Theatre Review: McKinley Johnson's Clara

Saturday, 17 August 2013 23:51 Written by  Nicole Mi’gone Davis

Gospel music comes from the soul and gospel legend Clara Ward delivered music from her heart. Some of her well-known gospel hits include “How I Got Over” and “Surely God is Able”. This powerful musical, which told the story of a woman who encountered trials and tribulations throughout her career and personal life, was produced by the Open Door Repertory Company and written by McKinley Johnson.

The Open Door Theater in Oak Park was filled with over sixty seats as great actors and singers hit the stage to present the gospel singer’s story. As a child, Clara was talented and at that moment, her mother Gertrude knew her daughter was capable of being great. Gertrude began to manage Clara and her sister, Willa at a young age and demonstrated tough love to point towards the girls. Clara and Willa’s father, George, was portrayed as the more passionate of the two parents.

In addition to Clara and Willa, Henrietta Waddy and Marion Williams were added to the Ward Singers, a group formed and managed by Gertrude. The girls traveled across the country and were successful, but never saw or enjoyed the fruits of their hard work because Gertrude became greedy for fame and money. This forced Willa to leave the group. The remaining three members of the group toured in the 1960s with Reverend C.L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin, who became known in music as the “Queen of Soul”.

Each scene embarked the path of Clara’s pain, joy and love throughout her life, including the death of her child. The visual concept that each actor presented brought to life the saga and drama of a women who encountered physical, verbal and mental abuse. The pressure of life caused Clara to turn to alcohol and eventually the stress caused her to have a stroke in 1973. The story of Clara lives on through her music and the heartfelt musical evoked the emotions of sympathy, laugher and joy.

Clara runs through Sunday, Aug. 18 at The Open Door Theater.


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Photo Credit: Bill Jenkins

Nicole Mi’gone Davis

Nicole Mi’gone Davis

Nicole Davis is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. She had the opportunity to intern with Roland S. Martin at the Chicago Defender newspaper in 2006.She has worked with publications such as Lumino Magazine & BEZEL Magazine covering fashion, lifestyle and entertainment stories. In March 2012, she started her own blog called Entertainment Diva which specializes in entertainment, international fashion and spotlight features.

Nicole can be contacted at