There are those short-sighted souls who would have you believe that Los Angeles’ greatest contribution to the world begins and ends on Hollywood Boulevard. Yet, that would be to ignore Central Avenue, which for several post-WWII dec-ades, was the heart and soul of a music and nightlife scene every bit as vibrant as the pre-war Harlem Renaissance. A bright, bold, snazzy new play with music, Willard Manus’ Blues for Central Avenue sets a classic love story against the backdrop of a unique time and place in Los Angeles history.
Wallace Demarria plays Lowell Swift, an army veteran newly returned to his beloved Central Avenue, “The Great Black Way,” determined to turn its music into gold. Reuniting with old friends, he meets and falls in love with working-class songbird Roberta (Christian Omari, who with the help of Lou Briggs’ songs stands out in a cast loaded with talent), who he signs to a record deal on his fledgling label. However, she is soon charmed away by the lure of white Hollywood, personified by an Ed Sullivan-esque movie mogul (Charles Anteby).
Part celebration, part elegy, Blues for Central Avenue has the look and feel of a much bigger musical on a much bigger stage like, say the Pantages. Its current cast has more than enough energy to fill that space but this production will need some nurturing steps before it makes it to the big-time. Without a doubt, though, Manus’ story is well deserving of that next stage.
“Blues For Central Avenue” performs at Write/Act Repertory Co. located at 6128 Yucca St. in Hollywood on Thursdays through Sundays until March 7th. Tickets are $25. For tickets, call (323) 469-3113 or visit www.writeactrep.org.