Sure, nothing beats the bright lights and razzle dazzle of the Great White Way—what with more than a handful of larger-than-life musicals and plays of the dramatic and comedic variety gracing Midtown stages every year. But, sometimes, it’s nice to enjoy an evening of entertainment and leave a show having learned something. Enter The Classical Theatre of Harlem.
Uptown, this diverse group of talent tells stories through the lens of the African diaspora and also performs works that honor the cultural legacy of Harlem. The diverse roster of productions includes everything from original adaptations and tales by traditional classical playwrights like Chekhov and Shakespeare to plays by established 20th-century playwrights and emerging dramatists.
I learned more about the theater and its goals during a benefit concert, celebrating the theater’s 15thanniversary, a few weeks ago, held on the Soundstage of the venerable Apollo Theater. While there, I got a chance to see selections from the thought-provoking work Witness Uganda, written and created by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. With impassioned singers and energetic musicians supplying joyous tribal beats, the production’s narrative follows African American Griffin’s journey to Uganda in 2005 as a volunteer helping build a village school and escape his church’s probing into his sexuality. While halfway across the world, he found a family in a group of orphaned teenagers. And, subsequently, made it his mission to help change their lives and help find his place in an unjust world. The show travels back and forth from the majestic landscape of Uganda to the bustling streets of NYC, all the while pondering the question: is changing the world even possible?
The award-winning show is slated to make its Broadway debut this year. An upcoming production from The Classical Theatre of Harlem includes The Two Reds—which explores issues of class and race during the 1940s, told through the story of the relationship between a young Malcolm X, known as “Detroit Red” and “Chicago Red,” better known as comedian Redd Foxx. The production will take place May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational Center (3940 Broadway).
The Classical Theatre of Harlem also provides education-based programs and more. For details, as well as a complete list of upcoming productions, click here.
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