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Interview: Evelyn Collins, Fredi Walker-Browne of RAISIN at Axelrod PAC

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over-

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?[

The raisin referred to in Langston Hughes' provocative, noise-shattering poem "Harlem" wound up being the very name of the 1973 Broadway musical with music by Judd Woldin, lyrics by Robert Brittan, and a book by Charlotte Zaltzberg and Robert Nemiroff, who adapted wife's Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun, which debuted on Broadway in 1959. Eras later, both the revered piece of literature and play continue to be of historical relevance today, especially during Black History Month as it relates to the financial hardships related to opportunities and racial disparities at a time in history where people aspired to the American Dream. In 2009, Woldin attended local director and educator Evelyn Collins' 2009 production of her revival of Raisin, he which he told her the songs were sung perfectly in a thank-you letter in wrote to her following the production. In it, he also expressed his sorrow in how neglected he felt the then-35-year-old play was, which won two Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Actress in 1974.

Fifty years later, Collins finds herself carrying the torch of that profound legacy as the director of Raisin, being staged at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center beginning tonight and running through March 12. The star-studded cast includes Fredi Walker-Browne as Lena Younger (Mama). Walker-Browne is known for her origination of the role of Joanne Jefferson in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Rent and appeared in HBO's Search Party, in Showtime's Emmy Award-winning series The Big C and in Maggie's Plan with Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore.

Other cast members include Eric R. Williams, who was in Into the Woods at the Public Theatre, and up-and-coming actor Ethan Joseph, who was the understudy of the role of Young Craig in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, who will play the role of Travis Younger.

"Lena is every Black mother ever," said Walker-Browne in a recent phone interview. "She is big mama. She is that woman who held it all together all the time for everyone, who paid the bills somehow. That was her and I've known her all my life. This particular manifestation of her is an icon of American existence."

Raisin takes place in early 1950s Chicago during which an African-American family inhabit a small apartment. Their vision for the American Dream and a house is beset by racial disparity when they navigate financial hardship.

While today's culture encourages inclusivity in all arenas, there is weight to the saying, "the more things change, they more they stay the same"-the death of George Floyd and other Black civilians who lost their lives as a result of police brutality being an issue that continues to fester like a sore. But if there is one thing certain, Raisin will be the one to explode given the tender music in the play, and a testament of serendipity.

"With the current recession, a Broadway revival is doubtful-I still pray for a stroke of luck (Denzel Washington to play Walter in a movie!)- I would be happy to see you direct further productions of Raisin, but let's not hold our breath," wrote Woldin in a July 7, 2009 letter to Collins.

For Collins, her involvement as director of this production, though 14 years later, is better late than never. Not only is she wearing her directorial hat in this Raisin revival, but hosted Washington who visited the Denzel Washington School of the Arts for which is the principal and founded in 2015. His appearance at the school that November was met with raging adulation from overly excitable students. Collins said the school's name after the star was a "symbol of excellence" and of a spiritual man who took care of his family.

Raisin will run from February 24 to March 12. Tickets start at $32 and are available at or by calling 732-531-9106, ext. 14. The Axelrod Performing Arts Center is located at 100 Grant Ave., Deal, NJ.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Axelrod Performing Arts Center

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