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Blues in the Night

a Musical
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Sheldon Epps

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3718

SHOWING : May 01, 2010 - May 23, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Scorching compilation of full-out blues songs interweaves stories of life and love through the unrivalled tunes and lyrics of Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more. Recommended for ages 16 and up, for adult themes and language.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director/ Choreographer Patdro Harris
Musical Director/ Piano Jmichael
Set Designer Rochelle Barker
Sound Designer Chris Bartelski
Lighting Designer Calvin Johnson
Stage Manager Wendy Palmer
Costume Designer Joanna Schmink
Wig Designer J. Montgomery Schuth
Guitar Freddie Beyah
Piano Jmichael
Bass Nashid Abdul Khaaliq
Drums John Khaleefa
Saxophone Sultan Muhammad
The Lady from the Road Roblyn Allicia
The Girl with a Date Kislyck "Kissy" Halsey
The Woman of the World Habiba "Angel" Harrel
The Man in the Saloon David Howard
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REVIEWS

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The I'm-Feelin'-Too-Good-To-Be-Singin'-The-Blues Blues
by Dedalus
Thursday, May 27, 2010
4.0
Welcome to the world of the Blues, the musical sphere of making yourself feel better by singing about how rotten the world or the Man or your man or your woman or your life can be. Born in the African American ethos of the late 19th-century South, the Blues has become the 12-step 12-bar program for beating that old addiction to woe, achieving its success on the Schadenfreude of audiences who are so sorry you’re feelin’ so bad but are so glad your music is makin’ ‘em feel so good.

“Blues in the Night” is essentially a revue, conceived by Sheldon Epps (who gave us that marvelous Duke Ellington / William Shakespeare mash-up “Play On” way back when). Three unnamed women occupy three separate rooms above a shabby bar in (what I’ve read is) 1938 Chicago. A weasel of a man trolls the bar below, and all four bust out singing in a dialog-free evening of song and (occasional) dance. One woman tells us a little about the others, but any through-story is suggested rather than stated.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This show is a compendium of twenty-five songs, some well-known, others not-so-much, performed with a from-the-gut passion that reminds us why the Blues go on, why this music resonates even today. After all, which of us has not gone through a heartbreak, a betrayal, a humiliation, or even just a bad slide down the razor-blade of life? Which of us does not find just a little pleasure in hearing the pain-soaked melody of a heartbroken singer separated from us by time, by distance, and, in many cases, by gender and race?

And these singers are all top-notch. Habiba “Angel” Harrell is the “earth mother,” the larger than life woman of experience who is our guide to the other ladies. Roblyn Allicia is the woman of mystery and Kislyck “Kissy” Halsey is the optimistic girl who waits. David Howard is the man in the bar, cocky and arrogant, just your average “lucky so-and-so.” Occasionally they join together in a group number, but, essentially, these are four individuals, isolated, alone, damaged (or damaging), licking their emotional wounds.

Which is not to say that everything here is a downbeat wallow in self-pity. Waves of triumph, digressions of sisterhood, and mash-ups of contradictions highlight the solos. Act One ends with the marvelously triumphant “Take it Right Back” and the show itself goes out on the forcefully upbeat “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” Even the wallows themselves often give us elegant juxtapositions that take the number(s) in directions none of the original composers dreamed of, such as when Mr. Howard offers a blithely cynical “When a Woman Loves a Man” as the women croon “Am I Blue?’ in counterpoint.

Rochelle Barker has given us a nicely evocative set, with the women’s individual rooms wall-lessly hinting at a connection that can never occur, with impressionistic venetian blinds suggesting a city skyline, and with blue curves and soft inclines masking the hard-edged reality of the low-rent rooming house. It is a perfect platform for a revue that highlights emotional disconnects and ill-expressed impressions over heavy plot and contrived conflict.

Jmichael provides the musical direction and leads the pit band from his tireless keyboard, and, if there is a quibble, it is that Chris Bartelski’s sound design occasionally lets the instrumentalists overwhelm the vocalists. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed these songs and these musicians, and, the lack of any memorable story-line in no way lessens that enjoyment.

And, as a final note, I could only leave the theatre marveling at the remarkable alchemy that results when hearing the blues make you feel so durned good!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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