Review: ‘Trav’lin-The 1930s Harlem Musical’ at Seven Angels Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

“Love is messy….” George in ‘Travlin’

Waterbury, CT - Seven Angels is ending their 2016-2017 mainstage season with a jazzy new musical called ‘Trav’lin-The 1930s Harlem Musical’ with music and lyrics by J.C. Johnson and friends and a book by Gary Holmes and Allan Shapiro. This is the Connecticut premiere of the musical that was originally presented in the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival and then premiered by Jubilee Theatre (Fort Worth TX) in 2013. ‘Trav’lin’ marks the debut of Mr. Shapiro as a professional playwright and he was in the audience for the first Sunday matinee. The Waterbury production was directed and choreographed by Paul Stancato and runs through June 11. 

‘Trav’lin’ takes the audience back to Harlem in the decade when the music was swinging, bands were big and the Harlem Renaissance was in high gear. The show follows the romantic stories of three couples of three different generations. There are the young lovers who are still innocent, the seen-it-all couple who may bicker but still love each other, and the mature couple who wonder if it is too late to fall in love one more time. The six-character musical comedy is also an old-fashioned romance in many ways; it weaves in some wonderful music by the Harlem Renaissance composer J.C. Johnson who wrote songs for Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. John DePinto served as music director/arranger/orchestrator, as he did for the NYMF production in 2010.

The scenic design that worked well for this intimate piece was done by Stephen Dobay. Matt Martin always does well with the sound design and Keith A. Truax did the fine lighting design, enhanced by original projection design by Christopher Ash. Costumes by Janell Berte were true to the period and flattering to all the sizes on the stage, as were the wigs. 

George, a retired Pullman porter and church deacon, was embodied by Lothair Eaton, an actor with a wonderful singing voice and plenty of stage presence. Cherry Torres, who is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, played his lovely young niece Ella. Jacobi Hall was endearing as her young suitor Nelson. Yweande Odetoyinbo, a Howard University graduate, brought plenty of personality to the role of Roz, the hairdresser, and her man was played with wiley charm by Baltimore native Teren Carter. This actor played the role of Simon in the national tour of JCS with originals Ted Neely and Carl Anderson. Miche Braden sang wonderfully in the role of Billie, the mature stranger with a secret. Ms. Braden’s first appearance at 7A was in ‘The Devil’s Music: The Life of & Blues of Bessie Smith (TDM)’ in 2010 and often serves as a musical director. 

In the first act, I most enjoyed the trio of the women on “When You Fall in Love.” Highlights after intermission included the title song sung wonderfully by George and Billie and the final number “Let’s Do, Let’s Do, Let’s Do” with the full company. I liked the projections that suggested a large tree, the outside of Roz’s shop and even fried pies. 

The members of the band sported period hats and sounded great in their stage left corner. Mr. DePinto played piano and conducted, Ken Nigro was on reeds, Mark Ryan played drums and Daniel Kraszewski was on upright bass. 

I enjoyed the romantic story that moved quickly and the music was pretty impressive. Some scenes would have benefitted from a small chorus singing and dancing along, but I never got tired watching the six talented cast member give it their all. I took along my elderly aunt to the matinee on Mother’s Day and she enjoyed it very much; I was impressed with how well the theatre accommodates handicapped patrons. 


Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to local sites. Check out her new Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and follow her on Twitter @nancysjanis417

Photos by Gary Rosengrant