DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]

Downtown Jacksonville was a busy place on Sunday afternoon on June 19, 2016, as the Stage Aurora Theatre Company presented an original musical, “Harlem of the South,” on the stage of the Hicks Auditorium in the downtown public library.

A large and enthusiastic Father’s Day audience was entertained by a vibrant cast of singers and dancers in a show conceived by Darryl Reuben Hall, CEO/Executive Director of Stage Aurora. The show was possible as Stage Aurora was a recipient of a Spark Grant and was sponsored in part by The Cultural Council of Jacksonville and Florida Blue.

darryl rubens Harlem show 035We found the production a delightful slice of Jacksonville history, filled with the songs, music, and dance of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and James Weldon Johnson. The performers dressed in clothing reflecting bygone eras. You probably know that In the 30s and 40s, New York had its Great White Way on Broadway, but did you know that Jacksonville had its own Great Black Way on Ashley Street? There you would find the Roosevelt Theatre and the Strand Theatre, which showed films and also offered gutbucket shows. The Richmond Hotel was the place where travelers stayed.

darryl rubens Harlem show 006The cast included many fine voices and the audience heard songs that many older members knew by heart, but are rarely performed; songs that included “ It’s Too Darn Hot,” “Summertime,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “Take the A Train.” The splendid cast and the audience joined together to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with its inspiring lyrics by James Weldon Johnson, one of Jacksonville’s most famous past residents.

Director Hall recently appeared as the Wizard in the Alhambra Theatre’s production of the “The Wiz.” He wound up “Harlem of the South” by belting out (again with the help of the audience) “Minnie the Moocher” (or “The Hi De Ho Song”), to thunderous applause.

While printed programs were not provided, Mr. Hall’s Facebook page has a list of cast members which includes Dorrael Johnson, Essence Williams, Kenyada Williams, Patrick Johnson, Campbell Timmons, Jamil Abdur-Rahman, Jann Clark, and AE Deban.

If you missed this show, two more opportunities will be available to see it. On a Saturday in October (date to be announced), it will be performed in Hemming Park, and on Thursday, December 8th at 7:00 pm, it will be performed The Volstead Jax on Adams Street. All performances are free.

Of Note: Stage Aurora announced that it is moving to a new home, The Ritz Theatre in downtown Jacksonville. Information about the upcoming season will be available in the near future. For more information, visit www.stageaurora.org or call (904) 765-7373.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.