By Ian Teoh, E23 Reporter

“Raisin’ Cane” is a celebration of the wonder of the Harlem Renaissance, a complex time where as the poet Langston Hughes says, “the Negro was in vogue.” The artistry in Manhattan flourished like a fashion trend in the interwar years .

The Harlem Renaissance gave rise to a generation of thinkers, poets, activists and musicians. Written by Harry Clark, “Raisin’ Cane” mixes song, spoken word poetry and philosophy in a tribute to the spirit of the period. The show was preformed at The Missouri Theatre on Ninth Street, Friday February 3, as part of the University Concert Series held by the University of Missouri.

Jasmine Guy played the dazzling lead in this production. While best known for her role in the 90s television series “A Different World“, and has had roles in TV shows such as “The Vampire Diaries” and “Drop Dead Diva“, Guy is no stranger to the stage. She played the role of guide as she brought the audience along on a tour of the 1920s, seamlessly playing songstress, dancer and channeling the litany of poetry and writings the production draws from.

The fluid performance was determined to engage it’s audience on all levels. As the musicians began and took their place, a large screen on stage displayed a sequence of images and video. Names and quotes came at the audience briefly and then vanished, replaced by another. In the same fashion, Guy drew from Jamaican writer Claude McKay and W.E.B. Dubois, backed by an original score composed by Avery Sharpe.

The music was varied and the performance virtuoso. At moments, the musicians were unfussed in the background playing ambient music to the words on stage, and at others they joined Guy in song. Inspired by the music of the Harlem Renaissance, Sharpe says he made a deliberate choice to include more modern elements, drawing a link between the past and the present.

The final act of the production drew heavily on Jean Toomer’s “Cane” from which the production derived its name. “Cane”, a book described as a complex mix of prose, poetry and play-like passages, is considered by critics to be one of the finest works of the Harlem Renaissance.

Toomer, just like his work, defied classification with his mixed heritage, refusing to be called either black or white. Not that it matters, for the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance was the acceptance of people of all colors and the struggle to be considered equally American. In the closing moments of the evening as the music swelled in a marvelous display of Jazz improvisation, Guy declared to a standing ovation, “we are all America” bringing the spirit of the play to life.

Starring Jasmine Guy
Avery Sharpe – Double Bass
Dylan Sharpe – Percussion/Vocals
Diane Monroe – Violin

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