The works of Langston Hughes will come to life tonight and Friday on the Emma Kelly Theater stage, along with the famed poet and author himself in the form of a Georgia Southern graduate.
“An Evening with Langston Hughes” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Friday at the Averitt Center. Tickets are free and available at the Emma Kelly box office, which opens at 1 p.m. There is a limit of two tickets per person. For information, call 212-2787.
The play was written by Bob Dick and directed by Mical Whitaker, two retired Georgia Southern professors, and stars Richard Whiten, a GSU graduate. The play is based on the life of Langston Hughes, who was a poet, novelist, playwright and columnist. He is best known for his works written during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s.
Appearing on Wednesday's “Morning's unPHILtered” show, Dick told host Phil Boyum that the production is not only a biographical representation of Hughes life, but contains music, from jazz to gospel to classical, from Hughes' era.
Whitaker said the show is being presented as a stage reading, also sometimes called a “script-in-hand” performance, with artists using scripts as they perform.
Whitaker said Whiten, as Langston Hughes, will take the audience through highlights of his life and career. Musical numbers will punctuate scenes. Whitaker said singer Ethel Waters will perform several numbers from the Harlem Renaissance era, including “Am I Blue?” Also, a chorus on stage will add to the production.
“We are trying to present the audience Langston's life, and we want to do it in as entertaining a way as possible,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker may have retired as a theater professor from GSU five years ago, but he hasn't slowed down much. He recently completed a production of “Black Nativity,” which was written by Hughes, over the holidays and he will portray Hoke in “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Averitt Center in April.
Whiten played football under Erk Russell at Georgia Southern and graduated in 1991. He currently works as a successful actor in Hollywood, and has had roles in shows including the hit CBS show "N.C.I.S.," "Living Single," The West Wing" and "The Cosby Show."
Whitaker said he thought of Whiten for the Langston Hughes role immediately.
“I have followed his career and I'm happy to see his success,” Whitaker said. “Richard bears a physical resemblance to Langston and I knew he would be up to the challenge.”
The play was made possible through a grant from the Georgia Southern Multi-Cultural Center and the Campus Life Enrichment Committee.
Whitaker said Whiten would visit with students at Georgia Southern, as well, and talk about his career.
“It's important student actors meet and hear from a serious working professional like Richard,” he said. “He can give them answers from personal experience about the acting profession.
For his part, Whiten said it was hard to get a start in show business. He said if you are serious, then work hard, do what ever it takes, and have faith that you'll succeed. He also said you need to move to California to give it your best shot. Whiten warned that doors will close in your face constantly, but you must persist.
“I've seen a ton of people come and go in L.A. trying to make it,” Whiten said. “Don't wait, though. Get out to L.A. and give it your best shot.”
Whitaker said he is a little anxious about tonight's premiere of “An Evening with Langston Hughes.”
“Especially with original work,” Whitaker said, “you're not sure. Does it catch? Does it work? It's a little like putting a puzzle together, which is a lot of fun.”
Whitaker has a particular affinity for Hughes' work and met the author several times. He remembers his first meeting very well.
“It was 1960 and I was a freshman at Howard University,” Whitaker said. “I was working backstage on the production of Langston's play 'Simply Heavenly.' Langston was a friend of the director and he came to watch the play. I was very shy, but he came backstage and struck up a conversation. He autographed a program from the play for me. It's kind of tattered now, but it's one of my most prized possessions.”
Roger Allen contributed to this report.