Blues for an Alabama Sky Review – Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler

L-R: Dennis Pearson and Nija Okoro in BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY - Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography
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A stunning revival of a play first produced in 1995, BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY introduces the Mark Taper Forum’s spring offering. It is 1930 in Harlem; and, to quote playwright Pearl Cleage, “The creative euphoria of the Harlem Renaissance has given way to the harsher realities of the Great Depression.” Set on the cusp of the big change – from prosperity that set the creative juices flowing to a time of poverty and unemployment – BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY beckons the audience to feel the frustration, joy, sadness, and dreams of some very ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

L-R: Greg Alverez Reid, Nija Okoro, and Kim Steele – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

Seen through the eyes of the beautiful and eminently practical Angel Allen (Nija Okoro), a backup singer at the Cotton Club, this is a time that demands every survival instinct she has ever possessed. Angel’s mantra is one of endurance no matter the odds: “I know how to take care of myself. I’m not going to be a broke old woman begging up and down 125th Street dreaming of fine clothes and French champagne.” Angel has devised a foolproof plan to keep going: she needs to find a man to take care of her. But plans go awry, and Angel just broke up with her crooked Italian boyfriend after he got married – to someone else. So, for the time being unemployed and broke, she depends on old buddy Guy Jacobs (Greg Alverez Reid) to foot the bills. Guy is a flamboyant and very gay clothing designer who has big dreams: “That’s one of the secrets of life – learn to spot the romance.” He’s convinced that Josephine Baker, the rage of Paris, will recognize his talent and send him a ticket to Paris and a bundle of money to become her personal designer.

L-R: Joe Holt and Kim Steele – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

This unlikely duo share time, ideas, and champagne with Guy’s next door neighbor Delia Patterson, a social worker who plans to set up a family planning clinic in Harlem with Margaret Sanger, Sam Thomas (Joe Holt), a hard-working and hard-drinking physician, and – eventually – Leland Cunningham (Dennis Pearson), a very conservative and religious widower fresh from Alabama who is drawn to Angel because of her strong resemblance to his recently deceased wife. As tensions ramp up, the tale moves to its inevitable conclusion.

L-R: Nija Okoro and Greg Alverez Reid – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

Skillfully helmed by director Phylicia Rashad, BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY has a superb cast who make every word and expression count – whether to send the audience into gales of laughter or to keep them on the edge of their seats. The play is fictional; but author Cleage weaves real-life icons of the time into the mix, including Adam Clayton Powell and poet Langston Hughes. John Iacovelli’s scenic design is clever and serviceable; and Wendell C. Carmichael’s costume, wig, and hair design make 1930 Harlem come alive. Elizabeth Harper’s lighting and Jeff Gardner’s sound punctuate the story at all the right moments. BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY is fascinating and intriguing, offering both fun and pathos. This is storytelling at its very best and is highly recommended for all adult audiences.

L-R: Greg Alverez Reid and Kim Steele – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY runs through May 8, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays (no 2:30 p.m. performance on April 9), and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $30 to $110. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.

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