Local theaters shine spotlight on African-American talent

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 8, 2018

 The cast of the Village Players’ ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’’ strikes a pose: From left are LaNyck Washington, of Detroit; Ami “Amise” McClenon, of Fraser; Dyrel Johnson, of Redford; Cory Shorter, of Dearborn Heights; and Shondra Tipler, of Detroit.

The cast of the Village Players’ ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’’ strikes a pose: From left are LaNyck Washington, of Detroit; Ami “Amise” McClenon, of Fraser; Dyrel Johnson, of Redford; Cory Shorter, of Dearborn Heights; and Shondra Tipler, of Detroit.

Photo provided by Michael Gravame

BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD HILLS — As the country prepares to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, and then observe Black History Month in February, educators are tweaking lesson plans to include the major role that African-Americans have played in shaping the nation.

But not all lessons are found in books — some can be onstage.

The Village Players of Birmingham and St. Dunstan’s Theater Guild of Cranbrook are rolling out new shows to honor the theatrical and musical talents of African-Americans in the metro Detroit community.

First up is “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at the Village Players theater. The show is a musical tribute to black musicians in the 1920s and ’30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, when nightclub piano players like Fats Waller created swing and eventually jazz.  

Directing the all African-American cast is Jeffrey Nelson, a newcomer to the Birmingham theater who said he’s excited to be part of a show that could “break barriers” in the Birmingham community.

“The audience can expect an amazing theatrical experience that tells (of the) American-American experience in cabaret-style song and dance,” Nelson explained. “There is no plot and very little dialogue. They can expect five triple-threat performers who will leave you inspired and uplifted.”

The show lasts just over two hours and will run Jan. 19-20, Jan. 26-27 and Feb. 2-3, with matinee performances at 2 p.m. Jan. 21, Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. Tickets cost $21 and can be purchased at Bir minghamVillagePlayers.com or by calling the theater box office at (248) 644-2075.

A month later, St. Dunstan’s will present the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play “Clybourne Park,” a sharp satire about the politics of race. The audience is brought back to 1959 during act one, when a white community leader anxiously tries to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act two fast-forwards to the present day, when the same house is now set in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and the community tries to hold its place in the face of gentrification.

Director Alan Ellias said he is honored to guide the cast through such a poignant piece.

“Not only is it an amazing play, which our team has been entrusted to bring to life, but it is, unfortunately, extremely relevant for the times we live in,” Ellias said. “Anyone who is willing to look at prejudice head-on should make sure they see our show.”

“Clybourne Park” will run Feb. 23-24, March 2-3 and March 9-10, with matinee performances Feb. 25 and March 11. Tickets cost $20 for general admission, or $18 for seniors and students 18 and younger. To purchase tickets, visit StDunstansTheatre.com or call the box office at (844) 386-7826.

The Village Players of Birmingham is located at 34660 Woodward Ave. in Birmingham.

St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook is located at 400 Lone Pine Road in Bloomfield Hills.