In this original musical written and directed by Maurice Kitchen, Dark Legends in Blood portrays some of the most prominent African-American artists of the 40’s and 50’s: Louie Jordan (LaRonz Wells), Lena Horne (Deanne Williams), Etta James (Dee Selmore) and Billie Holiday (Lilita Forbes) arrive for one unique evening together.
The first act is an introduction to the characters and their interpersonal relationships mixed in a showcase of talented musical numbers.
In the second act, the plot twist of the story begins. A whodunit scenario — a story or play about a murder in which the identity of the murderer is not revealed until the end — where Billie Holiday is murdered by poison.
Anyone is a possibility and the musical begins to spiral.
The tone of this musical still follows that of a slapstick comedy- there are no historical references or a moral compass to follow. The fourth wall is incessantly broken; characters popping out of the crowd, audience members being invited onstage and the playwright taking time during intermission to join the audience in thought.
He particularly surveys the audience on who may be Billie Holiday’s killer. The playwright’s involvement in this whodunit may be why he is not traditionally portrayed as a mediator.
After he exits the stage, the audience is left in suspense and in even higher anticipation of what comes next.
Mainly composed of Florida A&M Alumni and local actors , the students worked the technical aspects of the show. The extra support backstage made all the difference onstage.
The lights were astounding. From the single white spotlight on Billie Holiday in her solo number to the flood lights, with a different color to illuminate the mood.
The set was small, yet comprised of a bar that included live entertainment. It was fascinating to see the jazz band interact with the cast throughout the show.
Billy Gamble, as the host of the bar, often would make his way across the stage to cue musical numbers, making the jazz band truly a part of the overall production.
Gamble, a favorite of all of the characters also makes his way into each legend’s life. He is lover not only to Etta James but also to Billie Holiday- who is better yet described as his “sugar mama.” But, Gamble is an annoyance to Lena Horne and Louie Jordan because of his naturally facetious manner. The spotlight is on him for the entirety of the show as he ties all of the characters motives together.
Zaylin Yates, a graduate student of the FAMU Essential Theatre, and the musical’s assistant stage manager had comments about working the show.
“Although it was hard work backstage making sure the spectacle of the lights were just right, I did enjoy the murder mystery. I am a fan of those [board] games and it definitely kept the audience awake because the possibilities are endless,” Yates said.
Imagine the absurd scenario of these legends under one roof fighting; with the egotistical personalities that make them the stars they are. The combination with the mystery at hand makes for one gargantuan laugh.
Dark Legends in Blood ran in the Essential Theatre from November 2 until November 6.