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Lackawanna Blues

Ruben Santiago-Hudson dazzles while portraying over 20 earthy characters in his enthralling autobiographical self-written solo play with live music.

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Ruben Santiago-Hudson in a scene from his “Lackawanna Blues” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Photo credit: Marc J. Franklin)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]

Offering exquisite portraits of over 20 earthy characters, Ruben Santiago-Hudson dazzles in his lustrously self-written solo play, Lackawanna Blues. Set in the titular upstate New York town with a gallery of spirited Black denizens, Mr. Santiago-Hudson through his finely composed serio-comic vignettes creates an enthralling theatrical event.

We get to know a bitter W.W. II veteran who stacked and buried slain servicemen, a malaprop-spouting 79-year-old former Negro League baseball player, a one-legged man with a tongue like a lizard, and in harrowing detail we learn how a man lost his arm. A menagerie of damaged animals is around as well. Everyone’s benefactor is the matriarchal middle-aged Ms. Rachel Crosby, known as “Nanny.” After quitting a contentious stint as a housekeeper for a white family, Ms. Crosby through hard work and guile becomes a leading citizen. Among her numerous concerns is the rooming house which Santiago-Hudson grew up in during the 1950’s and 1960’s. That’s where he observed her and these other memorable individuals.

Employing his majestic vocal and physical talents, Santiago-Hudson supremely differentiates each of his brief characterizations with specificity and pathos. There’s also a poignant dynamic as he plays himself as a child and now at his current age. Santiago-Hudson’s staging is equally as assured as visually and aurally the production is impeccable. Blues guitarist Junior Mack is onstage dramatically matching the spoken words with his skillful performing of Bill Sims Jr.’s intense original music.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson with guitarist Junior Mack in a scene from his “Lackawanna Blues” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Photo credit: Marc J. Franklin)

Scenic designer Michael Carnahan’s smart spare vintage theater setting is bathed in Jen Schriever’s blue-hued lighting design, all entrancingly conveying the sense of the past. That’s magnified by sound designer Darron L. West’s eerie contributions. The costume design by Karen Perry is of fine period casual wear.

Lackawanna Blues debuted to acclaim 20 years ago at The Public Theater with Ruben Santiago-Hudson receiving a special citation Obie Award. This rousing belated Broadway premiere affirms his stature as a leading theater artist.

Lackawanna Blues (through November 7, 2021)

Manhattan Theatre Club

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission


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