The poetry of Langston Hughes takes spotlight in ‘Warm Dark Dusk’

(l-r): Vocalists Heather McELrath and Pippi Ardennia, and Richard Woods as Langston Hughes.
(l-r): Vocalists Heather McELrath and Pippi Ardennia, and Richard Woods as
Langston Hughes. (Photo by Christopher Lyle)

Warm Dark Dusk, a jazz music and dance production presented by Phyllis Productions that celebrates the poetry of Langston Hughes, is coming to a theater near you. Hughes, as described in the press release, is “one of the essential figures in American literature. His vision of America was as timely today as back in the decades in which his poems were written.”

The production team behind Warm Dark Dusk is choreographer Florence Lyle, music director Joe Shad, and director Judy Cooper Lyle. Florence Lyle, originally from Minnesota, has worked in Hollywood for 20-plus years and has toured with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Lionel Richie and Lou Rawls.

When asked by the MSR how she became a part of this play, she said, “First, Judy and I are cousins, but we have also worked together in the past on the Josephine Baker play [produced by The Urban Spectrum Theater], and when she received the email stating that she was awarded the grant for this play, I was there, and it was a natural progression for me to be a part.”

Shad, the music director, is a musician who found his passion at the age of five. Through the journey, he discovered that concept music is what he loved most. Now a freelance pianist, singer and songwriter, he got involved with this project through colleague Pippi Ardennia, who is also a vocalist on this project.

According to Shad, “I really like my role in this play, because it is a choreo piece and has a lot of movement on stage, and a big part of the music in this play moves in that same way and it is a really interesting piece.”

Cooper Lyle, director and founder of Phyllis Production, created the theater group in 1974 with the purpose of building a multi-cultural theater for the inner-city which would give less experienced people the opportunity to work with more experience people, with a primary focus on young people.

“When I got the grant, I decided to start researching and picking specific poems to tell a cohesive story,” she said of Warm Dark Dusk. She stated that the play is broken down into four parts: the blues, nightlife love, sex and dance. When asked what she would like people to get from this play she stated “I know it sounds trite, but I want them to get an experience and an appreciation of his [Hughes’] poems.”

This new production takes the stage on October 6, 7, 8, and 9 at the Phoenix Theater located on 2605 Hennepin Avenue South in Minneapolis. Show times are at 7:30 pm with an additional 3 pm matinee on October 8.

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