It’s all about jazz, race, women and gentrification in Paradise Blue.
THIS WEEK, Gloucester Stage Company debuted the regional premiere of the critically acclaimed Paradise Blue, a noir-inspired drama set in a 1949 Detroit jazz club neighborhood as it faces demolition to make way for the “innovation” of the national highway system.
It’s a great story, and the Gloucester Stage Company’s production is beautiful, thought-provoking and ably acted by the tight cast with direction by the creative team of Elise Joyner and Logan Pitts.
Paradise Blue centers on Blue, a gifted trumpeter and owner of Paradise Blue, as he contemplates selling his once-vibrant jazz club in Detroit's Blackbottom neighborhood. The house band is desperate to stay, Blue's demons tempt him to leave, and the arrival of a seductive stranger turns everything upside down. Blue must choose between escaping his demons and the human cost of leaving the only home he's ever known.
The play is based on a true story, and is the first in a trilogy of plays by award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau.
"It is significant as a theatre company that we are producing a play that narrates the struggles of a Black community in Detroit circa 1950, forced to surrender sacred space, home space, in the wave of gentrification that sill crushes Black communities today," said, Paula Plum, interim artistic director of Gloucester Stage.
"It is part of our mission to elevate Black voices, and Dominique Morisseau is one of those voices. Through her, we begin to understand the trauma, heartbreak, and destruction that is the cost of gentrification and attempted eradication of Black culture. It is a gripping and shocking drama - the story of one Jazz man, Blue, torn between familial loyalty and personal dreams of greatness -- that will touch the hearts of our audience, even as the story awakens a sense of outrage and awareness of racial injustice.”
For sure, Paradise Blue is dynamic and musically-infused, and the story’s drama shines a light on the challenges of building a better future on the foundation of what our predecessors have left us. But it’s also funny. And poignant. And so well acted by a small cast that includes Durrell Lyons (Blue), Destiny Washington (Pumpkin), Boston’s Alexandria Danielle King (Silver), Darian Michael Gary (P-Sam), and Rhode Island’s Dereks Thomas (Corn). Every character is critical. Every one necessary to the story.
Because of the production and tightness of the acting ensemble, audiences can appreciate the many, many layers to this story. Yes, it’s about the Black experience and seeking agency within the context of America’s arguably most important original art form—jazz and blues music.
But it’s also about power of money and class and its role in assessing “blight” and disrupting or outright clearing of important American communities. It’s about women and their relationship to other women. It’s about community. It’s about mental health, and the power of healing. These things are universal themes. And they are all brought to life in Paradise Blue.
"There is a remarkable dichotomy that Morisseau reveals by means of this historically thriving jazz club, Paradise, sitting on the precipice of destruction. It illuminates a definitive correlation between the members of this sacred community, their relationship within it, and the troubles that haunt their very dreams– their very existence," shared the production's co-directors, Elise Joyner and Logan Pitts.
"Like the club, we see the soul of these characters on the precipice of change. As musicians, lovers, and people, we witness a metamorphosis of their individuality, thus asking what must be dismantled for the sake of progress and how they respond, so tangibly in a real way, resonates deeply with us today."
PARADISE BLUE runs now through September 18. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester. Tickets are now on sale and available at GloucesterStage.com.