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It ends with tragedy and a swirl of hope, but oh, what a gorgeous ride.

"Blues for an Alabama Sky" opened Friday at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and director Nicole A. Watson's brilliant production is one to savor. Playwright Pearl Cleage has crafted a drawing room drama suffused with beautiful language and Chekhovian tension. With her creative team and excellent cast, Watson meets that poetry with exquisite craft and soul-feeding lyricism.

Every scene of this Guthrie production is styled as if ready to be photographed for a magazine by James Van Der Zee or painted on a large canvas by Aaron Douglas, with jazzy and bluesy accents helping to transport us into the respective realms. Framed by Sherrice Mojgani's subtle lighting, Lawrence E. Moten III's permeable and airy set also alludes to Douglas while designer Sarita Fellows' textured and telling costumes give outward expression to the hopes and dreams of characters reckoning with hardship in Harlem just as the Renaissance is unwinding in 1930.

They are not in denial, though their nickels are few. They carry on because they hear their own music, driven by things they may not even be able to name. As Angel says to her best friend Guy at the end of a scene, "We are beautiful, aren't we?" The question is not really about looks or spirit but a call for reassurance and resilience.

A singer in the once-thriving Harlem nightclub scene, Angel (Kimberly Marable) has been fired from her job and was dumped by her man (who's married). She moves into an apartment with Guy (Lamar Jefferson), a fashion designer who makes dresses on spec for Josephine Baker and dreams of joining her in Paris. Across the hall lives frumpy social worker Delia (Brittany Bellizeare), who wants to build a family planning clinic in Harlem.

With doctor Sam Thomas (smooth and dignified Stephen Conrad Moore), the characters function as a kind of found family that cares for one another. Their rhythm is set on a new trajectory by Leland Cunningham (Darius Jordan Lee), a well-mannered country man new from Alabama.

Broadway star Marable, best known for roles in "Hadestown," "The Book of Mormon" and "The Lion King," brings glamour to the Guthrie stage but also feral hunger. Angel is so desperate for success that she attaches herself serially to other people's dreams. In fact, she's like a medium or an antenna, keen to pick up whatever signals are necessary. One of the most revealing moments happens around a dress that Angel wishes to borrow from Delia. Marable executes the moment with poise, as she does throughout a steady, excellent performance.

Guthrie fans may remember Bellizeare from her turn as Pecola Breedlove in "The Bluest Eye" in 2017. In "Blues," her steady, unglamorous Delia undergoes a slow transformation and Bellizeare never gets ahead of her character. That deliberate speed, slow as molasses, helps sweeten her performance.

The real surprise, and thrill, is Jefferson. True, he stumbled over a couple of lines on opening night but he otherwise delivered with the flair and assurance of someone who knows that he's having a gourmet course.

OK, there's one curious nit. Guy is meticulous in everything he wears and does — he's a designer of fashionable dresses and his speech, dress and every other thing is his calling card. So why does his hair look like something too long slept on? Did his barber secretly dislike him?

"Blues" has threads of intellectual and social thought. The name of birth control advocate and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger is evoked, as are Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. But what makes the play so transporting, even as it resonates, is Watson's direction. She choreographs the action so that it moves inexorably to a beautiful, chest-patting heartbreak.

'Blues for an Alabama Sky'
Who: By Pearl Cleage. Directed by Nicole Watson.
When: 10:30 a.m. Tue., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun. Ends March 12.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Tickets: $31-$80. 612-377-2224 or