San Diego, CA— Calvin Manson founding father and artistic producing director of the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players is mounting his latest in a series of musicals bringing African American voices to the fore; most recently “Raisin’ The Rent” is now in production at the Lafayette Hotel downstairs in the Mississippi Room and it is a hoppin’, happenin’ event.
Over the years Manson has been giving San Diego audiences a taste (dinner shows are part of the experience) of Black Musical History well, like we’ve not seen before, dipping into his cache of talented artists including Anasa Johnson who sings the blues like Billie Holiday, Janice Edwards who belts out the tunes of Nina Simone and Janet Polite who sings Ruth Brown.
The reason for this event (so to speak) is to raise money to save a famous Chicago nightclub, (as was the tradition) where the revue is set, by collecting money to pay the rent. MC Papa Du (Carl Overstreet), the club manager and his pal Silky Smith (Herb Sims) manage to get the all-star cast of Holiday, Simone and Smith together to put on a show. Together, they plan to raise enough cash to pay the rent.
In 2010 Manson mounted his wonderful “The Four Faces of Nina Simone” with Janice Edwards as of course, Nina Simone. It was at this particular performance that I first heard Edwards belt out “Mississippi God Damn”, written by Simone, and damn if she didn’t sing it again in this latest, “Raisin The Rent”. It’s one for the books.
In 2007 the IARP presented a stylish tribute to Sarah Vaughn, Sassy Sara Vaughn, The Divine One, in a West Coast Premiere, written and directed by Calvin Mason, with musical direction by Vick Kemp. Others included “Dear Ella”, “Passion Honey” and Looking for an Echo”.
“Raisin’ The Rent” is a musical revue highlighting the lives and times of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Ruth Brown with about seventeen musical arrangements woven into the oral history/stories about their lives and times.
Some tidbits stuck in my brain: Nina Simone was a classical pianist and was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement, (“Mississippi Goddam”) and received two honorary degrees in music and arts and Ruth Brown, who was influenced by the great Billie Holiday (“Lady Sings The Blues”), was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. One of her biggest hits was “5-10-15 Hours” written in 1952.
Lots of chatter and fun is laced in between “Good Morning Heartbreak” sung by Anasa Johnson, “That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” performed by Janice Edwards, “Five, Ten, Fifteen Hours” sung by Janet Polite and a rousing “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” written by pianist Porter Grainger and is performed by all three women. That one brought the house down and everyone to their collective feet!
The beautiful oldie, “At Last” was belted out by Carl Overstreet, one of the two gents in the cast. It was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. Harold Arlen’s “I Got a Right To Sing The Blues” followed some back and forth banter by the women chatting up “How To Write a Blues Poem” by Calvin Manson.
Ira Aldridge Repertory Players is not a rich company as far as money is concerned; they are as far as heart is, though. Manson established them in 1984 as a labor of love. Their mission is “to produce and present artistic performances that bring people together, provoke thought, inspire hope, and create understanding. The IARP is a not for profit arts organization that provides a unique experience in the tradition in the Black African American art form and culture in three key areas: Theatre, Education and Public programs.
IARP has helped over 20 other community groups to raise money for their organizations, in particular Las Munecas, an African American women’s charity that raises funds for the Elementary Institute of Sciences. This particular show was also a fundraiser in memory of Debra Stephens, friend and a member of the San Diego Association Of Black Journalists who died suddenly of a stroke. The proverbial ‘hat’ in the form of a small cookie tin was used to collect donations for Stephens’ family. According to MC Papa Du, the money collected thereafter will benefit a charity of their choice.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the great combo of musicians: Stephen Gooden at the piano, Nathan T. Young on eclectic bass, Leon Matthews on sax and Charles Gooden on drums all added to the electrifying sounds with Manson who wrote and directed and in control of the switches and Stephen Gooden acted as musical director.
Don’t let the blues get you down. This is one hoppin’ show to see.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Fri. Sat., 6:630 Dinner &8PM show
Sunday Matinees, 2PM Dinner & 3PM show through June 6th.
Organization: Ira Aldridge Repertory Payers and M&M Production
Production Type: Musical Review
Where: Lafayette Hotel, 2223 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: $27.00 Show Only and $45.00 Dinner/Show
Venue: Mississippi Room