This August Wilson play flows like a song.
"The seven characters in the play are the guitars, which is where the play gets its title, 'Seven Guitars,'" says Tony King, who plays Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton in UpStage Theatre's production. "Each voice is an instrument, and each has his or her own story to tell, which comes together like a song to tell this complete story."
On Friday, UpStage will open "Seven Guitars," the inaugural performance in the company's new Main Stage space at Cortana Mall's Entrance One.
Wilson's lyrical play opens in a Pittsburgh boardinghouse in 1948, where blues singer Floyd has been asked to sign a record deal after his previously recorded song has become a hit.
The only problem is Floyd was in jail in Chicago when the song buzzed up the charts. Now, he's contemplating a return to the Windy City, but neither his band nor his girlfriend are having any part of it.
"They believe it'll be more trouble, and they don't want to go," King says. "But Floyd sees music as a means to what he wants in life. He wants money and things, and music is his way of getting those things."
"Seven Guitars," which premiered in 1996, is a recurring theme for August — the black man's battle for his own humanity in the midst of societal ills.
"It really is different from August Wilson's other plays in how it's written," says Ava Brewster Turner, artistic founding director. "The words are like a song."
This marks the fourth play in Wilson's 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle that the company has staged.
"We plan to do all 10," Turner says. "And one of the great things about this play is that is that we're opening our new space with it."
Though the play calls for seven characters, Turner cast eight, with both Challa Sabree and Anthony Moses tackling the role of drummer Red Carter.
"They are both such good actors. … They each bring their own characteristic flavor to Red," Turner says.
"But," Sabree adds, "we both stay true to the character that August Wilson created."
Both actors describe Red as a womanizer who thinks women are attracted to his good looks.
"But in reality, they're attracted to him because he has a good job," Moses says.
And at the center of it all is Louise, played by Kadijah Simmons, who runs the boardinghouse where everyone gathers.
"She has a connection to everyone," Simmons says. "She ties everything together."
That includes her niece, Ruby, played by Carissa Cropper, who moved to Pittsburgh from the South in hopes of building a better life.
"She just wants to be needed," Cropper says.
And she finds purpose in helping the elderly Hedley, played by Gardner Clark, who also has come to Pittsburgh in search of something better. But his story is different.
"He's come to America from the islands," Clark says. "He's escaped oppression there only to find oppression in the United States. And he's dealing with that."
Then there's Floyd's girlfriend, Vera, played by Talisha Diaz, who has opted for independence. Floyd tries talking her into moving with him to Chicago, but she doesn't want to leave the life she's made for herself while he was in jail.
Her garden is in Pittsburgh, as are her friends.
"Louise worries about Vera, but she wants everyone to know that she's fine living on her own," Diaz says.
Everyone knows that where Floyd goes, trouble usually follows. And Floyd runs into even more trouble as he tries to right past wrongs.
There's also plenty of humor to be had along the way, but in the end, Wilson sings the blues in "Seven Guitars," using seven voices as his chorus.
UpStage Theatre's inaugural production in its new theater space
WHEN: 7 p.m. Oct. 13-14; 3 p.m. Oct. 15
WHERE: UpStage Theatre's new Main Stage, Entrance 1, Cortana Mall, 9401 Cortana Place
TICKETS/INFO: $21. Call (225) 924-3774 or visit upstagetheatre.biz