The Karamu production of ‘Paradise Blue’ is excellent theater with a surprise ending
Damn! Let me repeat that...DAMN! You will not believe the ending of the Karamu Theatre production of Dominique Morisseau’s Paradise Blue directed by Justin Emeka. At the opening night it completely surprised and stunned the entire audience and it will do the same for you. This is probably one of the best shows to hit the Karamu stage ever and that is saying a lot considering the high production values that their shows have.
Blue (Dyrell Barnett) is a jazz trumpet virtuoso who inherited the Paradise Jazz Club from his father five years ago. Currently his life is in deep turmoil. He has been offered $10,000 for the club that is the anchor of the Black Bottom neighborhood. This is at a time in 1949 Detroit, Michigan when you could rent a furnished room for $5 a week and get a sandwich for a couple of cents.
Blue wants to sell out and move to Chicago to pursue his music career. His girl friend, Pumpkin(Latecia Delores Wilson) is dead set on the idea wanting only to stay where her friends are. She spends her days cooking for the jazz group and customers, keeping the bar and rented rooms clean and memorizing poetry that she recites to the band members.
Blue has just lost his bass player and his band, made up of pianist, Corn (Darryl Tatum) and Drummer, P. Sam (Drew Pope) are in limbo as to their next gig. Blue’s plan is to have Corn teach Pumpkin how to sing as part of the act but that is not gong well at all. Onto the scene comes Silver (Nina Domingue) a siren with a mysterious past who is traveling alone and takes an upstairs room at the club by paying $30 in advance.
On top of this, Blue is fighting a brain full of demons who manifest themselves as violent actions against Pumpkin who has devoted her life to stand by her lover. P. Sam is obviously attracted to Pumpkin and wants to take over as her man but she fights off his advances preferring to stick by Blue as he sorts out his life. When P. Sam hits it big on the lottery he begins to formulate a plan to buy the club in partnership with Silver who also shoots down his dream not wanting to share anything as far as club ownership.
In the meantime, widower Corn goes with P. Sam to another club to hear a bass player. Corn returns to the Paradise with some sweet potato pie that he offers to Silver. They end up spending the night together. The next day, Pumpkin is cleaning Silver’s room makes a discovery that will change everyone’s lives.
Rather than sing, Pumpkin decides to go against Blue’s orders and recite poetry to Corn’s jazz piano accompaniment which is absolutely spell binding. P. Sam comes in drunk with blood in his eye as Blue arrives from the back rooms and an argument quickly escalates into an all out brawl.
First of all, special mention must be made of the stage set by scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr. The double tiered construction with upper bedroom and lower bar area is fantastic. The complex lighting by Jeremy K Benjamin focuses on the action in both sets. The only complaint was that some of the audience could not hear all of the lines. Either the actors need to be equipped with mics or be able to project their voices better to the front rows. Us in the upper tier of seats had no problem hearing.
As for the actors this is a splendid cast. Dyrell Barnett as Blue is perfect as the under the surface seething with anger genius who thinks he is benefiting others while actually destroying their lives bit by bit. Darryl Tatum as Corn is the right balance of jovial as well as perpetual peace maker as he tries to keep the group together. Drew Pope as P. Sam is the hot head who realizes that he is trapped in Black Bottom with limited opportunities. Latecia Delores Wilson as Pumpkin is awesome as the long suffering woman whose undying love results with bruises on her body. Nina Domingue as Silver is all sex and sass. It is a good thing that the theater was amply air conditioned as the temperature soared during her lover’s scene at the end of the first act.
Special mention must also be made of fight choreographer Kevin Inouye who designed one of the most convincing brawls ever enacted on stage. At one point members of the audience were tempted to jump in and stop the fight, that is how realistic it was.
This is one of those complete shows that offers more entertainment for the buck than any other in recent memory. It is uproariously funny, sexy, dangerous, poignant and just downright entertaining. The bit over two hours of stage time flies by which is proof of a great show and oh that surprise ending. See this show...Damn!
Paradise Blue runs through October 20, 2019 at the Karamu Theatre located at 2355 E. 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. For tickets and information visit www.karamuhouse.org or call (216) 795-7070.