Theatre review - Blues for an Alabama Sky

SET in New York in 1930, Pearl Cleage’s celebration of the Harlem Renaissance has a sting in its tail. Blues for an Alabama Sky explores the aspirations of a restless group of neighbours who share a boarding house.

Angel (Samira Wiley) has been dumped by her Italian gangster boyfriend and sacked from her job as a nightclub singer. She’s rescued by her flamboyant best friend, Guy (Giles Terera) who picks her up, dusts her down and offers her a roof over her head.

A costume designer, Guy endlessly makes unsolicited outfits for Josephine Baker in Paris. He’s convinced one day she will respond and invite him for an interview. Their softly spoken neighbour, Delia (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) plans to open a birth control clinic in a bid to empower Black women.

A regular visitor is Sam (Sule Rimi) a local doctor with a soft spot for Delia. Their unfolding relationship is one of the play’s highlights. Meanwhile, Angel is wooed by new arrival in the neighbourhood – Leland Cunningham (Osy Ikhile), a young widower from Alabama.

They’re all chasing their dreams and it looks as though one or two may just come true. But when Leland proudly shows Angel his gun, we know things will end badly.

Although Cleage’s first half is a tad slow, the stellar cast and exuberant staging by Lynette Linton (artistic director of the Bush Theatre) keep us engaged. Frankie Bradshaw’s impressive set includes two living rooms, an internal staircase and outside fire escapes where the neighbours meet to share the latest gossip.

There are few musical interludes which is a shame, because Benjamin Kwasi Burrell’s score, set to poems by Langston Hughes, and the cast’s vocals are sensational.

The pace in the second half picks up and it’s an enthralling final hour. I also recommend the lovingly compiled and informative programme.

Until November 5

Originally published by Camden New Journal