How Blair Underwood Found New Colors in ‘Paradise Blue’

Gordon Cox
·3-min read

In the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s new audio version of “Paradise Blue,” Blair Underwood gets the chance to revisit to a role he’s been wanting to get back to since he first played it in 2015.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

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“I’ve been trying to return to that character since I left it!” the actor said on “Stagecraft,” Variety’s theater podcast. He’d first played Blue, the leader of a jazz quartet in 1940s Detroit, in the world premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s play at Williamstown in 2015, and the opportunity to revisit the show as an audio production (due to be released on Audible on March 25) allowed him to discover new depths in the character.

Currently nominated for a Tony for his performance in “A Soldier’s Play,” Underwood recalled recording the play in the quietest spot in his house — his wife’s closet — in the fall of 2020. “I found myself turning the lights off in my wife’s closet and just focusing on what I’m hearing,” he said of the production process. “Because we were in the fall of 2020, and we were in the midst of such loss of livelihood and uncertainty; I really wanted to tap into that because I was feeling it, too, and that’s very much what Blue was feeling, on steroids. I just tapped into that vein and opened that vein up and found deeper and different colors and shades than I was able to tap into before.”

The actor appeared on “Stagecraft” with WTF’s artistic director, Mandy Greenfield, who last year made an innovative pact with Audible to produce the festival’s 2020 season as audio plays after it became clear the pandemic would make in-person performances impossible. In addition to the world premiere work that’s also part of WTF’s 2020 season, the idea of revisiting one of Williamstown’s earlier productions appealed to her, in part because the festival’s summer performance schedule usually means a play’s run is ending just as all the elements start to click.

The jazz-infused story of “Paradise Blue” also played a part in Greenfield’s decision. “When we had the opportunity to think about what else could go into this Audible season, the degree to which music is also a real piece of the storytelling here felt like such an obvious candidate for an audio format,” she said. “You don’t have a set, you don’t have costumes, you don’t have the other dimensions of live theater, so sound and music really deliver us so much of the experience.”

To hear to the full conversation, listen at the link above, or download and subscribe to Stagecraft on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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