Gershwin Fan Produces Mini Opera at Harlem’s Cotton Club
When a teacher at his New Jersey high school loaned Eric Einhorn George Gershwin’s “Blue Monday,” the brief jazz opera became an ear worm.
“It was like the skies had opened,” said Einhorn, 32. “I felt a connection to the piece, and it was something I’ve always wanted to do.”
The three-night run is co-produced by Einhorn and Gregory Hopkins of the Harlem Opera Theater. Dancers choreographed by Tony Award-winner George Faison will complement the drama, and the Harlem Chamber Players will provide the music.
“Blue Monday,” set in a Harlem bar, tells of a love triangle in which singer Tom woos Vi, the sweetheart of a gambler named Joe. Vi shoots Joe dead after Tom falsely claims Joe got a telegram from another woman. The opera’s title comes from an aria sung by a cafe worker lamenting his losses at dice on a “Blue Monday.”
“For the character portrayals, it was about finding those moments of real human experience,” Einhorn said. “The performers will be among the audience and around the club, so it will give them a wonderful insight into these people. That’s something that only site-specific opera can achieve.”
A precursor to Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” “Blue Monday” inspired the opera’s first band leader, Paul Whiteman, to request that Gershwin compose a concert piece. The result was “Rhapsody in Blue.”
”Blue Monday” opened in 1922 to mixed reviews, with some critics praising Gershwin’s music and others slamming it for its use of white actors in black-face. The current production’s all-black cast includes Chase Taylor as Joe, Alyson Cambridge as Vi and Lawrence Craig as Tom.
“The initial reception to ‘Monday’ wasn’t great, but there’s a wealth of material in the score that led to what Gershwin did in ‘Porgy and Bess,’” Einhorn said. “Gershwin did a wonderful handling of pacing and drama.”
Einhorn said he spent many hours researching Gershwin and the history of “Blue Monday” to get a feel for the story’s emotional core.
“Gershwin’s original version was a darker story that portrayed the darker side of the 1920s,” Einhorn said. “These characters aren’t caricatures. These are real people, and ‘Monday’ is an experience that is relatable to anyone.”
(A limited number of standing room-only tickets at $10 are available for “Blue Monday” tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Cotton Club, 656 W. 125th St. in Manhattan. The Cotton Club All-Stars kick off the evening, performing hits of the 1920s and 1930s beginning at 7 p.m. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org; +1-212-663-7980.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at pcole3@Bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at Mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net