Blue Skies … Big Dreams at Pasadena Playhouse

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From l, Kadeem Hardison, Kevin T. Carroll, Tessa Thompson, Robert Ray Manning Jr., and Robin Givens in a scene from “Blues for an Alabama Sky” at The Pasadena Playhouse.

Pearl Cleage’s 1995 drama, Blues for an Alabama Sky had its Los Angeles theatrical debut at the historic, majestic Pasadena Playhouse this past weekend. Amidst cloudy weather and threatening skies outside, all was calm and crystal clear Sunday evening, as Sheldon Epps (Artistic Director) and Stephen Eich (Executive Director) of the Pasadena Playhouse presented the show’s opening night, in conjunction with the Wells Fargo Theatrical Diversity Project celebration.

Set in Harlem, 1930s, just following Harlem’s artistic renaissance decade, where clubs, such as the Cotton and Kit Kat saw their heyday, the Great Depression has struck, with harsh realities affecting artists, designers, and singers of the time. Blues for an Alabama Sky features a rich, diverse cast of characters, including Angel Allen, exquisitely played by Robin Givens, a struggling blues singer, weathering her own internal and external storms. Her best friend, Guy Jacobs (Kevin T. Carroll) gives a stellar performance as the perennial optimist and out of work costume designer, who, despite the circumstances, dreamily states in the opening act, “It seems like heaven here in Harlem….” He holds tight to the desire of taking Angel to Paris and the fantasy/myth of costuming the “magical Josephine Baker.” Entering the colorful picture is Leland Cunningham (Robert Ray Manning Jr.) in an “Alabama state of mind,” looking for love and connection while leaving behind “Alabama skies where the stars are so thick it’s bright as day.” In Leland, Angel sees a “rent check and a lucky charm,” and almost succumbs to the easy way out, rather than holding onto her integrity, gumption, and God-given talent.

Controversial social issues of the period are also explored, such as abortion, homosexuality, and Prohibition, all in a delicate yet powerful presentation.

Art truly does imitate life, as the five fictitious characters in Blues… retain their frustrated dreams, in hopes for a better tomorrow, just as Sheldon Epps held steadfast to his creative ambitions and the survival and transformation of the once darkened Pasadena Playhouse, facing financial blues of its own. Keeping it alive and weathering the storm gives renewed hope and life, with a five-play 2011-2012 season now underway.

The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Ave. Blues for Alabama Sky runs Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. For tickets, visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org or call (626) 356-7529.

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