In celebration of the prolific poet, novelist, social activist, playwright and columnist, James Mercer Langston Hughes, a proponent of racial consciousness and cultural nationalism devoid of self-loathing, Howard University Department of Theatre Arts continues its 2012-2013 season: Reclaiming The Black Body: Identity, Discourse, and Politics with the world premiere of I Too Sing America: The Life and Poetry of Langston Hughes.
Devised and developed by Andrew Jackson Moore and Raymond O. Caldwell and brought to life under the direction of Raymond O. Caldwell, musical direction of Bert Cross II, and choreography of Sandra Holloway, I Too Sing America: The Life and Poetry of Langston Hughes journeys through the life of Hughes through an exquisite blend of Hughes’ poetry, song and bibliographically- based monologues on his upbringing, travels and life experiences. A uniquely connected plotline that not only speaks to the life of Langston Hughes, but also to the brilliance, power and relevance of his works, Moore and Caldwell reveal the inner beauty and pain of the social poet in a way that calls all artists to reevaluate the truth and essence of their works and contributions to the world through art and life. As one of the earliest innovators of the literary art form of jazz poetry, the piece highlights Hughes’ distinct gift for speaking truth to power and taking pride in one’s identity through the properly ordered delivery of the various poems and songs selected.
It is with great accolades and high regards that the ensemble: Birgundi Baker, Henian Boone, Mari’yam Floyd, Kita Grayson, Jasmine Hall, Andrew Jenkins, Bibi Mama, Kamau Mitchell, Barry Moton, Brandyn Ashley Poole, and Ryan J. Swain – be highly praised for their dedication to a work that required the searching of and giving of self in order to come to life.
From the seductive delivery of “Harlem Sweeties,” to the soul tugging experience of “A Christian Country” and the playful interlude of “Meet Madam Alberta K. Johnson,” this talented ensemble fully accepted the challenge to embark on a story that is multi-layered; enriched in socio-political turmoil, issues of identity and the trials of not only Hughes’ life, but the lives of those who lived under the schema of segregation, separation and solitude. Unfortunately, I am unable to denote the specific actors in these scenes, as a breakdown was not provided; nevertheless, these scenes are moving in their respective ways.
Though there are other scenes of the play that may require a more in-depth search on historical and social context in order for the cast to make a full connection, it is the “Dinner Table Conversation” scene that catapults the play into a category of great theatre. It is within this piece that the artistry of Moore and Caldwell’s vision, the dynamics of Holloway’s choreography, the exquisiteness of Cross’ musicianship and the pure beauty of the performance abilities of the ensemble shines. This scene alone gives cause for patrons to flood the theatre and experience this new work.
Also take notice of several of the musical selections throughout the production that enhance the movement of the story and emphasize Hughes’ poetic connection to jazz. These include “Call it Stormy Monday” (Jasmine Hall), “Take the ‘A’ Train” (Birgundi Baker, Henian Boone, Mari’yam Floyd, Kita Grayson, Jasmine Hall, Bibi Mama, Kamau Mitchell, Brandyn Poole, and Ryan Swain), “Lush Life” (Barry Moton), “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” (Birgundi Baker, Mari’yam Floyd, Jasmine Hall, Andrew Jenkins, Barry Moton, Brandyn Poole), “My Souls a Witness” (Henian Boone featuring the ensemble), “Miss Otis Regrets” (Andrew Jenkins), “The Slave Hanging Banner” (Kita Grayson, Barry Moton, Bibi Mama, and Ryan Swain), “Supper Time” (Bibi Mama), “God Bless the Child” (Brandyn Poole), and “Backlash Blues” (Birgundi Baker and Mari’yam Floyd).
Once again, Howard University’s Department of Theatre Arts presents a production that not only offers entertainment, but education, and enlightenment for the empowerment and edification of all who enter the Ira Aldridge Theater doors.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and forty minutes, with no intermission.
I Too Sing America: The Life and Poetry of Langston Hughes plays through March 9, 2013 at Howard University’s Ira Aldridge Theater – 2455 6th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 806-7700, or purchase them online.