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Paul Robeson

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For those who think of James Earl Jones only as the voice of Darth Vader, his performance here as the athlete, actor, and activist Paul Robeson will be a revelation. Jones sings (valiantly), ages from 18 to 75, and even dances. Originally produced on Broadway in 1977, Phillip Hayes Dean’s one-man play about Robeson’s life was crudely taped for PBS two years later, flubs and all, with a bare minimum of atmosphere and nuance. Strangely, the simplicity amplifies Jones’ achievement. He matches Robeson’s largesse with his own and helps blur the play’s occasional awkwardness (such as when Robeson converses with invisible characters). At almost two hours long, this tape may be tough going for those used to MTV-paced entertainment, but stick with it. Jones makes the time worthwhile.B

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