Lyric Opera Presents FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES Review — Pitch-Perfect Affect

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Act I ends as Charles (played by understudy Justin Austin) gives in to the darkness of his inner demons. He is succumbing to the song of the devil-siren who ever taunts him, Destiny/Loneliness (played by Brittany Renee).

“It won’t die, it won’t die,” he sings, as the curtain slowly edges down making the stage darker, and then darker still.

This is what despair looks like, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind seems to say. And this is what it sounds like, composer Terence Blanchard adds, as librettist Kasi Lemmons gives anguish its signature words and voice.

You too may find this emblematic moment as one of so many in Lyric’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, where the skills and talents seem to come from every corner of the opera world to combine in pitch-perfect affect. They are telling a story of child abuse, from journalist Charles Blow’s memoir of same name. The seminal event was when a visiting cousin sexually molested his seven-year-old person, rendering him speechless and unable to report the violation.  Memories and self-doubt then plagued him night and day, leading up to the moment of when his shame fever breaks in the finale scene we long know is coming, but nonetheless sigh in deep relief upon its arrival.

As the second act starts, lithe men dressed in drab brown costumes give Charles’ demons a dance form. They seem to be the nightmare fragments haunting his peace. They fleetingly couple, they reach up in despair, their limbs silently scream that they are trapped and want to break free. At one point they carry young Charles, Char’es-Baby (played by Benjamin Preacely) away as he flails in his sleepless sleep. In this way, choreographer and Co-Director Camille A. Brown weaves in a corollary movement language to tell the tale anew. It’s powerful, in this reviewer’s opinion, and more accurately put, nuclear powered.

Lyric Opera Brings Black Experience to Its Stage

Don’t think dirge or funereal tunes, or a Britten-like soundscape of mistreated children. Quite the contrary, it’s the very boundless spirit that surrounds Charles that brings his private hopelessness into clear relief.

Everyone in the neighborhood fusses over his cute child person.  His mother is indomitable. Her work in the chicken processing plant is grueling, but there’s sexual banter aplenty and jokes about newfound preferences for a good vegetarian man. His brothers give him basketball, girlie mags, and worldly wisdom about the sweet honey of sex. His good-natured uncle teaches him to tame the soil to heed commands to grow a garden.

All is brightness at the baptismal font where Jesus saves — and composer Terence C. Blanchard injects a Gospel tune.

An ensemble of high steppers in bright red and white uniforms give the freedom of landing in a historically Black College a jubilant shape and rhythm. And at his college fraternity’s hazing, the message is delivered clearest: We bend...we sway, but we don’t break…. This is the birthright of slavery’s descendants.

Super Talented Cast and Creative Team

In this particular performance, the two main leads, as well as a third role, were performed by understudies. You too may have found that astounding as there was not one person on the stage who didn’t seem totally schooled in their role, nor a moment unrehearsed. Even the scene changes are paragons of seamlessness.

If you, like this writer, are especially drawn to opera’s tight marriage of lyrics and melody as a vehicle to deliver an emotional message, Fire Shut Up in My Bones will leave you longing for a written copy of the libretto and a continuous loop recording. An instant classic, this is an opera you will likely want to see more than once.


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April 8, 2022 7 pm



Civic Opera House
20 North Wacker




For tickets and information, call 312.827.5600 or go to the Lyric Opera Fire Shut Up In My Bones webpages.


Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.



Justin Austin;  Whitney Morrison; Brittany Renee; Chauncey Packer;  Benjamin Preacely;  Reginald Smith JR.; Martin Luther Clark; Lunga Eric Hallam; Norman Garrett; Calvin Griffin; Leroy Davis; Emily Mwila; Rehanna Thelwell; Oleode Oshotse; Ejiro Ogodo; Kennet La'ron Hamilton; Emerson Elias; Lynnesha Crump; Jihanna Davis; Leah Dexter; Emily Mwila; William Powell III; Darell Haynes



Written by - Kasi Lemmons

Composer - Terence Blanchard

Conductor - Daniela Candillari

Directors - James Robinson and Camille A. Brown

Choreographer: Camille A. Brown


Photos: Todd Rosenberg and Cory Weaver

This story has been added to the Picture This Post roundup article on OPERAS WE LOVE.
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Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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