Lincoln Theatre hosts original production drawing on the Harlem Renaissance

The locally produced musical “Renaissance Magic!” which celebrates the art and artists (and more) of the Harlem Renaissance, took inspiration from writer Alexis Wilson's own family.

In the musical, 13-year-old Ella, a science and math whiz in a family of artists and performers, is charged with exploring the Harlem Renaissance, enlisting help from a favorite uncle. Employing a deep knowledge of the time and a little bit of magic, Ella's uncle helps open her eyes to the explosion of African-American arts in Harlem in the 1920s and '30s, and also how that impacted the arts throughout the country, including here in Columbus.

“The second show my father (director/choreographer Billy Wilson) did on Broadway was a show called “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” which was a revue using music from the Harlem Renaissance. So, while [“Renaissance Magic!”] isn't a revue, I did borrow that idea,” Alexis Wilson said in a phone interview. “And, I have two young daughters, [ages] 17 and 20, of my own. It made sense to look at it from that perspective.”

The show is a production of the Lincoln Theatre Association and is part of the official citywide celebration of the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance.

“The Lincoln is one of the major organizations to present work as part of the citywide celebration. We're excited that we were able to create some of our own, original work,” Lincoln Theatre General Manager Suzan Bradford said. “We're telling the story of the Harlem Renaissance and how it spread across the country, including to Columbus.”

The Lincoln was a mainstay for traveling African-American performers of the time, Bradford said, and the musical will reference many of the most-remembered musicians, writers and artists of the time, as well as some of the social organizations that had their start as part of the same societal movement, including the NAACP, the UNIA and the Harlem Globetrotters.

“African-American culture exploded on many levels. It's important to make note of all of those things,” Bradford said.

But, in a Columbus-created production that will play to Columbus audiences, it was important to root the story in the community.

“We did want to make sure the story at the very least begins and ends here in Columbus,” Wilson said, “and to acknowledge the direct connection to Columbus and how it was touched by the Harlem Renaissance.”

The production brings that connection forward, too, as the cast of singers, dancers and actors is drawn largely from the local arts organizations that are housed in the Lincoln Theatre.

“The Lincoln has a reputation for nurturing and developing local artists, for creating opportunities for them. This is another one of those opportunities,” Bradford said.