×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Paradise Blue’

The Signature Theatre production of this Dominique Morisseau play completes the playwright’s three-play cycle of “The Detroit Project.”

With:
Francois Battiste, Kristolyn Lloyd, Simone Missick, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Keith Randolph Smith.

The scene of “Paradise Blue,” Dominique Morisseau’s black-and-bluesy play, is the Paradise Club, a drink and dance joint in Paradise Valley, the entertainment district of Detroit‘s black community known in 1949 as Blackbottom. The drinks are strong, the rooms are cheap, and you can hear live music by terrific jazzmen like Blue (lean, handsome and moody as hell in J. Alphonse Nicholson’s performance), who plays a mean trumpet when he isn’t too depressed to lift his horn to his lips.

Program notes inform us that Paradise Valley is not long for this world, doomed to fall under the wrecking-ball projects that would soon “urban-renew” the entire black community out of existence. That bit of background lends a good deal of perspective to the play, and it’s too bad that the playwright didn’t make it integral to her plot-thin drama. Lacking that kind of thematic core, the play restricts itself to being an atmospheric but insubstantial slice of dramatic life.

In this staging at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre, Kristolyn Lloyd gives a lovely, self-effacing performance as Pumpkin, the cook-waitress-housekeeper who is the emotional heart of the Paradise Club and of the play itself. She’s a sensitive soul, given to walking around with a book of poetry whose beautiful thoughts she’s intent on committing to memory, as if beauty alone could insulate her from the unkindness of her mean world. In a play that otherwise lacks dramatic suspense, Pumpkin’s uncertain fate is something that causes us genuine concern.

In lieu of a plot, Morisseau presents us with a cast of full-bodied characters. Cornelius, who is known as Corn and played with a big heart and great gusto by Keith Randolph Smith, is the house pianist and resident sweetie-pie, always looking for love and always doomed to disappointment. Silver, a sexy vamp played with sultry charm by Simone Missick (the superheroic Misty on Marvel’s “Luke Cage”), is the lodger everyone wants to literally get close to. P-Sam, the sweet-talking percussion man played by Francois Battiste, is a shameless hustler.

As a cross-section of the club that represents life in Paradise Valley, the characters are a few players short of the swinging band this play needs. But under the confident direction of Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the thesps have a good handle on their characters and the creative team offers them heroic support. Neil Patel’s set design makes the Paradise Club look and feel like the home-away-from-home that’s the closest thing homeless musicians can call home. Rui Rita’s lighting is dark enough to let them keep up the pretense, and Darron L. West’s sound design kindly blocks out the unkind sounds of the real world outside.

Everyone speaks in the choice idiom that Morisseau seems to have snatched from the streets of a city she obviously knows well and loves unconditionally. Pumpkin has a sweet sound. Corn talks softly, but with conviction. And although he’s undeveloped as a character (and underplayed by Nicholson), Blue speaks with the passionate conviction of the egotist he is. “Everybody know this is Blue’s Blackbottom Quartet,” he says. “My club.  My band. Ain’t nobody getting’ solo time but me.”

Knowing as we do what’s in store for Blackbottom, it seems clear that Morisseau intends Blue to be the tragic figure whose personal fate is bound up in that of his neighborhood. But in order to be that character, Blue needs more depth, along with a richer sense of humanity. Actually, what he needs to be is a little bit like Pumpkin.

Off Broadway Review: 'Paradise Blue'

Signature Theater, 199 seats; $65 top. Opened May 14, 2018. Reviewed May 10. Running time: TWO HOURS, 20 MIN.

Production: A Signature Theatre production of a play in two acts by Dominique Morisseau.

Creative: Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Set, Neil Patel; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Rui Rita; sound, Darron L. West; original music, Kenny Rampton; music director, Bill Sims, Jr.; hair & wigs, Charles G. LaPointe; fight director, Thomas Schall; production stage manager, Laura Wilson.

Cast: Francois Battiste, Kristolyn Lloyd, Simone Missick, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Keith Randolph Smith.

More Legit

  • All My Sons review

    Broadway Review: 'All My Sons' With Annette Bening

    Don’t be fooled by the placid backyard setting, neighborly small talk and father-son joviality at the start of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s blistering revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts. There are plenty of secrets, resentments and disillusionments ahead, poised to rip this sunny Middle Americana facade to shreds. [...]

  • A still image from The Seven

    How Magic Leap, Video Games Are Defining Future of Royal Shakespeare Company

    At the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon, Sarah Ellis has the difficult job of figuring out where theater of the 1500s fits into the 21st century. As Director of Digital Development, a title which might seem out of place in an industry ruled by live, human performances, Ellis represents a recent seachange on [...]

  • Gary review

    Broadway Review: 'Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus' With Nathan Lane

    Nathan Lane and Kristine Nielsen, two of the funniest people on the face of the earth, play street cleaners tasked with carting away the dead after the civil wars that brought down the Roman Empire. Well, a job’s a job, and Gary (Lane) and Janice (Nielsen) go about their disgusting work without complaint. “Long story [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content