Paradise Blue – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

The music genre of jazz grew out of spirituals, folk, ragtime, Blues and marches, being birthed by African-American Communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Considered one of America’s original art forms,” the word jazz is thought to be related to “jasm,” a slang term dating back to Civil War times meaning “pep and energy.”

To become reacquainted with this unique style of music, look no further than New haven’s Long Wharf theatre’s current offering of Dominique Morisseau’s intoxicating “Paradise Blue” alternately cooling and heating the main stage until Sunday, December 16.

Set in the Paradise Club in Detroit, Michigan in 1949, we meet the club’s owner Blue, a conflicted and troubled Stephen Tyrone Williams, who is being forced to decide the fate of his establishment, one he immodestly considers the best. Urban renewal is knocking at his door and he has the power to influence his neighbors by his choice of how he responds to this new challenge.

Blue likes to assert his dominance, over his love interest the sweet and accommodating Pumpkin, a poetry reciting Margaret Odette, and his remaining band members Corn, a laid back Leon Addison Brown and the alternating fiery and smooth talking P-Sam, Freddie Fulton. Changes are putting all these intimates on edge, no more so than when their personal space is invaded by Silver, a seductive Carolyn Michelle Smith, who appears on their doorstep with a hidden agenda of desires and motivations.

Will Blue ultimately do what is best for himself and forget his loyalties to his band and to Pumpkin? Will the demons from his past rise up and be the signal for his destruction? Can Pumpkin shake off her abusive attachment to Blue long enough to acknowledge P-Sam’s offer of affection? What has really brought Silver into the club and will it be for evil or for good?

These talented actors interact with spirit on a multi-level set designed by Yu-Hsuan Chen, dressed in period costumes created by Lex Liang, under the careful direction of Awoye Timpo. One disappointment is that the band never plays jazz together, even though the instruments are staged and ready.

For tickets ($35.50 and up), call the Long Wharf, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Part the curtain of smoke and haze that surrounds the Paradise Club, obscuring motivations and desires and illuminating all too human self interests.

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