“Paradise Blue”: Rich and dynamic audio play

Presented by Audible Originals & the Williamstown Theatre Festival
Written by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Sound design by Darron West
Music composed by Kenny Rampton and Bill Sims Jr 
With André Holland, Kristolyn Lloyd, Simone Missick, Keith Randolph Smith, and Blair Underwood
Williamstown Theatre Festival on Facebook

Audiobook is available at Audible.com on March 25 at 3 PM.

Review by Afrikah Smith

AUDIOBOOK — Rich, dynamic jazz fills my ears. Paradise Blue starts off with explosive keys, steady drums, a wailing trumpet solo, and a bang. The silence that followed piqued my curiosity until cymbals shook it off and the jazz picked up once again. We are whisked away to Paradise Club. The best place to hear jazz in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood.

In Paradise Club, tensions run high among Pumpkin (Kristloyn Lloyd), Corn (Keith Randolph Smith), P Sam (André Holland), and Blue (Blair Underwood).After another member leaves The Black Bottom Quartet and news breaks of the club potentially being bought by the city of Detroit, tensions run high as the band scrambles to find another bassist before their next act and process the news. While trying to wrap around what to do, Silver (Simone Missick), a mysterious woman from Louisiana, enters. Facing fears around the gentrification of an already segregated neighborhood and how to save the club, the five characters scramble how they can survive the situation and fight their personal demons. 

Tensions run high among Pumpkin (Kristloyn Lloyd), Corn (Keith Randolph Smith), P Sam (André Holland), and Blue (Blair Underwood) as they scramble to find another bassist before the next act at Paradise Club. While news breaks of the club potentially being bought by the city, Silver (Simone Missick), a mysterious woman from Louisiana, enters. Creating a stir in town and the jazz club, the five characters face gentrification and navigate how to survive while fighting their personal demons.

Morisseau’s writing comes alive with this fantastic cast of five, especially with Keith Randolph Smith, Kristloyn Lloyd, and Simone Missick. Keith Randolph Smith as Corn was wonderful as he had a very rich voice that embodied Corn’s character well: A sweet, thoughtful pianist who tries to see the good in everyone; despite their troubles. When Randolph Smith and Missick were interacting, the chemistry between them created sparks, even in the small moments. It invested me in their arc, especially in their most vulnerable moments revealing their troubled pasts before coming to Paradise Club that added to the tension and the plot. 

Following suit, the chemistry between Kristolyn Lloyd and Simone Missick was juicy to hear. The parallels between Pumpkin and Silver were so great to tune in to, that I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was going to happen next. 

With great pacing, it was easy to follow as we learned more about each character’s past. While listening, I could visualize the Paradise Club, the streets and storefronts of Black Bottom in 1949, and the colors of night and summer supported by the sound design choices made by Darron West with original composition by Kenny Rampton and Bill Sims Jr.. From the jazz playing in the background and as a transition in between scenes, to added elements of a bell chime, police sirens, and other ambient elements, I felt transported to another place; forgetting for a moment I was at home, sitting in my chair.

As much as I enjoyed this, I couldn’t help but want to see this production to get clarity on the ending. With such a wonderful buildup to the finale, the end felt rushed by how quick the ending credits of the audiobook came soon afterwards. Confused at what happened in the end, it made me wonder if I could understand the last moment in a live performance. Perhaps once theaters safely come back, I can enjoy the full experience of Paradise Blue.

Running approximately two hours, Paradise Blue is best experienced with headphones. To learn more about the Williamstown Theatre Festival season, go to https://wtfestival.org/shows-events/.

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