Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Langston in Harlem

Photo: Melinda Hall

When I read that Langston in Harlem features Langston Hughes's poetry set to music, I imagined a staid, respectful, good but quiet evening in the theatre. Boy, was I wrong! Langston in Harlem throbs, stomps, cries, and explodes--and still manages to honor the words of a great American poet. Often thrilling (though too long), Langston in Harlem takes us on an emotional tour of Hughes's life, including his writing, family, and friends, his love of his people, his slow acceptance of his homosexuality, his interest in communism, and his ambivalence about his success and the price paid for it. The jazz score by Walter Marks is flat-out wonderful, and the superb choreography by Byron Easley runs an amazing gamut from joy to anger. The cast is filled with prodigiously talented actors, singers, and dancers, including Jordan Barbour, Jonathan Burke, Francesca Harper, LaTrisa Harper, Dell Howlett, Krisha Marcano, Kenita Miller, Okieriete Onaodowan, Josh Tower, Gayle Turner, Glenn Turner, and C. Kelly Wright. Most importantly, Langston in Harlem transmits a strong sense of Hughes's talent, importance, and heart.

Some small criticisms: the mikes are obtrusive, especially in a small space where they aren't needed at all; many cigarettes are smoked and the smoke just hangs in the theatre; and late in the show the music takes a startling and distracting turn into a Broadway-type sound, as though John Kander had dropped in (I love Broadway musicals, and the song is question is good, but its sound just doesn't fit).

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