WINTER PARK, Florida. – The Harlem Renaissance is very much alive in Central Florida.
The American Jazz Age returns to the Winter Park Playhouse as it ushers in the Southeast regional premiere of “Trav’lin: A 1930s Harlem Musical Romance.”
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It’s a musical that speaks the universal languages of love and comedy in a timeless era, according to one of its stars, Johnathan Lee Iverson.
Iverson plays George, a man in one of three couples the musical follows at different stages of their relationships and lives as they embrace true love, according to the theater’s website.
Much like his character, he is a born and raised Harlemite.
“I was educated in Harlem,” Iverson said. “That grittiness and, you know, the personalities, the different cultures, even within the culture, I think that’s also what’s lovely about the musical… You know, it’s people from various places that come together in New York, and they have a universal story, and that story is hinged on love and romance, which is a universal story.
He went from being a Harlem ambassador as a boy in a traveling choir to representing Harlem in an Orlando theater.
“Harlem, once upon a time, was the epicenter of black America,” he said. “And once upon a time, it was the place you had to go, no matter who you were, when you ventured into New York.”
Iverson said the show, like the New York area it represents, has engaged people from all walks of life.
And Harlem Renaissance composer JC Johnson, whose songs have been brought to life by Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, and his score accompany the narrative that has the house on the edge of their seats.
“I’ve never been in a musical or a play where the audience is so invested in the story…It’s almost like a call and answer, it’s hilarious. I mean, they understand. It’s like your favorite aunt watching her soap operas,” Iverson said.
Iverson said he enjoys how the show highlights the universality of human emotion without erasing the cultural history attached to it.
“There are cultural sensitivities…they are very subtle, some are very blatant. It’s in the dialogues. It’s in the style of music. It’s in the way the characters are adorned and how we move and how we dance with each other and, you know, some slang that we might use with each other and yet it comes across perfectly for anyone who, no matter what background he’s from, who’s in the audience,” Iverson said. “For me, it’s the feather in our cap with this wonderful production.”
The production serves an important message during Black History Month, according to Iverson.
“It’s just a reminder that we are only human beings. We love each other, we get mad, we break our hearts, you know, like everyone else. You know, we’re confused,” Iverson said. “We have all the quirks that any other human being can have. And I think that’s what resonates with the audience.
Performances will run until Saturday, February 19.
Per the theater’s COVID-19 protocols, masks are required in the building regardless of vaccination status.
To purchase tickets, click here or call the box office at 407-645-0145.
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