ORLANDO, Fla. – Ever wonder what it’d be like to brush elbows with the literary and cultural greats of the Harlem Renaissance?
Well, so did “Lenox Ave” co-creators Brandon Martin and Donald Rupe, who based their latest Renaissance Theatre Company production on Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues,” designing a whole production around the 1926 collection of poetry and giving a whole new meaning to “bringing a book to life.”
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The theatrical experience, which runs from July 22 to Aug. 13 at the Renaissance Theatre Company, or the Ren, located at 415 E Princeton St., allows audience members to step into a speakeasy during the Prohibition era and celebrate the Black joy and excellence that inspired the Harlem Renaissance.
“‘The Weary Blues’ is rich in visual imagery. It kind of paints the landscape of the Harlem Renaissance. It talks about jazz clubs and cabarets and Lenox Avenue... just the ambience of that time. It kind of seemed natural to, instead of doing some kind of more theatrical narrative, just put the audience in the speakeasy and kind of create the same feeling,” said Martin, who wrote and composed the music for the show.
He wanted the score to capture all genres and styles within Black music, including jazz, the blues, early rock, Calypso swing and more and feature a soundtrack that spans across decades of music.
“I didn’t just want it to be, like, stuck in 1920s Harlem. I wanted to celebrate... Black life and art. I wanted the show to have different facets of Black music,” Martin said. “Something Donald and I wanted to do from the outset is to have this be a show that celebrates Black joy... instead of shows that kind of focus on Black trauma. While there are plenty of shows that do that, and in a very important way, we wanted to have something that’s celebratory and fun and joyful.”
Rupe, who co-founded the Ren in February 2021, said he and Martin wanted the show to feel like it “happens all around you,” to create a more immersive experience than a traditionally staged show, something the theatre aims to do in all its productions.
“One of the things we love to do at the Ren is to provide the entertainment experiences that aren’t necessarily geared toward a traditional theatrical audience,” Rupe said. “And one of the ways we do that is we just make sure people have a really good time every time they come here... We don’t really call what we do theatre all the time because it’s not just sitting... in an aisle watching a show from one perspective.”
In “Lenox Ave,” Rupe said it feels more like “a night out” than a theatrical show.
“You’re surrounded by it and it’s also a social experience because we do have a bar. There are moments built into the show where people socialize. You can get up out of your seat. It’s more of a night out,” he said.
To find out more about how you can travel through time in “Lenox Ave” and to make a reservation, click here.
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