Review: Paradise Blue (TimeLine Theatre)

| May 30, 2017

Al'Jaleel McGhee stars as Blue in Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theatre, Joe Mazza          
Paradise Blue 

Written by Dominique Morisseau
Music by Orbert Davis
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
thru July 23  |  tix: $38-$51  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Earliest of Morisseau’s ‘Detroit trilogy’ is entertaining period piece


Al'Jaleel McGhee and Kristin E. Ellis star as Blue and Pumpkin in Paradise Blue at TimeLine Theatre

TimeLine Theatre presents
Paradise Blue

Review by Catey Sullivan

With Paradise Blue, Dominique Morisseau continues using her hometown of Detroit as the setting for dramas seeped in history and music. Set in 1949, Paradise Blue is chronologically the earliest of her “Detroit trilogy,” which also includes Detroit ’67, (which deals with the race riots of the titular year) and Skeleton Crew (set in 2008 in an auto stamping plant).

Kristin E. Ellis and Al'Jaleel McGhee star as Pumpkin and Blue in Paradise Blue, TimeLine TheatreParadise Blue is an atmospheric tale that unfolds in a struggling blues club in Detroit’s Black Bottom community. Once a bustling hub of hundreds of African-American owned clubs, Black Bottom was no more as of the 1960s, obliterated by the forces of “urban renewal” programs. Paradise Blue explores a community on the cusp of change through the story of a single club and its troubled owner.

Club owner Blue (Al’Jaleel McGhee) is a trumpeter whose talent and torment are equally intense. He’s in talks to sell his beloved bar, a move that would have life-changing consequences for musicians P-Sam (Charles Andrew Gardner) and Corn (Ronald L. Conner). Blue’s long-suffering girlfriend Pumpkin (Kristin E. Ellis) would also see her world upended should Blue’s secret negotiations end in a sale.

The atmosphere in the club is tense, uncertain and fraught with whispered rumors about Blue’s intentions. When a mysterious woman named Silver (Tyla Abercrumbie) sashays into this combustible environment, you can practically smell the fuse starting to burn down to explosion.

Charles Andrew Gardner , Ronald L. Conner, Al'Jaleel McGhee and Tyla Abercrumbie star in Paradise BlueTyla Abercrumbie and Ronald L. Conner star as Silver and Corn in Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theatre

Morisseau’s setup hews to the conventions of noir. Blue’s ominous moods hang over the club like a veil of cigarette smoke. Silver is as smooth as honey and as dangerous as arsenic. Pumpkin is the good girl-next-door type, an innocent shocked into speechlessness by the very sight of a gun. Percussionist P-Sam is the sort of sweet, trusting, gently naïve type that rarely survives the murderous machinations of the genre. And while Corn is wise to the ways of the world, he too become entangled in a web fraught with lust, greed and distrust.

Despite an effective setup, the problem with Paradise Blue is that the characters never go deep enough. In Blue we see the outward manifestation of significant inner demons – when he’s not taking things out on the horn, he’s an abusive bully to Pumpkin and the house musicians. But beneath the troubled exterior, there’s no sense of where these traits originated.

Blue’s anger, hostility and abusiveness seems like an affect – an extremely well performed affect, but an affect nonetheless. Pumpkin’s allegiance to him even through regular abuse is similarly superficial. And as the smoldering dame who lures all and sundry into her web, Abercrumbie nails the look of a true siren but never really lets anyone see what lies behind Silver’s formidable powers of seduction.

Ronald L. Conner, Kristin E. Ellis and Charles Andrew Gardner star in Paradise Blue, TimeLine TheatreCharles Andrew Gardner and Tyla Abercrumbie star as P-Sam and Silver in Paradise Blue

The music in the piece is also problematic. Blue expresses his most intensely felt moods by playing the trumpet – something that requires an actor who is also a bona fide trumpet virtuoso. McGhee is serviceable on the horn, but he’s not sublime. And sublime is what the script demands. Moreover, the line between his playing and the show’s prerecorded music is blunt and obvious. The music in Paradise Blue isn’t woven through. It’s more of an overlay.

Morisseau’s plot starts strong but ultimately fizzles. Despite its early promise, Paradise Blue turns out to be rather formulaic.

There’s a fascinating, important story in Detroit’s Black Bottom community, both in its thriving heyday and in the institutionalized racism that erased it. Morisseau starts to tell that story in the early scenes of Paradise Blue. But in the end, all she gives us is an entertaining, but fairly predictable, genre piece.

Rating: ★★★

Paradise Blue continues through July 23rd at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $38-$51, and are available by phone (773-281-8461) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Kristin E. Ellis, Ronald L. Conner and Al'Jaleel McGhee star in Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theatre

Photos by Joe Mazza and Lara Goetsch 




Tyla Abercrumbie (Silver), Charles Andrew Gardner (P-Sam),  Ronald L. Conner (Corn), Kristin E. Ellis (Pumpkin), Al’Jaleel McGhee (Blue), Taylor Barfield (u/s Corn), Ti Nicole Danridge (u/s Silver), Bernard Gilbert (u/s Blue, P-Sam), India Gurley (u/s Pumpkin)

behind the scenes

Ron OJ Parsons (director), Orbert Davis (original music), Brian Sidney Bembridge (set and lighting design), Christine Pascual (costume design), Christopher Kriz (sound design), Mary O’Dowd (props design), Jared Bellot (dramaturgy), Taylor Barfield (assistant director), Richard Lundy (stage manager), Sara Thornton (production assistant), Dina Spoerl (lobby design), Emily Arnold (costume shop supervisor), Taylor Lumpkin (wardrobe supervisor), Neal Javenkoski (master electrician), Cedar Larson (asst. master electrician), Matt Fayfer (Equity representative), Joe Mazza, Lara Goetsch (photos)

Charles Andrew Gardner and Kristin E. Ellis star as P-Sam and Pumpkin in Paradise BlueAl'Jaleel McGhee stars as Blue in Paradise Blue at TimeLine Theatre


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, TimeLine Theatre, Video, YouTube

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