In 1959 Lorraine Hansberr-s A RAISIN IN THE SUN was the first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, winning the NY Drama Critics- Circle Award. The play (and the 1961 film starring Sidney Poitier) takes its title from a line of a Langston Hughes poem, what happens to a dream deferred (does it wither like a raisin in the sun). The dream, is the great American Dream, that of moving up into home ownership, the suburbs and a better life. In one sense, and this has always been an issue with Ms. Hansberry-s detractors, A RAISIN IN THE SUN is no more -black- than I REMEMBER MOMMA or A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN are Swedish or Jewish. They are fundamentally plays about melting pot America - hope through assimilation - the ideal before the days of multi-culturalism.
After Ms. Hansberry died in 1965 (at the age of 34), her husband, the song-writer Robert Nemiroff and collaborator Charlotte Zaltzberg, turned the play into a musical, RAISIN, now getting a respectful yet lively revival at Long Beach-s Center Theatre. RAISIN won the Tony for Best Musical in 1973, and then seemed to evaporate from the theatrical scene, possibly because it was still too conservative for the black is beautiful climate of the 70-s.
ICT Artistic Director Shashin Desai and co-director Caryn Morse Desai (also his wife) seem to have done the first major revival of the music in a good many years. The book is still problematical, and in many ways embarrassing considering today-s issues of race, but there is no faulting the stellar cast, atmospheric set and dynamic and whole-hearted performances that distinguish this production. Particularly notable are Carol Dennis as the family matriarch (she stepped into the role at the last minute to replace the late Nell Carter, who tragically past away during the rehearsal period); and Michael A. Sheppard, in the Sidney Poitier role, who has to fight with himself, as well as the white world, for his manhood.
The entire cast has Broadway calibre skills and their loving attention and care make this a revival not to be missed. RAISIN continues in Long Beach to March 9.