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Bravo! “The Pan Man” is the real deal

The Pan Man

Baruch Performing Arts Center presents:
The Pan Man: A Musical Drama

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Josephine, Lypo (the Pan Man) and Rufus Tom

New York, USA - Yes, yes, yes... The musical “The Pan Man” is the real deal.  Entertaining, educational, moving and provocative, this thought-provoking musical drama takes the audience on an enthralling, fantastic, authentic historical journey about the life of the ‘pan man,’ in a time and place when the steelpan instrument and its players of this magnificent instrument were looked down upon and severely castigated by society.

Long before the phrase ‘from the outhouse to the Whitehouse’ became fashionable - the Pan Man successfully made that arduous excursion.

While the drama is set in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, the home of the steelpan, the challenges faced by the characters are representative of universal tribulations and human struggles.  And there lies part of the reason why the “Pan Man” connects with the diverse audience on so many levels - the other being this effective cast of talented actors and actresses who bring a depth of reality and unbridled passion to the production.  Moreover, the play has significant meaning and message for today.

The play was performed at the state-of-the-art Nagelberg Theatre.  This facility functions as an outreach  of the Baruch Performing Arts Center whose mission - in part, is to serve as a major performing arts hub for the New York city metropolitan area.

Josephine, Rufus and Lypo

The Pan Man is the brain child of playwright and composer Franky Duke. Mr. Duke is committed to writing stories about the Caribbean and Caribbean-American life.  He already has ten other plays penned, and is to be commended on this brilliant musical.

Lypo, the Pan Man

There is no shortage of very colorful and memorable characters in the Pan Man.  The musical revolves around the steelpan instrument, and a family of three whose lives are directly affected by this phenomenon called “pan.”  One of the central figures is Lypo Tom, played by Ryan Joseph.  Mr. Joseph’s impeccable musicianship, acting and performance skills belie the fact that this was his first major production - he is a natural.  Ryan Joseph’s work in this play was merely an extension of his determination to excel - which he is already known for as a steelpan music artist.  It was his first time as an actor, and not only did he enjoy his role - he nailed it.

Jo and Rufus Tom, Lypo's parents
Josephine (Karen Holder) & Rufus (David Duncan)

Then there is Josephina (Jo) Tom, Lypo’s mother, played by Karen Holder, who is bent on holding her family together in spite of all the disappointments and hardships.  She is like many women, the ‘glue’ that holds the family unit together.  Ms. Holder was first-rate as she made you feel her pain and joy.  The maternal and protective instinct demanded of her role fitted as a glove.

And of course there is Rufus Tom, the ‘larger than life’ complex figure played by David Duncan, who captivates the audiences from the very first scene to the end.  Duncan’s portrayal of Rufus was so on-point, that it was hard to distinguish his ‘character’ from Duncan the actor, and one forgot that it was just that - an act - so realistic were his scenes.  He is one who truly enjoys his craft.

Lucy, sister Josephina, the Reverend's wife & the Reverend
Lucy, sister Josephina and Reverend Dan and his wife

These main actors were all admirably supported by the rest of the cast, several of whom did double-duty in character roles.  Salone Bishop who played both Dinah and Susan, was especially rib-tickling in her scene where, as Dinah, she was ‘returned from America’ and visited her one-time best friend, Jo, Lypo’s mother.  As Jo’s sister Lucy, Malou Beauvoir in character was the strength Jo needed to be helped through trying times, and also her sister in faith.  Keith Trent as Mr. Josey the businessman, successfully communicated the constantly-working mind of people in business, generally always looking for that ‘quick buck.’  He surely got under the skin of the audience - as he was supposed to - and then on their good side, when he agreed to financially assist Lypo’s steelpan vision.

Salvation, and praise at the end of the trials and tribulations
Salvation, and praise after all the trials and tribulations

Andrew Bell as Reverend Dan definitely gave the Tom family reason to hope, and to hold out for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, not only in words, but more importantly - by his deeds.  He surely left many in the audience wishing that their own pastors were more like his character, Reverend Dan!

Students listen attentively to Ms. Escandon, as she plots a different course for their lives
Students listen attentively to Ms. Escandon, as she plots a different course for their lives

The scene in the classroom where Lypo and his steelpan are mocked, with the pan being referred to as ‘bush music’ by his classmates, spoke volumes.  Their teacher Ms. Escandon was played by Aileen Maria, who believed in and smartly guided her students, who included Lypo, Kirsten Gomez as Stacey, Salone Bishop as Susan, Hugh Anderson as Benji, Elijah Manning as Ox, and Shaunette Wilson who played both Doreen and Reverend Dan’s wife. 

A smitten Claudia with an equally enamored Lypo

And there was Claudia - the fellow student who made Lypo ‘weak at the knees’ and for whom Lypo weaved a sonnet in steel on the pan.  It was the transition from ‘bush music’ to sweet pan music.

The following talent contest where everyone is blown away by Lypo’s skill set on his pan, also allows the other characters to give very good accounts of themselves, and climaxed in an excellent vocal rendition by all the ‘students’ with the refrain “We are High Fliers.”  With the belief of their teacher Aileen Maria burning within them, they made her earlier words come true - that no longer would they be called the “Left-backers” as they had been mockingly dubbed by others, but would be henceforth known as the “High-Fliers.”

Lypo the Pan Man, accepted with his musical talent and passion on the instrument of his choice - the Pan
Lypo the Pan Man - his musical talent and passion accepted through the instrument of his choice - the Pan, and wearing the white cape bestowed by Mr. Josey

In addition to Lypo on pan, there was a live instrumental ensemble on hand providing the accompanying original score (penned by playwright Franky Duke) for the play.  Denis Nelson on keyboards, Lino Gomez on bass, and son Christopher Gomez on drums supplied both bridges, as well as full backing for the show’s vocal numbers, complementing especially the soaring pieces performed by the ‘students’ and Josephina.

Ryan Joseph, Karen Holder & David Duncan
Ryan Joseph, Karen Holder & David Duncan

Surprisingly, in a little more than two hours - the audience observes this family dealing with class struggle, poverty, education stereotypes, dreams denied and deferred, love, and family, among others and ultimately, triumph.  Indeed, while the musical reverberates with classic themes of hope, salvation and redemption - the Pan Man’s journey is unique, as there is no story like that of Pan.  In the play, as in life, the Pan - and by extension the Pan Man’s family and friends - travels from being relegated as dregs of humanity, situated behind God’s back to front and glittering center of God’s house.  A fantastic voyage to be sure.

Directed by Michelle Mannette–Gomez, and with Set and Costume Design by Emelda Jerry (who also functioned as Stage Manager)  “The Pan Man: A Musical Drama” is a must see.  Bravo!!

(l-r)Mrs. Duke, wife of playwright Franky Duke, Ryan Joseph, “Claudia,” Hugh Johnson, Kirsten Gomez and Aileen Maria
(l-r) Mrs. Duke - wife of playwright Franky Duke, Ryan Joseph,
 “Claudia,” Hugh Johnson, Kirsten Gomez and Aileen Maria

The Pan Man - Cast

Karen Holder as Josephine David Duncan as Rufus  
Karen Holder as Josephine   David Duncan as Rufus  
Ryan Joseph as Lypo   Malou Beauvoir as Lucy  
Ryan Joseph as Lypo “The Pan Man”   Malou Beauvoir as Lucy  
Aileen Maria as Ms. Escandon   Keith Trent as Mr. Josey  
Aileen Maria as Ms. Escandon   Keith Trent as Mr. Josey  
Hugh Anderson (right)
 with “Claudia” as Mr. Johnson
  Salone Bishop as Susan  
Shaunette Wilson as Doreen   Andrew Bell as Reverend Dan  
Shaunette Wilson as Doreen   Andrew Bell as Reverend Dan  
Elijah Manning as Ox   Michelle Mannette-Gomez as praise singer  
Elijah Manning as Ox   Michelle Mannette-Gomez as praise singer  

Related article:  Ace Steelpan musician Ryan Joseph is ‘Lypo Tom’ in “The Pan Man”

Contact playwright Franky Duke - frankyhduke@gmail.com; 1 (347) 471-1243
Contact Ryan Joseph - “The Pan Man”

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