Photo Source // Allison UpChurch
By: Allison UpChurch, Staff Writer
Trav’lin – The 1930’s Harlem Musical is a production that has never seen the lights of Broadway but is slowly getting around to theatres across the United States in the hopes of making it to New York City one day. It tells the story of three couples living, working, and loving during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930’s. The show showcases these couples at different stages of their relationship – one is newly found lovers, the other growing steady, and the last is a pair of long-lost lovers rekindling what was left behind.
In a post-show discussion, cast members shared that all of the music and songs of Trav’lin are all written by the famous African-American songwriter J.C. Johnson, who lived for a significant amount of time in Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s and later worked with famous jazz and blues performers like Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.
“This is my era of music,” actor Milton Craig Nealy, who plays the character of George, shared with audience members. “I just love it. It’s a joy to hear and obviously we don’t hear much of this music now a days.”
The show came to fruition because the show’s playwright, Gary Holmes, was a young protégé of Johnson when they were neighbors in Wurtsboro, New York. Johnson expressed interest in Holmes creating a show that incorporated his songs into the story, so when Johnson passed in 1981, Holmes set out to work on that show, which eventually turned into Trav’lin. While the show has had its premiere at the New York Musical Festival in 2010, Trav’lin is still a relatively new piece that is not well known.
“Having the opportunity to feel like you’re putting a particular stamp on new work is just extraordinarily exciting,” actress Natalie Oliver-Atherton, who plays the character of Billie, said. “If I never get to do it again, Billie has been done for me. And it’s always just an extraordinary gift from on high for me.”
As a show, Trav’lin brings fun characters and positive energy to its audience. The story, though it can be predictable at times, is easy to follow and represents they dynamic and complex experiences of love that every human will face sometime in life. The songs blend seamlessly into the plot as the actors will play off each other cheerfully and bring a soulful and spirited sound to Johnson’s repertoire as “Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins” and “Basin Street Lover.”
Trav’lin – The 1930’s Harlem Musical played April 9 - 28 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.