Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
People used raise the rent parties to pay the rent. These began in Harlem in the 1920s. Entertainers performed for free. You paid at the door - often up to 25 cents - and the joint would jump.
Calvin Manson set his "rent party" in Chicago at the famous jazz club, Mr. Kelly's. If Papa Du can't pay by midnight, the owner will close the place down. So Papa Du invites Billie Holiday (Anasa Johnson), Nina Simone (Janice Edwards), and Ruthie Brown (Janet Polite) to work pro bono and raise the roof.
The trio pays a special tribute to Bessie Smith: "You know who she is. She sang about YOU."
Artistic Director of Ira Aldridge Players, Manson revised an earlier version. The newer one needs tightening (especially a pronounced sag in Act two). The lulls don't come from lesser efforts. They come after nearly impossible acts to follow: Manson's savvy, funny, "How to Write a Blues Poem"; the rafter-rocker "They Call It Stormy Monday"; Herb Sims' comic "I Was Cool" (and is anything but); and Carl Overstreet's "At Last."
The Lafayette Hotel, at 3222 El Cajon Boulevard, is a new venue for local theater. But its full-stage, seashell bandstand right in.
Backed by a versatile five-piece band, Janice Edwards sings knockout versions of "Gimme Me Some" and Nina Simone's anthem of assertion, "Mississippi God Damn."
When the show's good, it isn't just very very good, it's torrid, as when Johnson, Edwards, and Polite belt "Someone Else is Steppin' In," which includes the line, "Got a smile on my face you didn't put there."
The show offers a dinner/theater package and runs through June 5.