Joshua Jerome ’15 is a Centre College admission counselor by day, but by night he is Harlan Jefferson Bridgewater, a character in the world premier production of “Good Blues Tonight,” written and directed by Robby Henson. The play, running nightly at 8:30 p.m. through July 23, is the latest in the Kentucky Voices series staged by the 67-year-old outdoor theatre and Danville landmark, Pioneer Playhouse, where Henson is artistic director.
“This play is a fun and engaging piece of theatre that pays homage to the thriving black business district that existed here in Danville back in the early-to-mid 1900s,” Jerome says. “It’s a moving story about people coming together around a common goal, and the unifying power of music.
Set in 1956, the play is a fictionalized account of the vibrant African-American cultural life in and around Danville’s Second Street. The story weaves a tale using actual names pulled from history (and from the present). After the death of the owner of the building where Harlan runs a barbershop, he is motivated to stop its takeover by the local judge and sheriff due to the importance of the hall to the black community, and because his love for Bug, portrayed by former Miss Kentucky Clark Janell Davis, the late owner’s daughter.
“Harlan is a successful barber in his 30s, and is the cool, calm, and collected protagonist that tries to hold everything together,” Jerome explains. “After learning that the Dorian Hall is to be taken over and the story begins to unfold, it becomes clear that Harlan has personal difficulties to overcome as well, particularly with regard to his strained relationship with Bug. In the end, everyone is able to work together to save the Dorian Hall, and Harlan is able to right the wrongs of his past.
“I would venture to say that it’s a story about redemption,” Jerome continues. “The characters, Dorian Hall and the legacy of Second Street are all afforded the opportunity to come out of the shadows and occupy a special place in our hearts and minds.”
This is the second year that a Centre student has performed in a Kentucky Voices production at Pioneer Playhouse. Heath Haden ’15 played the part of Jake in “Grounded,” a play based on a book by the same name by Kentucky author Angela Correll. Haden also played the part of Bernard in the Playhouse production of “Boeing, Boeing.”
Jerome, who graduated with dual degrees in dramatic arts and politics, took part in several Centre productions during his time as a student, but that didn’t make his audition any less nerve-wracking.
“I was nervous because it was my first audition outside of Centre’s drama program, as well as my first audition for a professional theatre,” Jerome remembers. “After reading for two characters, Robby let me know that he wanted me to portray Harlan. In the back of my mind I knew that it would be difficult to accommodate with my job at Centre, but I was eager make it work.
“It’s great being in this kind of creative environment again,” Jerome says. “As a an actor, I’m always looking for ways to bring more truth to the role and to the work, and as the lead I felt that the stakes were even higher. That said, everyone in the cast continues to bring so much life and joy to the process with each performance.
“I have relished watching how some of the more seasoned cast members take risks and bring their life experiences to the craft,” he continues. “Michael Hampton (Chrysler) and Erika Lee (Emily Toadvine) bring an awareness and comfort to the stage that’s quite inspiring. Joe Deuce (Clint Rum) and DeAndreus Baines (Bunk Rum) are actually that funny in real life, and they make it a point to have us all in a state of constant laughter. As for Clark (Bug), working alongside her has been great because we are always discovering new moments and pushing each other to be better. Everyone in the cast has been a real pleasure to work with, and Robby Henson did an amazing job of getting us together and eliciting our strengths and talents.”
In addition to nightly performances, Pioneer Playhouse is hosting a special exhibit of photos, history and memorabilia honoring the heyday of the African-American community on Second Street and the surrounding area, gathered in large part by local historian Michael Hughes.
“I’m so happy to be performing again; I truly missed it,” Jerome says. “I’m grateful to Robby and Heather Henson, managing director at Pioneer Playhouse, for giving me the opportunity to work on this show, and for Centre’s drama program for preparing me to be successful in the world of professional theatre — shout-out to my dramatic arts professors Tony Haigh, Patrick Kagan-Moore, and Matthew Hallock.”
Above: Jerome (far left) onstage as Harlan Jefferson Bridgewater
by Cindy Long