearse for three weeks then do it for three or four weeks for an audience,” Boddie said. “I did it pretty much four times in a theater with just the crew, artistic director, director and cinematographer, then I was done. So, it’s out there for the world to see, but I never got the privilege of doing it for a full audience every single night.”
The crew is led by director Craig Wallace, known as Scrooge at Ford’s Theatre.
“From the experience on working on so many plays with so many different directors, he has so many things in his toolbox that he just whips out,” Boddie said. “Craig and I bonded when we did ‘Master Harold…and the Boys’ at Round House. The first thing we bonded over was music. He was taken aback that I knew these obscure bands like Blue Magic.”
Together, they adapt the very personal text of playwright Colman Domingo.
“It is an autobiographical piece about Colman Domingo’s life, but there’s a reason that he doesn’t name the character ‘Colman,'” Boddie said. “He names the character ‘Jay,’ because his hope was that one day in the future he would pass the baton on to some other brother to take over the role. I’m lucky enough and blessed enough to be able to do it.”