Grasping for a Glimmer of Sunshine: Lisa Huberman on Raisin at Astoria Performing Arts Center
There’s something that is so comforting about jazz music on a rainy evening—the melancholy mixed with seductive combination of nostalgia and longing. Astoria Performing Arts Center’s deeply felt, soulful revival of Raisin left me warmed and transported on the misty Friday evening I saw it.
A 1974 musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 classic play A Raisin in the Sun, Raisin brings us into the world of the Youngers, a working-class black family on Chicago’s South Side looking to expand their prospects and claim some of the American Dream for themselves. Opportunity comes in the form of an impending check from the late patriarch’s life insurance policy, with each member of the family having different ideas on how to invest it. Walter wants to invest his father’s money to invest in a liquor store, which will allow him to quit driving a taxi for rich white men and give his young son something to look up to. His mother Lena, on the other hand, has her sights set on a new house in a better neighborhood, while also putting some money aside for her daughter Beneatha’s medical school. Beneatha’s concerns, on the other hand, are less on the material and more on the cultural, finding herself drawn to the world of her Nigerian beau Joseph Asagi.
To be honest I am often dubious of musical adaptations of small, intimate plays or films. Sometimes a big score will overwhelm and drown out the stillness and subtlety of such a story. Happily, APAC’s production of Raisin under Dev Bondarin’s direction maintains the delicacy—expanding the emotional reach of the world just enough.
The songs by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittain, which range from jazz to Motown to African tribal music, are rarely used to convey exposition, but rather to reveal human moments of the main characters they can’t always share with others in their family. In a story of people with difficult lives, the jazz-inflected score injects a measure of joy and transcendence. (more…)