San Diego, CA—Thirty years ago the first African-American Theatre Company, Ira Aldridge Players, under the tutelage of a dedicated Calvin Manson, made its appearance on the theatre scene. In 1984 Manson presented his first of many musical revues called, “Harlem, Harlem”.
It was mounted at the Educational Cultural Complex in Southeast San Diego. Later on it moved to the now defunct Marque Theatre in Little Italy and after that to ‘sold out audiences’ at The Lyceum Theatre downtown.
Fast-forward thirty years and scores of musicals later including different venues and a shot at dinner theatre, and Manson is remounting “Harlem, Harlem” back at its place of origin. It’s one heck of an entertaining show recommended for musical history buffs who loved that early era of Harlem Happenings in shows like “Jelly’s Last Jam”, “Ragtime”, “Cotton Club”, (now on Broadway and renamed “After Midnight”) and just recently in an earlier era, “Scott Joplin’s New Rag” (especially Joplin’s music) by Robert Barry Fleming, now showing at Mo’Olelo downtown.
Duke Ellingon, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Jordan and Bessie Smith are all represented in this two act salute to the times, history, literature and culture of the African American patch work quilt of America’s musical and cultural makeup.
“Harlem, Harlem” is a musical revue of the music and dances of the 1930’s and 40’s. It is a creation of Calvin Manson who also directs this time honored piece.
Act One opens with the rousing “Hellizappin Swing” with the entire nine member cast and featuring the nimble footed Kevin Burroughs tap dancing his way across the stage and back (choreographed by C. Anthony Cole) to the excellent sounds of very savvy five man band that includes musical director Leon Matthews on Sax (and a mean one at that), Steve Gooden on piano, Danny Kink on drums, Adrian Lahaie on guitar and Nathan Young on bass.
Outfitted in Pearli Killen’s colorful and some outlandish frocks, with hats (in the second act all the men had different colored vests) the voices ranged from sultry to fun filled (“Open The Door Richard” with Wrekless Watson, Kevin Burroughs, the stylish Marvin Ivy and the handsome Ronnie Williams.) to almost operatic as Kimberly Jackson belts out Gershwin’s “Summertime”.
Mason has to be partial to Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith’s “Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan)” as it’s performed in almost every of his shows that I’ve seen. In this show Esther Anthony Thomas dressed in a shimmering green (reminded me of a flapper) dress with fringes, has an easy, soft and gentle go at it.
Closing out the second act, set in cabaret style, Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Mean A Thing” with Kevin Burroughs (who also choreographed this number) leads the cast across the wide stage to shine in this snappy number. Dressed to the nines with long white (zoot suit look) coat, black tux trousers and red hat he also takes the cast to a rousing close with an additional “Hurry Home”/ “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t my Baby”. It’s all very entertaining.
Soft spoken Manson has had this passion of bringing community theatre “to every community in San Diego” for the past thirty years. He has done this with painstaking guts and perseverance especially in Southeast San Diego. Right now his focus is keeping his dream alive in this small corner of our community and feels it’s incumbent on the rest of the community to give it its hardy support.
“Harlem, Harlem” is a fun filled for the family show. Along with some knee slapping, toe tapping good old-fashioned music, just the fashion show of costumes alone is worth the trip.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 12th
Organization: Ira Aldridge Repertory Players
Production Type: Musical
Where: 4343 Ocean View Blvd., San Diego, CA 92113
Ticket Prices: $20.00 in advance/$25.00 at the door.
Venue: San Diego Continuing Education Educational Cultural Complex