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Off Broadway

He Says: Paradise Blue Blows Us and Itself Away On a Beautifully Held Note

He Says: Paradise Blue Blows Us and Itself Away On a Beautifully Held Note

It’s 1949, and the blues float through the Detroit air inside the Signature Theatre on a strong trumpet note.  We are surrounded on all sides by legends, posters heraldng the coming of such jazz greats as Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, Count Basie and Cab Calloway, as the sound of jazz draws us into the Paradise Bar.  The sign hanging over the room lights up, spelling it out as clear as can be, that we are now in Paradise, but what those lights don’t tell us is that in the darkness hides demons that inhabit this club.  Paradise is running out of air as the small Black community formerly known as Blackbottom, on the downtown strip now called Paradise Valley has a future that is as troubling as Blue’s mind. He’s the trumpet-playing man at the center of Dominique Morisseau’s dynamic new play, Paradise Blue, the last of the playwright’s three-play cycle, “The Detroit Project” and as inhabited magnificently by J. Alphonse Nicholson (NFT’s Freight), he blows a sad and haunted tune seeped in his Daddy’s madness just before the shot shatters the hypnotic song and shoves us hard.

Paradise BlueBy  Dominique Morisseau
Directed By  Ruben Santiago Hudson
Kristolyn Lloyd & J. Alphonse Nicholson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Blue has inherited the club from his jazz great but deceased father, a man who’s very breath and sound linger in the dusty air of Paradise like stale smoke from the night before.  Blue can’t seem to escape the man, no matter how hard he tries to play through the madness and tragedy, and no matter how much the loving Pumpkin, portrayed with a calm grace and care by the lovely and solid Kristolyn Lloyd (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen).  She’s his protector, or at least she tries to save him from the sounds of a history dipped in sorrow and violence.  Lloyd fills the woman with a saintly human edge that warms the heart, as she cares for all those other souls who live up above the club in rooms rented out by the week.  One is in the fatherly form of Corn, a piano player with a warm friendly spot for Pumpkin and a great sad love for his dearly departed wife. Played with care by the wonderful Keith Randolph Smith (Broadway’s American Psycho), we hold onto his kindness as a shield, hoping he will be the one that can help, as it’s clear that Blue listens to him more than almost anyone else.

J. Alphonse Nicholson, Simone Missick. Photo by Joan Marcus.

That is especially true in regards to the hot headed P-Sam, played with fire and passion by Francois Battiste (Public’s Head of Passes). Blue bristles at almost everything that comes out of his mouth, but P-Sam’s role is the least fundamental both in the club, and in the pages of this play. He counters every move of Corn, debating the reality of the world and the dark cloud hanging over the neighborhood he loves. He does get it right about the stunning new arrival, Silver, played gorgeously by Simone Missick (Marvel’s “Luke Cage“), when he states, “She’s go some kind of walk on her‘. She’s trouble, they all think, but just the kind of trouble this play needs, shaking up every soul in that room this way and that, breathing life into the men, both good and bad, and arming the loyal Pumpkin with some hard cold Blue facts of life.

Paradise BlueBy Dominique Morisseau Directed By Ruben Santiago Hudson
Keith Randolph Smith, Simone Missick. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As directed by the powerful Rubin Santiago-Hudson (MTC’s Jitney), fingers tap on the bar like keys on a piano as the world outside builds some aggressive steam against this little slice of jazz heaven.  Most everyone sees it coming, and those that do want to do something to save it, and hopefully themselves in the process. The club smells like whisky on your shoes and as designed by Neil Patel (NYTW’s An Ordinary Muslim), with perfect costumes by Clint Ramos (Broadway’s Once on This Island), exacting hair and wigs by Charles G. LaPointe (Hamilton), moody lighting by Rui Rita (Broadway’s Present Laughter), and magical sound by Darron L. West, you want to pull up and chair and kick back for a spell and listen to some good jazz by pros who live and breath that stuff. When the blues start to float through the room, with original Music by Kenny Rampton with as assist from music director, Bill Sims, Jr. (Public’s Lackawanna Blues) who also is credited with the original music for “Pumpkin’s Song”, we can’t help but find the love and the dreaming, just like Pumpkin and her poetry.  Those moments of musical and poetic recital, just like this play, are bathed in mercy and madness, with Blue playing for his soul in hopes of finding the love supreme that might save him from his past and the possible future.  The world is coming, looking to destroy and kick out this world of jazz and the blues, and although this music won’t be able to stop this attack, no matter how much it is touched by God, this play will carry us through, and keep this place and moment alive for future theatre goers.

Paradise BlueBy  Dominique Morisseau
Directed By  Ruben Santiago Hudson
Francois Battiste, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Keith Randolph Smith & Kristolyn Lloyd in the Signature Theatre production of Paradise Blue by Dominique Morisseau. The production opened on May 14, 2018 at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). Photo by Joan Marcus. 

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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