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‘New York, New York’ is a Wow, Manhattanhenge is Here.

Jim Borstelmann in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Jim Borstelmann in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

Inspired by the titular MGM motion picture written by Earl M. Rauch, the musical New York, New York at the St. James Theatre is an ambitious, updated adaptation from uneven source material. Its spectacular production values guided by the prodigious five-time Tony winner, Susan Stroman, who does double duty with direction and choreography, is set over the course of one year with the four seasons structuring the arc of development in the lives of the characters who want to “be a part of it in old New York,” from the Summer of 1946 through the Summer of 1947. Written by David Thompson, co-written by Sharon Washington with additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, New York, New York’s music differs from that featured in the titular 1977 Martin Scorsese film.

Anna Uzele (center) and cast in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Emilio Madri
Anna Uzele (center) and cast in New York, New York (courtesy of Emilio Madrid)

The noted exceptions are a few songs like “Happy Endings” and two schazam hits sung by Liza Minnelli in the film. Minnelli was initially associated with “New York, New York,” until Liza told Uncle Frank it was his to sing. Afterward, it became a part of every concert, TV show or gig Sinatra starred in. “But The World Goes ‘Round” is singularly Minnelli’s, though others have picked it up and run with it applying their own versions.

With such song classics, the production doesn’t capitalize on their tonal motifs threading intermittently from Act I to Act II more than just once. Instead, saving the best for last, they explode toward the conclusion. At the end Jimmy Doyle’s band (the real orchestra) rises up from the pit, playing “New York, New York” with bravado and glory. By far, the two songs are the richest, most seismic and memorable of the score. Despite who is singing them, they are a pleasure because of their symbolic associations.

(L to R): Clyde Alves, Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
(L to R): Clyde Alves, Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

The first is New York City’s anthem played as an encouragement around every dooms day disaster the city experienced in recent memory from the Terrorist Attack of 9/11 to the COVID-19 botch job by the twice-impeached former president, when nightly the city came out to applaud healthcare workers and some played Sinatra recordings of the signature song from their balconies. The other lush beauty about the irrevocability of life’s changing turns, highs and lows, is a classic best remembered for Minnelli’s fabulously impassioned rendition.

These songs, in their own right, are like the North Star. “But the World Goes ‘Round” appears to guide the writers to effect a richer, stirring musical about making it in a tough, unforgiving town which necessitates growing a thick skin because regardless, the world will spin, whether one plays the broken-hearted victim as Jimmy Doyle does initially in Act I, or become the heroes of their own myths as do all the characters who serendipitously meet in a Booking agent’s office, then join Doyle to play in a “tired club” in Act II in a reviving number “San Juan Supper Club.” However, reaching success takes a while.

Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kol
Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

Specifically, the book meanders as it strikes out into different story-lines of immigrants and ethnics, who come to Manhattan to establish their unique voices and become the stars of tomorrow. Problematically, the music, which should lead in a brassy, bold pop style of the latter forties reimagined, follows without the same consequence and heft of the two signature songs we long to hear that show up in full force by the end. The story lines take wayward side directions, straying away from “the heart of it,” making Act I (17 songs) much longer than necessary to spin the characters’ struggles in New York. The central focus becomes redirected. Eventually, it comes back and the lens crystallizes on salient themes, before flitting away to feature another plot-line.

Anna Uzele, Colton Ryan in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Anna Uzele, Colton Ryan in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

The centrality, which is supposed to be how Jimmy Doyle’s Major Chord Club and musical group comes together, is delayed by scenes of the violinist from Poland and Mrs. Veltri waiting for her solider son to come home. What is represented is the loss and death from the war, a loss which explains why Doyle drinks, is angry and argumentative with those who could help him. He grieves his talented brother dying, while he, the inferior with “flat feet,” serving unheroically behind a desk, feels guilt as the ghostly shadow of his glorious sibling occludes him.

The impact of grieving New Yorkers out from under a cataclysm of the holocaust, which took violinist Alex Mann’s family and the heroic sons of America’s war dead is important, but diluted in the mix of all that is going on. Doyle, Mann (Oliver Prose) and Mrs. Veltri (Emily Skinner) are meant to carry that theme of loss and grieving as one more aspect of the “city that never sleeps,” but the power fades too fast for the audience to fully appreciate it, as the action springs to another scene and character. This is the nature of the city which acknowledges then moves on with forward momentum.

John Clay III in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of AKA)
John Clay III in New York, New York (courtesy of AKA)

Not all the story-lines need specific scenes for explication. Some either should have been edited to a stark jabbing point with the songs either pumped up and primed, or eliminated. They seem extraneous, done for the sake of inclusiveness, rather than out of a visceral, organic need driving the characters in their forward momentum. Editing might have slimmed down the excess that sometimes dissolves the production’s vitality. Though the writers moved away from the film’s story, to be inclusive and representative in an update, they do feature the relationship between multi-talented musician Doyle (Colton Ryan really picks it up in Act II) and powerhouse singer Francine Evans (Anna Uzele has the creditable voice).

Janet Dacal, Angel Sigala in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Janet Dacal, Angel Sigala in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

However, the idea of a New York City, where inclusiveness and freedom, born out of anonymity and size, that also has a down side, is not manifested with unique particularity beyond the concepts of struggle and making it. Only Jimmy Doyle’s character is nuanced and shaded with interest to reveal a convincing transformation that is believable, effected beautifully by Colton Ryan.

 Oliver Prose (center) and the cast of 'New York, New York' (courtesy of AKA)
Oliver Prose (center) and the cast of New York, New York (courtesy of AKA)

Despite these problems with the book, Stroman leaps over them creating terrific moments in representing the lifestyle of New York City street scenes. She materializes a pageantry of perfection in staging the dance numbers with delightful framing assists from Borwitt’s scenic design and Billington’s lighting design. These gloriously drive the production, along with the fabulous projection design by Christopher Ash and Beowulf Boritt, which majestically integrates historical photographic blow-ups with the sets (scaffolding erected to look like apartment buildings). New York City in their vision is a treasure to behold back in the day, as they remind us of how we got from then to now. Of course, the heartbreaking projections of the old Pennsylvania Station torn down in contrast with Grand Central Station which we are eternally grateful for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s crusade to save it, are vital historical references in an ever changing Manhattan.

Anna Uzele, Colton Ryan in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Anna Uzele, Colton Ryan in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

Stroman choreographs the ensemble with excitement, energy and vibrance. She shepherds the musical’s technical team to strike it hot. They create the atmosphere and stylized beauty of post war New York neighborhoods, synchronizing the scenic design, lighting design and projection design. Along with Donna Zakowska’s stunningly hued costumes pegged to the period, Michael Clifton’s period makeup design, Sabana Majeed’s hair and wig design and Kai Harada’s sound design (I heard every word) these talents manifest Stroman’s concepts of a bustling, charged city hyped up to establish the nation’s new-found prominence after winning WW II in Europe and the Pacific. The city of dreams is once more collecting its dreamers who will sink or swim according to luck and perseverance.

  The cast of 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Kolnik)
The cast of New York, New York (courtesy of Kolnik)

There are many moments in New York, New York I loved. The song “Wine and Peaches,” performed with the ensemble’s tap dance on a foundational iron beam, beautifully set “high in the sky” with the city projected from down below during the ironworkers lunchtime is gobsmacking. It’s a remembrance of the iconic black and white photo of the Empire State Building being erected and ironworkers sitting on the structural beams over 80 + stories up. The song is emblematic of New York City construction workers who are brave, balanced and accustomed to such heights, that they might dance “for the hell of it.” It is also a testament of the tremendous development in the city whose air rights allow buildings to rise taller and taller. Symbolically, visually and musically performed with grace and fun, the number is one of the most memorable and brilliant.

Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

Another moment that is thematically important is the song “Major Chord,” as Jimmy Doyle and friend Tommy Caggiano (Clyde Alves, a fine song and dance man) discuss that “music, money and love” combined in a harmonious chord become what drives a purposeful life for them. In the lead up praise of the city, Tommy’s humorous truism rings clear for New Yorkers when he says, “It’s the greatest social experiment. Everybody lives here and everybody’s natural enemy lives here. And we manage not to kill each other. For the most part.”

Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

To top his comments as New Yorkers are wont to do, Jimmy says, for him, New York City is a “major chord,” and Uzele’s Francine joins in to ask how to find her major chord (music, money, love). Tommy and Jimmy help her find an apartment near Jimmy to start her journey to become a star. Eventually, as fate throws Francine and Jimmy together (more through events he causes) they marry, have ups and downs and reconcile at the “Major Chord,” Jimmy’s successful club which concludes the musical with a resounding and stupendously staged “New York, New York,” sung by Uzele’s Francine.

Ashley Blair Fitzgerald in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of AKA)
Ashley Blair Fitzgerald in New York, New York (courtesy of AKA)

In Act I, “New York in the Rain” is beautifully sung and staged with colorfully hued umbrellas skipping across the stage, under their own power, and others held by the ensemble who twirl them in uniformity with graceful energy. As Jimmy, Ryan’s “Can You Hear Me?” and “Marry Me,” are appropriately winsome and romantic as Act I concludes with Francine and Jimmy’s relationship sealed in love and marriage.

The cast of 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
The cast of New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

Act II picks up the forward momentum. Jimmy pushes for his “major chord” in his relationship with Francine, “Along Comes Love” and in the dynamic “San Juan Supper Club” (Ryan, Angel Sigala, John Clay III) which is a rousing, dance number where the musicians we’ve met in Act I come together to form Jimmy’s band which will headline his club Major Chord. In the superb “Quiet Thing,” Ryan’s Doyle shares the preciousness of arriving at his dream, not with great fanfare, but with the inner knowledge of its success, which is the confidence that the dream is the reality. The lyrics and music are Kander and Ebb at their finest, and Ryan delivers a superb, heartfelt slam dunk that any artist can identify with.

As Francine understands that the villain with a smile, Gordon Kendrick (Ben Davis), wants to unrealistically take her, a black woman, out on the road so he can sexually seduce her, Francine affirms what her husband Doyle has told her all along. Kendrick is a hypocritical wolf in a “promoter’s clothing.” She concludes her last song on the radio after Kendrick tells her “she’s finished.” “But the World Goes ‘Round” is Uzele’s home run and Francine’s realization that she must move away from him and join Jimmy at the Major Chord Club.

The Company of 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Ko
The Company of New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

An incredible and breathtaking encomium to New York City is in one of the final musical numbers “Light” presented by Jesse (John Clay III) and the ensemble. Kudos go to the technical team and Stroman to effect Manhattanhenge through the projections, sets and lighting. It is absolutely magnificent and of course, symbolic that light, love and musical goodness can be in a city that is its own memorial to industry, dreams and aspirations.

The Company of 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
The Company of New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

Manhattanhenge occurs when the sunset perfectly lines up with the east-west streets on the main street grid in Manhattan. It’s Stonehenge in NYC! Happening twice over a two-day period, on one day you can see the sun in full and on the other day you get a partial view of the sun. Then to encapsulate the “light” in the city that is its own monument, Francine concludes accompanied by Jimmy Doyle’s band with “New York, New York.” And indeed, the show ends in a major chord at Doyle’s Major Chord Club in a beautiful flourish with Uzele singing her heart out as the audience stands with applause dunning the critics who panned the production.

  Anna Uzele in 'New York, New York' (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)
Anna Uzele in New York, New York (courtesy of Paul Kolnik)

New York, New York is exuberant, complex and bears seeing twice. There is so much happening you’re going to miss something and think the fault is in the production, as I did initially. Stroman is her representative genius. If one goes without expectation, your enjoyment will be immense. Look for the fine performances. Colton Ryan is sensitive and heartfelt especially in Act II and his gradual transformation is exceptional in “Quiet Thing,” and afterward. There’s nothing like knowing one is a success and at home in that confidence. The principals, especially Uzele, Janet Dacal, Ben Davis, Angel Sigala and the others mentioned above have golden voices. All are their own major chords, thanks to the music supervision and arrangements by Sam Davis.

For tickets and times go to the production’s website

‘Raisin in the Sun,’ a Glorious, Triumphant Revival at the Public

Mandi Masden, Tonya Pinkins, and Toussaint Battiste in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, aptly titled referencing the Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred,” is enjoying its fourth major New York City revival. It debuted on Broadway to great acclaim in 1959 and followed with two other Broadway showings in 2004 and in 2014 with Denzel Washington. Now at the Public Theater extended again until November 20th, director Robert O’Hara and the cast, led by Tonya Pinkins, prove that Raisin in the Sun is an immutable masterpiece. Its themes of discrimination, injustice, greed, family unity and love encompass all human experience.

Francois Battiste and Tonya Pinkins in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

The heartfelt, moving, vibrant and electric production, which lives from moment to moment in joy, humor, sorrow, fury, wisdom and dignity, incisively honors Hansberry’s work in its showcase of Black Americans in this triumphant production. However, more than other revivals of Raisin in the Sun, this cast, creative team and director convert Hansberry’s work to the realm of timelessness. The production is an inspiration, an event of humanity which is incredibly relatable to all races, creeds and colors.

In its particularity the play is about the seminal Black experience in America during a shifting, revolutionary time of great economic and human rights change for African Americans in the 1950s. However, Hansberry’s thematic vision stretches beyond the microcosm. This magnificent play encapsulates the macrocosm with Hansberry’s genius characterizations, conflicts and themes in transcendent writing. For at its heart the play is universal in revealing the human desire to achieve, to evolve, to be empowered, to give voice to one’s soul cries for recognition, for equity, for prosperity.

John Clay III and Paige Gilbert in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

Made into two films, a musical, radio plays, a TV film and inspiring a cycle of three plays (Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place), Hansberry’s work is a classic not to be taken on lightly. However, Robert O’Hara, the cast and the creative team understand the great moment of Hansberry’s work for us today. With their incredible production at the Public, which opened October 25th, they have elucidated the heartbreak, fury, joy and beauty of Black experience as they portray how the Younger family struggles to find their place in a culture of racial oppression, stupidity and cruelty.

O’Hara’s version has additions which enhance the symbolism of Hansberry’s themes. Walter Lee Sr.’s presence materializes as a ghost (Calvin Dutton), who inhabits Lena’s thoughts and remembrances. His unobtrusive presence symbolizes Lena’s heart and love for their family. The insurance check represents the sum total of how the world credits Walter Lee Sr.’s life, an irony because for Lena, no amount of money is an equivalent to the worth of her husband. In fact the insurance check that rattles the household and puts stars in the eyes of Walter Lee Jr. (the amazing Francois Battiste), is blood money to Lena, a blasphemy that she doesn’t want to even touch when the mailman delivers it and she has Travis (Toussant Battiste), read off the number of zeros.

Francois Battiste and Toussaint Battiste in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

O’Hara’s staging is unique and vital, adding nuance and clarity to Hansberry’s dialogue and characterizations. Mindful of the play’s high-points, he stages the characters priming our focus to receive the full benefit of Hansberry’s message. This is especially so for Walter Lee’s inflammatory and raging monologue about “the takers and the taken,” in previous productions delivered to Lena, Beneatha (Paige Gilbert) and Ruth (Mandi Masden). In O’Hara’s version, Battiste’s Walter Lee stands in a spotlight and delivers the speech to the audience. It is mindblowing, reverential, brilliant, confrontational. More about this staging later.

The performances are authentic and spot-on fabulous. O’Hara’s direction is so pointed and “in-your-face,” the audience is invited to stand in the shoes of the Younger family, watching their trials with empathy. We feel for Masden’s Ruth when Lena confronts her about putting money down for an abortion. Her sobs of desperation at being driven to this because they can’t afford a child recall the past and now Republican states in the present. Considering the impact of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, as a throwback to Ruth Younger’s seeking an illegal abortion, this moment in the play breaks one’s heart. Masden inhabits the character with somber beauty and layered emotion. When she must pull out the stops, sobbing her hopeless despair to Lena, she is spot-on believable.

Francois Battiste, Tonya Pinkins, and Mandi Masden in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

Likewise, as Gilbert’s Beneatha decides between two men and carps and riffs on brother Walter Lee, we understand she is caught between the old and the new. She represents transformation and is on the cusp of the new feminism. Accepting African influences prompted by her relationship with Joseph Asagai (the excellent John Clay III), she vies between being an assimilated Black woman for the sake of George Murchison (Mister Fitzgerald), and moving to embrace her ancestry. As the character of Beneath is the vehicle Hansberry provides with humor, Gilbert fine tunes her performance and is funny organically without pushing for laughs.

Camden McKinnon and Tonya Pinkins in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus)

The ensemble work is seamless, showing prodigious effort as the actors live onstage. Thus, the audience cannot help but love and cheer on the family against Mr. Lindner (the excellent Jesse Pennington who reminded me of a quiet, quirky Klansman from the South, minus a Southern accent). Lindner’s assault on their dignity and chilling comment after he comes back a second time then says goodbye, in addition to his pejorative patting of Walter Lee on the shoulder as he leaves, combines all the self-satisfaction of one appointed to take a “message,” to the good “colored” folk to warn them away.

Most importantly, we grieve with them over the tragedy of Walter Lee (the incredible Francois Battiste), when his “friend” Willie absconds with the money Lena tells Walter to put in the bank. The tragedy is heightened by Tonya Pinkins’ fabulous performance as she cries out to the Lord to give her strength.

Mister Fitzgerald, Tonya Pinkins, and Paige Gilbert in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

As Lena, Pinkins’ heaving call to the Lord is one for the ages. It is a dignified primal utterance which takes everything out of her, after which her hand shakes til the end of the play, for most probably, she suffered a mini stroke. In her fervency not to smash Walter Lee over the head, which he justly deserves, Lena must turn to God for help. Only He can give her the anointed love and patience to see her way through this family tragedy which threatens to swallow up her hope of moving from the “rattrap” ghetto apartment to Clybourne Park’s white neighborhood. Pinkins is riveting, her authenticity just stunning. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Walter Lee’s frantic action losing the insurance money, some of which is supposed to go for Beneatha’s schooling, is a bridge too far for Lena. It is no surprise in the next scene where Walter Lee confronts himself and “lays it out on the line” to explain that the culture has broken apart humanity into the takers and the taken, that a discouraged Lena questions going to Clybourne Park. Disappointed and devastated, she condemns herself for stretching out to want something better for her family. Once again Pinkins’ captures the ethos of Lena’s majesty and sorrow with perfection.

As Walter Lee, Francois Battiste seethes just below the boiling point as he builds to an emotional explosion when he realizes Willie has scammed him and Bobo. His is another stunner of a performance. Walter Lee’s abject desperation to become rich eats him alive and destroys his wisdom and circumspection, something which Lena cannot understand about her children’s generation. She notes they have forgotten how far their parents have come to achieve freedom. Pinkins’ Lena reminds her children to be satisfied with the strides their family has made. However, they ignore her wisdom and must learn through experience, a fact which every generation goes through, as Hansberry subtly suggests.

Mandi Masden and Francois Battiste in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus)

However, the bitter lesson Willie teaches Walter Lee is too heavy to bear. He has been “taken” by a black “friend,” who understands economic inequity born of white oppression, yet sticks it to another black man, exploiting “the opportunity.” Willie is as desperate as Walter Lee, perhaps more so because it forces him to steal demeaning himself and Walter Lee. They have accepted the corrupt white values, Hansberry suggests, and what they have reaped is near emotional annihilation. Willie’s betrayal symbolizes the culmination of every obstacle the family has been made to endure, including Walter Lee Sr.’s death, all thrown back in their faces by Walter Lee’s desperate act of trusting him. With superbly symbolic staging O’Hara has the family stand in the center of their living room, clinging to Lena at this nadir of their lives, as they look into the abyss, the sacrificial money gone.

It is Lena who must sustain them, but to do so, she drains herself dry of life, following in the footsteps of her husband. And the heaving event is so great, she is lamed after it. Throughout, Lena shows ambivalence about the $10,000 check that Walter Lee puts his faith in to change his life. She recalls that Walter Lee Sr. (Calvin Dutton appears at her remembrance), was drained of life trying to make his way through the work load of a low paying job that barely helped them get by. The money cannot replace the value of her husband and the love she has for him. The loss of most of it is a double slap in her face.

Calvin Dutton and Francois Battiste in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

Perhaps the most brilliant of O’Hara’s staging occurs with Walter Lee’s speech after he acknowledges Willie has betrayed him. O’Hara has Walter Lee stand in a spotlight downstage to address the audience with a Raisin in the Sun playbill in hand, as he claims he is going to put on a show. Though he is talking about groveling to Lindner, as he receives the payoff to demean himself and not move in to the white neighborhood, he also is referring to the white audience in the theater and beyond its walls.

“The man” which stands for the patriarchy, the corporates and billionaires who demand $two trillion dollar tax cuts of the politicos and expect the little people (everyone else), to pay for it and take up their slack, surely demands Walter Lee “grin and bear” his oppression. Will he decide to take the dirty money Lindner offers for the house, trading his dignity and identity for a corrupted value system? Or will he stand up to Lindner and move into a white neighborhood, breaking down over a century of discriminatory housing?

The speech, a tour de force by Battiste, is breathtaking. It is Hansberry at her most raw, and trenchant. That O’Hara has intuited that Battiste’s Walter Lee should say this standing as if a wild prophet speaking to the audience at the crossroads of his life is just brilliant. Emotionally hitting all the notes, Battiste’s Walter Lee is priming himself for the momentous decision. Does he have the courage to take a stand? Battiste pulls out all stops genuflecting and grinning in a groveling throwback to the days of slavery from which his ancestors came. He shows the family his toady show he will use on Lindner and provokes Beneatha to refer to him as a “toothless rat.”

Francois Battiste, Mandi Masden, Paige Gilbert, and Jesse Pennington in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

O’Hara’s metaphorical staging draws us in. Is there one human being who has not experienced shame, feeling demeaned or belittled and who has not internalized it? As Battiste’s Walter Lee spills his guts to the audience, O’Hara offers the opportunity to be there with Walter Lee, to suffer with him, to “get” his terrible pain and perhaps live the moment with him in this cathartic high-point.

O’Hara’ direction and Pinkins’ performance strengthen our understanding of Walter Lee and Lena’s close relationship with his inclusion of Walter Lee Sr.’s ghost who appears when Lena discusses the travails her husband experienced that physically wore him down and killed him. In his stance and posture Dutton embodies the sweat, toil, tears and exhaustion ebbing out of Walter Lee Sr.’s life, as Lena recalls it.

Perri Gaffney in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

Interestingly, O’Hara also has the ghost appear at the conclusion of the play when the family leaves for their new home. The ghost and Lena kiss, then she leaves and he sits on the sofa of the old apartment as Travis Younger (the wonderful Toussant Battiste), comes back to retrieve his lunch box. Travis stops and considers as Walter Lee Sr. stares out into the audience and we hear a grinding noise, like that of a huge wall being torn down. The movement in the sound symbolizes the breaking of the color bar, as the old apartment and Walter Lee Sr. retreat upstage into the distant past.

As old makes way for the new, the Younger’s Clybourne Park house emerges beautiful, white and shinning. An astounded Travis turns to look at the symbol of their advancement. However, ugly graffiti appears on the house as lights dim. Indeed, as Mr. Lindner warned, the Youngers will suffer abuse at the hands of their prejudiced white neighbors. It is an intimation of the future that is still unfolding today in the present.

Tonya Pinkins in The Public Theater revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Robert O’Hara (Joan Marcus).

There is so much more in this profound reworking of Hansberry’s play, rightly considered one of the best plays ever written. Kudos to the creative team that brings this work to glorious life. They include Clint Ramos (scenic design), Karen Perry (costume design), Alex Jainchill (lighting design), Elisheba Ittoop (sound design), Brittany Bland (video design), Will Pickens (sound system design), Nikiya Mathis (hair and wig design), Rickey Tripp (movement and musical staging), Teniece Divya Johnson (intimacy & fight director), Claire M. Kavanah (prop manager).

There, I’ve said enough. For tickets and times go to their website:

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