Garden of Joy performs one night at WSCC

March 12, 2013

garden of joy wsccVICTORY TWP. – It’s New Year’s Eve 1929, and Harlem’s hottest night club, the Garden of Joy, is ringing in the New Year with a live radio broadcast celebrating the decade of the Harlem Renaissance. This original Wharton Center commissioned drama with music by Ken LaZebnik, “The Garden of Joy,” will play one performance only at West Shore Community College’s Center Stage Theater on Sat., March 23, at 7:30 p.m.

“The Garden of Joy” celebrates the Harlem Renaissance, a period that covered the years of 1909-1940, and features electrifying live jazz, blues and classical music by keyboard artist Alvin Waddles and his band.

“The Garden of Joy” infuses the writings of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neal Hurston and W.E.B. DuBois with the music of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and more to bring the joy, humor, struggle and energy of this astonishing moment in American history and culture.

Playwright Ken LaZebnik says, “I first researched the Harlem Renaissance in depth over 25 years ago for a play about New York in the twenties. My research at that time convinced me that the Renaissance in Harlem was an American Renaissance; an explosion of talent and groundbreaking art and music that created a new vocabulary of artistic expression in the United States.  I am thrilled to be able to explore deeply the Harlem Renaissance in this new play. “

“The lives and works of the African American writers, musicians, and artists that fermented new ways of writing, new musical expressions and new ways of living remain as fresh today as they were nearly 100 years ago. Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Zora Neale Hurston, and dozens of others captured the inherent and vital tension between high art and popular art that remains a staple of Americans art today. The opportunity to do a theater piece that is full of the rich music of the period that contains the tremendous writing of these African American geniuses, and shows the long, laborious challenges facing African American business people in the America of the 1920’s, is the fulfillment of a very long dream.”

Distinguished musician Alvin Waddles is the musical director for “The Garden of Joy,” and, along with his band, provides the live onstage music during the production.  He says, “The Harlem Renaissance was a seminal period in the history of African American culture and, indeed that of the country as a whole. That being said it has always surprised me how little most people know about it, particularly people of African American descent. Over the past six years I have been performing the music of Fats Waller and other musicians of that period in schools and concert venues in an effort to both entertain and inform people of the contributions of these great artists. I’m excited about this project because it will provide a greater awareness of this period in American history to a broad audience via an entertaining and accessible theatrical platform.”

The cast of “The Garden of Joy” features Alvin Waddles as Fletcher Dunbar, Shawn Hamilton as Harry Pace, Cheridah Best as Dorothy Battle, Marlon Washington as Fenton Logan, Jennifer Cole as Gerogia Montgomery, and Ben Will as Wallace Thigpen.

Hamilton and Best both appear through the courtesy of Actors Equity Association, the union of professional stage actors. The production is directed by Bert Goldstein and Carollette Phillips is the choreographer.

Ken LaZebnik’s plays have been produced at theaters across America, and his film and TV scripts have ranged from collaborations with Garrison Keillor to the popular CBS series “Touched by An Angel.” He is excited to be again collaborating with Bert Goldstein, who commissioned his play “Theory of Mind” for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Goldstein, who is the director of the Institute for Arts and Creativity at The Wharton Center, says that many themes can be drawn from “The Garden of Joy,” one of the most powerful being the importance and strength of community. It is amazing the power a group of people has when they band together over a common goal. Ideas turn into realities, struggles turn to opportunities, and needed change can occur. Communities have the ability to open the realm of possibility, and it is the hope and inspiration of that ideal that is represented in “The Garden of Joy.”

“This is quite an honor to have this world premiere play with music presented at WSCC,” says Dr. Rick Plummer, director of the college arts series. “Michigan State University’s Wharton Center has graciously agreed to partner with WSCC–one of only four sites around the state–and we are so very proud of this artistic partnership,” he adds.

The Garden of Joy” was commissioned exclusively for the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts & Creativity at the Wharton Center.

Tickets for “The Garden of Joy” can be reserved at the WSCC box office or by calling 843-5507.

For more information on the play with music or on the arts series, call Plummer at 843-5928, or email him at


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