Never mind the A train -- you can get to Harlem on the 134 to catch Pasadena Playhouse’s jubilant, stylish revival of “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” In director Sheldon Epps’ confident hands, Pearl Cleage’s 1996 dramedy set in the Harlem Renaissance feels as smart and tart as star Robin Givens’ sequined flapper shifts.
“Blues” made its away around the regional circuit a decade ago, but somehow it feels fresh. Maybe that’s because uptown New York circa 1930 looks awfully familiar: rampant unemployment, culture wars and fierce battles over gay rights and abortion. But people dressed a lot snappier in the Jazz Age, or at least they do in this production, with Karen Perry’s knockout costumes central to the story.
Guy (Kevin T. Carroll) dreams of designing outfits for Josephine Baker, but in the meantime he’ll settle for dressing Angel (Givens), a jobless chanteuse recently dumped by her gangster beau. Angel sets her cool eye on recent transplant Leland (Robert Ray Manning Jr.), a solemn widower looking to fill a hole in his heart. Across the hall, Delia (Tessa Thompson) wants to open a family clinic with the help of Sam (Kadeem Hardison), a doctor who delivers bootleggers’s babies when he’s not pulling long shifts at Harlem Hospital. Everybody has a dream, but the rent money’s running out. How long can a wish be deferred?