THEATRE REVIEW: Langston in Harlem

Josh Tower as Langston Hughes. Photo by Ben Hider

The new musical Langston in Harlem, which opened on April 15th at Urban Stages, is a rousing hip shaking, foot-stomping production for one of America’s most respected poets.

Langston Hughes was not only a poet but he was a dramatist, a novelist, a columnist, a socio-political mad man as well as an esteemed writer. He was also a young, Black, closeted man living in Harlem during the 1920s. As one of the founding members of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of prolific artistic expression, Langston in Harlem is set from the Renaissance through the Civil Rights movement. It showcases a young man who was often misunderstood in his early writings, but who later turned the critics into passionate followers of his work. The show was essentially a near-two hour production based upon one of Hughes’ most popular poems, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred.”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

The production is an explosive mash-up of not only spoken word and jazz, but gospel, rhythm and blues, and swing dancing. It transports the audience back to a time where many writers actually wrote and lived for the people of their community. It expertly tells of love and lost, blues and sexuality, race and politics, a life Hughes so passionately lived. There’s never a dull moment, even when poverty and addiction enters several scenes, you never feel as if the scene doesn’t fit. The musical score and costume designs are spot-on for the life of a black intellectual during that time: middle-class bohemian at its finest. The casting is perfect. In essence, Langston in Harlem is like going to church; it’s exciting, educational and sometimes emotional…but mostly, it just makes you feel good.

Langston in Harlem runs through May 2nd at 30th Street Theatre-Urban Stages (between 7th and 8th Aves). For ticket info: visit www.urbanstages.org

ND McCray

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