When the production now known as U-Street was initially conceived, Blues Alley was the original name that came to mind, reflecting the sobering foretelling of the lives of the 5 homeless characters in the production. Not to be confused with the Blues Alley Jazz club in Washington, DC the name was revised to Alley Way, again giving emphasis to life on the streets and alleys. After a month into its use it didn’t seem to fully reflect the subject matter being discussed (nor was it particularly catchy) so the name was ultimately changed to U-Street.
There are multiple ways in which U-Street describes the show. First off is the use of an upside down U-turn sign to represent the “U” in U-Street. That graphic choice was made to symbolize the possibility for everyone who is experiencing a downturn in their life to change course and move upward. The “U” also represents the reality that anyone can find themself living on the street after a series of unfortunate events, and once we can acknowledge that those on the streets could very well be us, we should treat people with a little more compassion.
U-Street also simply represents, that specific location in Washington, DC. This is an area that has undergone significant redevelopment over the years and represents growth and progress in America, but at the same time social issues such as homelessness continue to go unaddressed. Many times progress pits different groups of people against each other and that dynamic is played out consistently in the production. People would like to turn their heads away and pretend the problem doesn’t exist on U-Street but this is essentially the same approach that is taken across the country. We have to face a problem to fix a problem.
It is ironic and also deliberate that in the shadows of the Capitol, America’s greatness must be measure by how it treats the least fortunate among its population. The production is peppered with highly debatable and political conversations around a variety of subject matters including race, religion, immigration, the justice system, and inequality. These are conversations that happen daily on the streets of Washington, DC and it is only fitting to have the production set in that environment.
U-Street hopes one day to be added to the short list of Broadway musicals that are named after locations: Jamaica, Memphis, Oklahoma, 42nd Street, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Westside Story, and In the Heights. More importantly, the hope is to make the issue of homelessness synonymous with U-Street and thereby bringing it more into the fray of public discussion.