BLUES IN THE NIGHTConceived by Sheldon Epps
Director - Michael Serrecchia
Musical Director - Michael Childs
Stage Manager - Velocity Brown
Asst. Stage Manager - Harper Hadley
Costume/Set Designer - Amy Poe
Technical Director - Brian Scheffer Smith
Lighting Designer - Nikki Deshea Smith
Sound Designer - Jason Briggs
Sound Tech - Darrell Williams
Girl with a Date - Chelsea Bridgman
Man in the Saloon - Jamall Houston
Lady from the Road - Natalie King
Woman of the World - Cherish Robinson
Pianist - Emanuel Smith
Bass Guitar - Billy Naylor
Drums - Josh Willis
Reviewed Performance: 8/4/2018
Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Set in late-1930s Chicago, three women and one man take the show’s title very literally by singing the blues all night long. Whether singing about love, family, distant memories, or heartbreak, these four characters find their lives and songs intertwining with each other in a run-down hotel, between dusk and dawn – “the blues hours.” And even though the characters are unnamed and labeled only by their most transparent attributes, the characters themselves are anything but. Each of the actors were able to create layers and depth in their characters through only sparse dialogue and minimal lyrical insight.
The Lady from the Road, as portrayed by Natalie King, acted as our guide through the show. By the fourth song, “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues,” King had guaranteed her spot as audience favorite, singing her song while astoundingly hopping into a dress with perfect comedic timing. King could be relied upon to periodically lighten the mood of the show with songs involving over-the-top costumes and thinly masked innuendo, which had audience members blushing and laughing with glee. And just when you thought her talents couldn’t stretch any further, King’s sobering closing solo revealed there might be something far more complex hiding behind all her character’s jokes and feathered hats.
Cherish Robinson portrayed the Woman of the World, rocketed from a life of luxury to a cheap Chicago hotel. Robinson’s flawless, crystal-clear voice had me in raptures from the moment she opened her mouth! I couldn’t help but gasp every time she began singing; truly, I’m not even sure if I remembered to breathe until she stopped singing. From soulful longing for days gone by, to enthusiastic yearning for a “rough and ready man,” Robinson’s performances were exquisite. And her most impressive character growth was succinctly seen when she trashes her habitually organized bedroom in her final song, exposing her transformation away from the uptight and captious lifestyle in which she was so detrimentally stuck.
Sweet and beautiful, the Girl with a Date (as played by Chelsea Bridgman) seemed to have the least amount of character backstory available to pull from. But while she played the young and bright-eyed girl very well, there was a sadness in her eyes and tone that gave her an equal standing beside her two female counterparts. Bridgman’s riffs and vocal quality were best highlighted in her song, “Willow Weep For Me.” And while her character’s storyline seemed primarily situated around a date with a man, Bridgman made sure the audience knew that there was so much more to her story than that.
Jamall Houston, the solitary male actor on stage, played Man in the Saloon. It was exceedingly refreshing for the man in a musical to be the obsolete character, only there to help propel the plots of his female counterparts. Houston’s voice was dazzling, and he complemented the women’s voices beautifully. While he may not have exuded the sexual tension one might expect from the character, he was still able to take on a effectual swagger that made his performance compelling.
For a show that is more a musical revue than anything else, it is important that your cast’s vocal talents are enough to keep the audience engaged. Michael Childs’ musical direction brilliantly handled such a hefty task. The vocals were flawless, the harmonies were tight, and the sound perfectly matched the 1930s style. Additionally, the band mixed seamlessly with the vocalists, creating the perfect atmosphere for an audience to be immersed in the blues.
Director Michael Serrecchia masterfully staged what could have been 24 disjointed songs into meaningful vignettes of both profound and comedic character building moments. Besides a few choppy moments between songs, each song built on the other and made sense with what was being visually portrayed. Such smooth transitions were an impressive feat successfully managed by Serracchia, since there existed no more than two paragraphs of dialogue throughout the entire show. And instead of sitting through a two-hour blues concert, the audience was treated to a complex narrative of four characters, told through the blues.
Amy Poe took on the unenviable role of both costume and scenic designer. In such an up-close and intimate theatre, there is no room for error. Additionally, in a show with barely any dialogue, it is up to the designers to instruct the audience on each character’s story. But Poe made such a daunting task look easy! The stage was split into multiple sectors, which were constructed, designed, and dressed perfectly. Each sector was home base for one character, and gave the audience a bit of insight into who they were. For example, the Lady’s room was full of her old traveling trunks and mementos, the Woman’s room was strategically organized with elegant perfumes and toiletries, and the Girl’s room was bare and claustrophobic (analogous to the life she was struggling to begin). Additionally, the cat walk, distressed brick wall, and dilapidated neon sign – taking up most of the upper tier of the stage – were a stunning visual for audiences to see upon entering the theatre. The costumes were period appropriate and beautiful. And it was obvious that the styles, colors, fabrics, and accessories were carefully chosen specifically for each character, while still maintaining a consistent overall color scheme.
Similarly, Nikki Deshea Smith successfully informed the audience’s moods for each song through her lighting designs. Smith lit each song and thematic moment with clear intent, and the dusky, warmly lit scenes created the perfect ambience. The most visually pleasing moments occurred when the three screens in each woman’s bedroom were backlit, creating some beautiful silhouetted moments.
If you’re looking for a plot and dialogue-heavy musical to get invested in, this might not be the show for you. However, if you want to step into the 1930s to hear some beautiful blues music sung by soulful performers, look no further. Support local theatre and witness for yourself the musical talents and stirring performances in Jubilee Theatre’s Blues in the Night.
506 Main Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Plays through August 26th.
Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 pm
Tickets range from $30 on Thursdays and Saturday/Sunday matinees, and $34 on Friday and Saturday evenings.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.jubileetheatre.org or call their box office at 817.338.4411.