"J" Harlem Renaissance Musical

                                                               Six dreamers, six dreams 
                                                                    One night in Harlem 
                                                                     A Night at Gatsby’s

The musical version of A Night at Gatsby’s will be an invitation for audience members to attend one of Harlem bootlegger J Gatsby’s fabulous Jazz Age parties and learn his and others’ stories from the characters’ conversations, singing and dancing over five scenes. The musical follows the play’s chronology from the initial rumors and lies about J Gatsby, through his reunion with A'Lelia and confrontation with her husband Wiley, and ends with Gatsby’s lonely farewell. All action unfolds over one night from early evening to the following dawn.

The musical dramatizes J Gatsby and his American Dream of becoming rich to “repeat the past” and win back his former lover A'Lelia Walker. In many respects, J’s dream is the conventional WASP American Dream immortalized by Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel. J’s dream in the musical follows the basic storyline and dialogue of the play A Night at Gatsby’s.

But there were other American Dreams—and Dreamers—in New York City’s growing Black Harlem community of the 1920s. In addition to the fictional J Gatsby, the musical presents through dialogue, song  and dance the stories and dreams of five historical Harlem residents-- A'Lelia Walker, Dr. Wiley Wilson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Alberta Hunter, and Paul Robeson.

All five of the historical characters in the musical lived in 1922 Harlem and their lives often intersected. A'Lelia Walker’s live-music parties helped launch the singing careers of Alberta Hunter and Paul Robeson. Robeson’s many talents were recognized by editor W. E. B. Du Bois in the NAACP’s magazine. Du Bois was a regular at A’Lelia’s salon of Harlem writers, artists and intellectuals.

The Dreamers

Fictional Characters in
the Play

Jay Gatsby
Nick Carraway
Daisy Buchanan
Tom Buchanan
Jordan Baker
Ewing Klipspringer

Historical Characters in
the Musical

J Gatsby (Fictional)
W.E.B. Du Bois
A'Lelia Walker
Dr. Wiley Wilson
Alberta Hunter
Paul Robeson

J Gatsby was born in 1890 to sharecroppers and as a youth joined the Great Migration to New York to escape the poverty and terror of the Jim Crow South. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, J joined the all-Black 369th Infantry Regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters. In the months before his regiment shipped out to France, J attended A'Lelia Walker’s Harlem townhouse parties where he met and fell in love with A’Lelia. J’s army uniform disguised his poverty from A’Lelia, but while he was fighting in Europe she resumed entertaining wealthy suitors and married Dr. Wiley Wilson in 1919. Returning to New York, J worked for mobster Meyer Wolfsheim and became a wealthy uptown Prohibition-era bootlegger. Knowing the popularity of A’Lelia’s parties, J bought a townhouse on Harlem’s commercial 125th Street to be close to A’Lelia’s Sugar Hill townhouse and launched his own lavish parties in hopes of attracting A’Lelia and resuming their pre-war romance.

J Gatsby’s Dream: To use his newfound but ill-gotten wealth to “repeat the past” and win back his former lover A'Lelia Walker.

A’Lelia Walker was born in 1885 to Madam C. J. Walker, founder of a Black cosmetics and hair care company and considered the first self-made American female millionaire. A'Lelia became president of the company in 1919 upon her mother's death and remained in that position until her own death in 1931. During the 1920s she hosted dinner parties, dances and soirees in her large 136th Street townhouse that featured live music—from classical and ragtime to jazz and blues —and welcomed prominent Harlemites at a time when there were few other social options available. Poet Langston Hughes called her the “joy goddess of Harlem’s 1920s” and her parties were places where anyone could openly express their sensibilities.

A'Lelia Walker’s Dream:
To have her townhouse and her parties be a safe, welcoming environment for Harlem Renaissance musicians, actors, writers, artists, political figures, and socialites.  

Dr. Wiley Wilson was born in 1882 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and received his MD degree from Howard University in 1918. He was one of two handsome medical doctor suitors of A’Lelia. A’Lelia’s mother died in 1919 believing A’Lelia was going to marry Dr. James Kennedy (whom she did marry in 1926), but after her mother's funeral, she changed her mind and married Wiley. Wiley became jealous of A’Lelia’s wealth and focus on running the Walker cosmetics empire and saw both as impediments to his growing Harlem medical practice. Wiley was one of the first Black physicians to establish a surgical practice in Harlem for Black residents.

Wiley Wilson’s Dream:
To provide Black patients and medical professionals with a hospital equal to the white institutions that excluded Blacks, a dream he fulfilled with A’Lelia’s 1925 divorce settlement that funded the Wiley Wilson Sanitarium in Harlem. 

W. E. B. Du Bois was born in 1868 in integrated Great Barrington, Massachusetts and became a Harvard-trained Ph.D. sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. He was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  (NAACP) which sought equal rights for Blacks. Du Bois opposed Booker T. Washington's policy that Blacks should work and submit to white political rule in return for basic educational and economic opportunities. He frequently promoted African American artistic creativity in his writings, but his enthusiasm for the Harlem Renaissance waned as he came to believe that many whites visited Harlem for voyeurism, not for genuine appreciation of Black art.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dream:
To achieve full civil rights and racial uplift for Black Americans by supporting the Black intellectual and artistic elite he called the  Talented Tenth.

Paul Robeson was born in 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, to a Presbyterian minister father and a Quaker mother. He won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he was an All-American football star and class valedictorian, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1919. While a student at Columbia University Law School, he sang and acted in many Harlem and Off-Broadway productions. After receiving his law degree in 1923, he worked briefly as a lawyer but left the law due to widespread racism.

Paul Robeson’s Dream:
To become a world-famous concert artist and stage and film actor known both for his cultural accomplishments and for his later political activism.

Alberta Hunter was born in 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee to a single mother who worked as a maid in a brothel. Alberta was a jazz and blues singer and songwriter from the early 1920s to her death at age 89. She was a lesbian who often attended and sang the blues at A'Lelia Walker’s parties, but she kept her sexuality private. She co-wrote "Downhearted Blues" in 1922 and recorded the track for Black producer Ink Williams at Paramount Records.  Williams had secretly sold the recording rights to Columbia Records in a deal in which all her royalties were paid to him. The song became a big hit for Columbia—but with Bessie Smith as the vocalist—and sold almost one million copies.

Alberta’s Dream: To create a successful career singing the Blues in the best clubs and theatres.


250 East 87 Street
New York, NY 10128

About us

A Night at Gatsby’s is a reimagination of The Great Gatsby that preserves the novel’s voice while breaking the fourth wall and immersing viewers in one of Jay Gatsby’s unforgettable parties to relive his story from the initial rumors and lies about Gatsby, through his reunion with Daisy and confrontation with Tom, and ending with his lonely farewell.


Photo of OHEKA CASTLE by Elliott Kaufman Photography