Here’s a recent quote from an interview of a long-standing Hollywood star: “I like the details of costume a lot. The costume is a very important thing. It speaks before you do…You get a reference and it gives context about other characters and the relationships.” This quote came from such an unlikely (IMHO) person that I’ll give a prize to the first reader who can name the star who made the remark. Hint: it was an interview about one of the summer’s big movies.
I bring up this quote because I gained some additional appreciation for costumes this weekend. First there was SPARC’s “Ragtime” that, in addition to all of the amazing performances I mentioned last week, had some gorgeous costumes put together by Kym Minks. A large percentage of the magic created by that production was thanks to the convincing costumes that, as the quote says, provided so much context and even helped define certain characters – the flirty flooziness of Evelyn Nesbit versus the earnest dedication of Emma Goldman versus the stately elegance of Mother was all communicated and enhanced by Ms. Minks costumes.
Then I took in “Langston is my Man,” the musical that African American Rep is putting on at Pine Camp and that is in turns boisterous and thoughtful, rollicking and historically rigorous. I enjoyed this show a great deal, and much of that enjoyment came from being credibly transported to two different eras: Harlem of the 1920s in the first act, then Harlem in the post-depression 1930s in the second.
During the earlier period, club patrons party and play; during the latter, they work and decry their economic plight. But even before a single actor says a word at the opening of the second act, the audience knows things are going to be different because of the dramatic change in Mara Lynch Cravey’s costumes from bright and decorative to dark and utilitarian.
And in one of director Derome Scott Smith’s cleverest moves, later in the second act he has his actors pull out costume pieces from the first act to remind them of that earlier time. It’s a neat little bit of stagecraft that utilizes the artistry of one of his designers to create a beautiful theatrical moment.
This show only runs one more weekend and I highly recommend it, and not only because tickets are free. Smith has convened a great cast, including a top-notch hoofer with Broadway credits, Eugene Fleming. Fleming, along with fellow choreographers Willie Hinton and LaWanda Raines, have developed several fine dance interludes, most utilizing Flemings prodigious tap dancing skills. And underlying the entire enterprise is a foundation of Langston Hughes’s compelling poetry. It’s a relatively short evening – 90 minutes with intermission – but Smith has packed plenty of entertainment value into that amount of time.
If I was being fussy, I’d say I wished for a little more historical and cultural depth in the show so that I would come away with a deeper understanding of what inspired Hughes’s work. But that is my homework assignment now and Smith does provide more than enough of the broad strokes of history to know where to start. And along the way, the show – bolstered by some great vocal work by the ensemble and powerfully led by musical director David Corey – gets the blood pumping with saucy songs and an extended extravaganza of percussion in the second act. Given the admission price, it may be the best entertainment value of the summer.