TimeLine Theater Company Presents
Playwright Dominique Morisseau
Director Ron OJ Parsons
Now Playing April 26 – July 23
When I ask people about music in Detroit, most would immediately think of Barry Gordy and that great Motown sound. But before there was Motown, Detroit had a remarkable jazz history in an area known as Black Bottom, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. Black Bottom was a term used to apply to the entire community, which included Paradise Valley.
The community got its distinctive name from early French colonial settlers because of the river floods that produced rich bottomland soils. The area slowly changed when African Americans from the South began to migrate to Detroit in vast numbers to seek economic opportunities and respite from the concentrated racism of the American South.
“Black Bottom/Paradise Valley” is where the Detroit roots migrated into the melodic sounds of great Jazz music. This infamous place is where African Americans created an oasis for a better life due to continuing ethnic succession. It is where, in the 1940s, Blacks established a community of Black-owned businesses, social institutions, and night clubs. Regular performers included Blues, Big Band, and Jazz artists such as Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, and Count Basie.
Unfortunately, the historic community is also the place where one of the most controversial episodes of mass gentrification happened in Detroit history. The virtually all-White city government bulldozed “Black Bottom,” the beloved ancestral home of many metro Detroit’s African Americans.
“Paradise Blue” is set in Detroit, Michigan, in 1949 on the downtown strip known as Paradise Valley, where a gifted trumpeter and distressed owner of the Paradise nightclub by the name of Blue is considering a buyout for the city’s urban renewal plan. As the occupants of his famed but failing jazz club ponder their choices and dream of a better life, relationships and friendships are tested. Then when things seem like they can’t get even worse, new trials emerge as a mysterious woman arrives to turn their world upside down. As the destiny of all their lives looms in the darkness of uncertainty, they must decide whether to fight to save what’s theirs or risk it all for a chance of redemption.
However, Blue holds the key to everyone’s future and he’s not sharing his plans with anyone. He is fearful of his past and is afraid that his present life has no future if he stays where his life has ended. His closest friend summed up Blue’s life in this very poignant statement, “He wanted to be Big but the world wanted him small.”
Blue is loved, hated, misunderstood and troubled, but he never stops believing that if he can hit the one golden note, that musical masterpiece that can make or break a musician, he will be free of the things that haunt him the most and purge his soul from the agony of his memories.
Playwright Dominique Morisseau delivers with a vibrant and intriguing plot where she goes beyond the headlines to tell a deeper story about Detroit in that era and how the troubles of one’s mind can literally destroy everyone’s future.
Director Ron OJ Parson directed this play and masterfully emerged this journey back in time to be relevant in today’s society, where making poignant decisions can affect the people within our lives. The cast jelled together like seasoned pros who had been working together for years and they delivered such a grand performance that we found ourselves empathizing with each character.
You felt the agony of Blue (played by Al’Jaleel McGhee) trapped in his own mind searching for a moral way out of his immoral beginnings. You understood the misguided loyalty and devotion of a woman, Pumpkin (Kristin E. Ellis), who believed in standing by her man no matter what, even if it came with the cost of physical abuse.
You also found yourself intrigued by a sultry gun-toting mystery woman, Tyla Abercrumbie (Silver), who had a plan of deception to succeed as a woman in times of uncertainty by any means necessary.
Each character brought an unforgettable scene to Paradise Blue with a surprising end that left us speechless! We highly recommend “Paradise Blue.” You will definitely be entertained!
The cast included:
Al’Jaleel McGhee (Blue)
Kristin E. Ellis (Pumpkin)
Tyla Abercrumbie (Silver)
Ronald L. Conner (Corn)
Charles Andrew Gardner (P-Sam)