The Renaissance Theatre in Orlando keeps me on my toes — and I love it. There’s not another theater in town that consistently makes me ask, “Is this a play? Is it improv? Is this an event? What are you doing?”
Artistic director Donald Rupe takes my confusion in stride; his goal, after all, is to push the boundaries of theater, as we’ve seen in such divergent offerings as “Nosferatu” and “The Office Holiday Party Musical Extravaganza Show.”
The latest offering at The Ren, located on the edge of the Loch Haven Park cultural scene, is “Lenox Ave.,” which opens July 22. For this show, Rupe’s team has once again remodeled the versatile venue — “We’ve ripped out walls,” he says — to build a Harlem Renaissance speak-easy.
“There are passwords, signature cocktails, original music, the poetry of Langston Hughes, dancers, singers, and you can dress up if you want,” the marketing teases. “All the cool kids will be there.”
So is it a play? Well, in typical Renaissance Theatre fashion, yes and no.
“We’re playing up the speak-easy,” Rupe says. “But once you get here, there is a show component.”
The Harlem Renaissance, if you’ve forgotten your arts history, was the great 1920s-’30s cultural explosion by Black artists in the New York City neighborhood. (Our own Zora Neale Hurston was part of the scene.) But the 1920s were also the age of Prohibition; hence, the need for the speak-easy.
So come to the speak-easy, but stay for the show.
Central Floridian Brandon Martin has written the story line for the evening and composed music reflecting the time. Critically acclaimed choreographer Adonus Mabry designed the moves for this celebration of Hughes’ poetry, jazz music and dance.
“It’s pretty artsy,” Rupe says — but also immersive with the story continuing even when the staged performances stop.
The show will run through Aug. 13 at the theater, 415 E. Princeton St. Advance tickets are $25, go to rentheatre.com.
Things to Do
A look at entertainment and sporting events in Orlando and around Central Florida.
There’s a lot of other musical theater around Central Florida right now, as well. Here are a few options.
MEMPHIS BLUES: In Sanford, Theater West End’s “Memphis” wraps up its run this weekend. Set in the 1950s, the story looks at the era’s racial discrimination and civil strife through the lens of a forbidden love affair between a white radio DJ and a Black singer. The Broadway production won the Tony Award for best musical.
Martin — the writer and composer for The Ren’s “Lenox Ave.” — also has a hand in the local production, in which he served as musical director. Chase Williams stars alongside Bethany Hemmans, who also choreographed. Ayò Jeriah Demps directed. Tickets start at $25 at theaterwestend.com.
SING OUT: In Mount Dora, the Sonnentag at the IceHouse has “Singin’ in the Rain” onstage. Based on the hit film, the show tells the story of Hollywood’s transition to “talkies” in the 1920s through comedy, romance and of course, song and dance. The show is directed by IceHouse managing director Darlin Barry. Tickets are $24 at icehousetheatre.com, and note that the Aug. 5 performance will offer American Sign Language interpretation.
ROCK ON: In Kissimmee, the music of Queen is front and center in the Osceola Arts production of “We Will Rock You.” The jukebox musical uses more than 20 hits by the supergroup as it tells the tale of two revolutionaries trying to save rock ‘n’ roll in a post-apocalyptic world where rock music is forbidden. Rob A. Lott directs the show, which features a live band. Tickets start at $28 at osceolaarts.org, and “We Will Rock You” offers American Sign Language interpretation during its July 30 matinee.
WHERE IS LOVE? That lovable titular orphan is asking for more as “Oliver” takes the stage at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in southwest Orlando. Based on the Charles Dickens novel about an orphan who falls in with Fagin’s gang of thieves, the show features such familiar songs as “Where Is Love,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and more. Steve MacKinnon and Shonn McCloud direct a large ensemble, and tickets are $15-$35 at st.lukes.org/oliver. The musical opens July 22 and runs through Aug. 7, with an ASL-interpreted performance July 28.
Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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