In “Blues for an Alabama Sky” at Pasadena Playhouse, Robin Givens stars as Angel Allen, a self-determined, dangerously-flawed woman living in Harlem during the Depression era. To be exact, Harlem during the summer of 1930.
Givens gives a performance that is intense, on target, and flawless.
Givens began her career in television starring in the ABC series “Head of the Class” (1986-1991). Eventually, she turned her attention to the stage, which included a successful stint on Broadway in the leading role of Roxie Hart in the 2006 production of “Chicago.”
Her life experiences, some of them very public–like her rocky, violent marriage to former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson–may have given her some of the fire that emanates from the recesses of her soul to give the audience the character Angel, a sassy, scheming, seductive, survivor who is constantly thinking on her feet, trying to stay one step ahead of utter damnation.
Cast member Kevin T. Carroll, who portrays her proud to be gay ‘guy’ pal Guy Jacobs, reflects just the opposite of Angel’s jaded character. He still believes in dreams, and his is to move to Paris and design costumes and gowns for Josephine Baker.
He holds tight to his dreams, doing what he can to get Baker’s attention. To this Angel replies, “I’m tired of Negro dreams–all they ever do is break your heart.”
Indeed, 1930s Harlem is a sad place to be, if you don’t have a job and are broke. And that’s exactly where Angel finds herself. Catching a glimpse of a family out on the street surrounded by their belongings, Angel immediately determines this is not about to happen to her. After a slight argument with her friend Jacobs, she states she’s looking for “a rent check that won’t bounce.”
Tessa Thompson stars as Delia Patterson, the girl next door who lives across the hall. She’s bookish, loves Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, the Abyssinian Church, and the idea of birth control. It seems she’s also a follower of Margaret Sanger, advocating for the use of contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies–a movement that was taking hold of the nation in 1930s Harlem.
Kadeem Hardison, who starred as Dwayne Wayne in “A Different World,” rounds out the cast of friends that surround Angel. Hardison stars as Sam Thomas, a hard-drinking, partying, loud-talking, good-hearted doctor who takes pride in delivering Harlem babies.
Hardison plays his role to perfection. His body movements, facial expressions, and believability are as natural as breathing fresh, clean air.
Early on, we meet Leland Cunningham, played by Robert Ray Manning Jr.–the Alabama-born-and-bred country boy fresh out of the sticks who falls hard for Angel. His character brings a totally different point a view to Angel’s circle of friends that offers explosive and heart-wrenching drama. Yet, the unapologetic Angel says “I’m sorry about 20 different ways, and I don’t give a damn about any of them.”
The outstanding cast is in the very capable hands of director Sheldon Epps, who is also the Pasadena Playhouse artistic director. In this production, Epps gives us a sneak peek into the lives of Blacks living in Harlem in the 1930s.
Every aspect of the show takes you back to that time period. From the beautiful costumes, to the revolving set with the authentic furniture and feel of the day; even the backdrop puts you in mind of Harlem. From the pictures of La Baker on the walls, to the sassy shoes and stockings worn by the leading ladies, you are in Harlem, and you’re feeling Angel’s pain. This is wonderful entertainment, don’t miss it.
“Blues for an Alabama Sky” debuted on stage in 1995, and is written by Pearl Cleage, an award-winning author and playwright who makes her home in Atlanta, Ga.