|Elizabeth June (Ethel Waters) & Tiffany Coty (Lena Horne)|
In the 1930s and 40’s, the Dunbar, was the most prestigious hotel in Los Angeles' African-American community, with a nightclub that hosted jazz legends Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Lena Horne and many others. Notable visitors there also included Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Joe Louis, Ray Charles, Thurgood Marshall and heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.
The play covers the tumultuous decades of protest before and during WW2, to when the color bar was lowered and blacks were finally allowed into mainstream hotels. Compressing this dynamic history into 3 hours, playwright Levy Lee Simon mainly focuses on the lives of the staff, with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as a genial ghost-host.
|Julio Hanson as Dunbar|
Under producer Ben Guillory’s imaginative direction we visit with Dwain A. Perry as the creative hotel owner, Lucius Lomax. Melvin Ishmael Johnson is his delightfully peevish hotel manager; Petal d’Avril Walker is his patient wife; Vanja Renee is a flirtatious waitress; Rhonda Stubbins White is a no nonsense attendant; Ashlee Olivia is a reluctant maid, and Kyle Connor McDuffie is her loyal sweetheart.
|Dwain A. Perry, Sammie Wayne IV, Melvin Ishmael Johnson|
Meanwhile, excellent actors portray the historic figures: Jah Shams is an amazing look-alike as Paul Robeson; Tiffany Coty is an imperious Lena Horne; Eddie Goines is Duke Ellington & Joe Louis; Elizabeth June is a fiery Ethel Waters; Tommy Hicks is a calm W.E.B. Du Bois; Sammie Wayne IV is riveting as angry writer Chester Himes; Kem Saunders is a jovial Jack Johnson; Cydney Wayne Davis is passionate as journalist/activist Charlotta Bass; Jovan Adepo is young pastor Rev. Clayton Russell; Doug Jewell is community leader Dr. John Somerville; Jason Mimms is a lothario as editor John Kinloch, and Julio Hanson is impish as the poetry-reciting Dunbar.
The beautiful set and lighting are by Micheal D. Ricks, with dazzling costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders. Presented by Robey Theatre Company in association with LATC.
At Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown LA., through December 21. For tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org
Photos by Tomoko Matsushita.