- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

Good morning, daddy!
Ain't you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?


Now, that's a smooth opening to a poem. Were Langston Hughes the poet, who wrote it still living, he would have turned 100 this month.
If you are looking for a way to celebrate his birthday, or just get out and hear some good music, you should head to Alexandria's MetroStage and take in the world premiere of "Harlem Rose, a Love Song to Langston Hughes."
Appropriately running during Black History Month, this musical offers a vibrant tribute to the great poet and the world he inhabited during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and early '30s. Mr. Hughes died in 1967.
"Harlem Rose" is a musical, conceived and directed by Atlanta-based Thomas W. Jones II, who has won eight Helen Hayes Awards in Washington. Such songs as "The Harlem Rose Suite," "Take the A Train" and "Let the Good Times Roll" are juxtaposed with theatrical readings of Mr. Hughes' most famous poems.
The bluesy rhythm and jazzy style of William Hubbard, who plays a character called Bepop, is the most exuberant of the five actors featured in "Harlem Rose." Mr. Hubbard, also the production's musical director and creator of some of the numbers, gives marvelous accompaniment to each of the songs and poems via the piano on the bare yet colorful stage.
Mr. Hubbard's performance is joined by the saxophone works of Ron Oshima and the singing and charming delivery of Hughes' poems by lead actor Scott Leonard Fortune, veteran actress Beverly Cosham and the sweetly beautiful Desire DuBose.
The many moods and emotions of the Harlem Renaissance ring through most clearly in the performance of Mr. Hughes' perhaps most famous work, "Montage of a Dream Deferred."
The poem "Necessity," which is part of it, goes:
Work?
I don't have to work.
I don't have to do nothing but eat, drink, stay black, and die.

The rest of the poem's beats and themes slip in and out of each other like improvisational solos in a late-night jazz number. They're sure to have you backing up in your seat wishing you had been there as a member of the madness, sadness, love and pride of that era, which produced such literary greats as Mr. Hughes, Wallace Thurman and Zora Neale Hurston.
Sounds good, doesn't it? However, unlike myself, you may not have majored in American literature at a tiny liberal arts college where you studied and enjoyed the Harlem Renaissance during the most impressionable hours of your intellectual development which brings up a point about what, although not crippling, may be a problem to consider if you're going to dish out the $30 to see "Harlem Rose."
For all of its theatrical fitness and reminiscent charm, this musical lacks a level of clear narration required for audience members who may never have heard of Mr. Hughes or the Harlem Renaissance.
Of course, it won't be impossible to sit through 120 minutes of blues, jazz and jiving poetic dialogue from an era of the past, but you might go home wishing there were more perspective for unknowing audience members.
Were it not for this single shortcoming, you would be coming to the end of a review for a musical that got four stars, because the magic in "Harlem Rose" is not at all lacking. In fact, it was so prevalent last Saturday night, that not once, but two times, the largely white audience at MetroStage got wrapped up in it, clapping along to the beat of Mr. Hughes' birthday celebration.
***
WHAT: "Harlem Rose, a Love Song to Langston Hughes"
WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays, through March 10
TICKETS: $30
PHONE: 703/548-9044MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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