It's easy to be swept away by the tight, polished cast of Raisin, currently dancing and singing up a storm at the Fisher Theatre through July. The play is direct from a three-year run on Broadway and busting out with nostalgia, love, faith, optimism, positive energy, and all the other wonderful things hit musicals are made of.
First performed in 1959, Raisin is, of course, the musical version of A Raisin in the Sun, authored by award-winning black dramatist Lorraine Hansberry. It is the story of a struggling black family in Chicago during the depressing and oppressive 1950's.
A $10,000 insurance check on its way to "Mama" Younger-the widowed head of the Younger family, played by Tony award-winning Virginia Capers-makes easy dreams for all members of the Younger family. Walter Lee (Autrius Paige) wants to invest in a liquor store; his sister Bennie (Arnethia Walker) has plans to enter medical school. Walter, given the responsibility of handling part of the money, outdoes Mary Hartman as he is swindled by a trusted friend.
Capers is very impressive as the towering, matriarchal, vet compassionate and intelligent grandmother so ropresentative of the black family. Both Mary Seymore and stand-in Vanessa Shaw (who appeared in the play's opening night performance here) are outstanding as Ruth Younger, Walter Lee's wife. Also worthy of note were the powerfully-voiced Milt Grayson as Asagai, and the exciting and energetic Darren Green as Travis, Ruth and Walter Lee's hip teenage son.
Much ot' Raisin's appeal is due to its dramatic, sweeping choreography. The beautiful "African Dance," a piece portraying the past heritage and pride of the black race, was particularly effective. Audience reaction to the musical, of course, varied with seating prices - our reviewer in the fifth row reported feeling like a raisin in a snow drift, with a few of the sometimes funny racial quirks drawing glares and mumbling from the icy wall of faces which surrounded. Yet that audience strongly united and gave - the play which illustrates the dignity and bravery of the black family - a standing ovation, and we left the theatre aglow.