Harlem Renaissance serves as backdrop for VUTheatre production

photograph of scene from Vanderbilt production of
Destinee Monét Johnson as Angel and Christian Rodriguez Rosales as Leland (courtesy of Phillip Franck)

Vanderbilt University Theatre will perform Blues for an Alabama Sky, an emotionally intense drama by celebrated African American playwright Pearl Cleage, April 13-16 at Neely Auditorium.

The play, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 2 p.m. on Saturday. Kristyl Tift, assistant professor of theatre, is directing this production, which is set in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood during the 1930s—a time and place marked by African American artistry, intellectualism, culture and social activism.

 The plot for Blues for an Alabama Sky centers on Angel Allen, a 30-something, former Cotton Club dancer who has lost everything in one night. She has no place to live, no boyfriend and no job. With the help of three Harlemite friends, Guy, Sam and Delia, and Leland—a Southern stranger who falls in love with her at first sight—Angel has the opportunity to rise from a deep depression and create a new life for herself. However, her self-centered approach to survival threatens the stability of those relationships.


This is Tift’s debut production at Vanderbilt after joining the faculty in 2020. She is excited that VUTheatre is returning to normalcy after the near shutdown during the past two years.

Blues for an Alabama Sky is a play that feels, at once, historical and timeless,” Tift said. “Cleage settles the audience into Harlem at the beginning of both the Great Depression and the Harlem Renaissance—two moments that seem disparate tonally, yet make for an exciting drama that will keep you wondering what will happen next to four Harlemite friends and a Southern stranger. Engaging with themes such as race, gender, sexuality, class, politics, reproductive rights and religion, Blues manages to educate and entertain.

“This play is especially meaningful to me because I had the opportunity to perform the role of Angel during my senior year as an undergraduate student,” she added. “For nearly 20 years, I have waited to direct it. It has been a nostalgic and pleasurable process introducing the Vanderbilt community to this funny, heartbreaking and beautiful piece of theatre.”

Other faculty assisting with the production include Professor of Theatre and department chair Phillip Franck as set and lighting designer; Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theatre Alexandra Sargent Capps as costume designer; and Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theatre Liz Haynes as technical director. Tift and Franck are also the sound designers. In addition, Gary Hoff, director of design and resident set designer for Nashville Repertory Theatre, has painted the set as a guest artist for the production.

Following Vanderbilt’s policies, masks are optional for all audience members. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis, with no tickets needed.