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BWW Review: PARADISE BLUE at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible Theater

Rekindling of a Racial Drama

BWW Review: PARADISE BLUE at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible Theater It's 1949 in Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood, and there's no better place to hear or play jazz than Paradise Club. Club owner and trumpeter, Blue, can wail like no other, but as forces outside the club conspire to irreparably change life inside and outside Paradise's walls, he must decide whether to stay or sell. Beholden to his girlfriend and his fellow bandmates, Blue faces an uncertain future as he reckons with his troubled past. When Silver, a smooth and mysterious newcomer from Louisiana, steps onto the scene, everyone in Paradise must choose how to survive and if they can thrive.

Dominique Morisseau's drama, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, had its world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2015. PARADISE BLUE is... well, it's a lot. But not in the snide, side-eye kind of way the phrase has come to suggest of late. At its core, PARADISE BLUE has a rich, multi-layered plot with colorful characters who, together, expose more and more layers of the proverbial onion that are peeled away. With a run time of two hours, the show is well-paced. Significant amounts of both jazz music and poetry are incorporated. The characters are also, well-developed and provide the actors, all of whom are both strong in their roles as well as familiar with the characters they play, plenty to work with.

BWW Review: PARADISE BLUE at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible Theater
Blaire Underwood as Blue
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Blaire Underwood is powerful as Blue, a man riddled with guilt and anxiety that drive him first to anger, then into madness. The popular actor, perhaps best known for his seven-year stint playing attorney Jonathan Rollins in the NBC series LA Law, displays a deep understanding of the character as well as the range to effectively convey Blue's complexity and intensity.

Some may know Simone Missick as Detective Misty Knight in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she may also be best known for her work in television, as Judge Lola Carmichael in CBS's "All Rise". Missick, plays Silver, a mistress of manipulation, with ample amounts of smooth, sultry, and slick. She is the only member of the cast not to have been part of the world premiere at WTF. She played the role in PARADISE BLUE's 2018 New York premiere at Signature Theatre. Listening to Missick's performance was reminiscent of Blanche Dubois whom we saw / heard in WTF's 2020 season on Audible's opening in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. The reminiscence is applicable not to Missick's performance, but to the nature of the character. In fact, for me, PARADISE BLUE has a feel toward something of a black Streetcar.

BWW Review: PARADISE BLUE at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible Theater
Andre Holland, Kristolyn Lloyd
Photo: Paul Fox

The cast is rounded out by Kristolyn Lloyd as Blue's girlfriend, Pumpkin; André Holland as P-Sam and Keith Randolph Smith as Corn, Blue's bandmates. All three deliver notably strong performances. Lloyd's singing towards the end of the piece is surprising and delightful, which it shouldn't be coming from a Grammy Award winning actress who was part of the off-Broadway and Broadway casts of DEAR EVAN HANSEN.

WTF Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield's choice to revive PARADISE BLUE is another of many highly relevant selections given prevailing racial tensions. It also demonstrates that a new play, "born" at Williamstown, that the New York Times suggested was "unlikely to be final" in its form, can evolve and overcome challenges. While this audio only format does present some challenges in the form of references to props that can't be seen, and difficulty identifying which character is speaking; overall, the production works well. I believe it is one of the stronger offerings in the season thus far.

PARADISE BLUE is now available to Audible listeners. Special access to all seven titles in the Williamstown Theatre Festival 2020 Season on Audible will be made available to eligible donors. Visit www.wtfestival.org/support for more information.


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