Tuesday, July 5, 2022

‘Blues In The Night’ Rocks Jazz and the Blues At The Ebony Repertory Theatre

*It may not look like it on the surface, but there is a lot going on in a squalid Chicago Hotel, circa 1948, where three women, living separate lives, come together in harmony to share their emotional experiences of heartbreak, loneliness, relationships, self-assurance, but most of all, a general cynicism towards men.

Through 26 jazz and blues songs by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Alberta Hunter, Harold Arlen, Jimmy Cox, Ida Cox, and more, the women pour their hearts out, sharing stories that celebrate the joys and pains of their lives which includes everything from misery, to love, love lost, hurt, despair, humor, and, ultimately, their will to survive.

This is Blues In The Night, a musical conceived by Sheldon Epps and directed by Ebony Repertory Theatre Founder and Producing Artistic Director Wren T. Brown, currently playing at the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles through December 5.

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Vivian Reed – photo by Craig Schwartz

The show stars three powerhouse female vocalists, Vivian Reed (The Lady), Karole Foreman (The Woman), and Jenna Byrd (The Girl), and features Parris D. Mann (Man) as the lone “Man” tasked with explaining a man’s point of view (perspective).

The show is backed by an impressive band playing upstage, which presents like another melodious character in the show.

Karole Foreman – photo by Craig Schwartz

One by one, and sometimes as an explosive trio, the women take center stage to bare their souls with heartbreaking and sometimes lustful and even comical musical tales of their relationships with that “no good man.”

Epps’ conception and Brown’s entertaining staging make for a solid melodrama devoid of the proverbial bells and whistles – yielding, instead, to the strengths behind the acting and vocal talent assembled.

Jenna Byrd – photo by Craig Schwartz

Each song is a showstopper with either amusing influences or affecting confessions.

You can’t go wrong with a show that includes veterans like Tony Award-nominee Reed and Ovation Award-winner Foreman, whose mere presence onstage summons the impulse to give them a round of applause for their individual bodies of work.  Don’t count out Jenna Byrd (Recorded in Hollywood), who has great vocal chops and impressive stage credits.

Reed’s voice is powerful and booming, Freeman’s contributions are melodic and skillful, and Byrd’s voice is warm and melodious – combining for a fun and satisfying theatrical experience. Separately, their voices are strong, clear, and engaging – but as a trio, the result is rich and flavorful.

Parris D. Mann – photo by Craig Schwartz

Mann effectively interjects “The Man’s” two-cents popping in and out of the show to respond to something one of the women has expressed. He kills in a solo tap dance break.

Brown’s interpretation and actualization fill the stage. The show flows effortlessly from an empathetic vignette to one that has the audience joyously clapping, all while maintaining the show’s energy.

Wren T. Brown

Blues In The Night, conceived by Sheldon Epps, had its world premiere Off-Broadway in 1980 at Playhouse 46 and was originally staged by Epps and Gregory Hines. In 1982, the production had its Broadway run at the Rialto Theatre and was directed by Epps and starred Leslie Uggams.

The production received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical. In 1987, Blues In The Night opened on the West End at the Donmar, where it received two Olivier Award nominations for Best New Musical and Best Actress in a musical.

Blues In The Night is choreographed by Keith Young (ERT’s Five Guys Named Moe and The Gospel at Colonus), music directed by William Foster McDaniel (Bubbling Brown Sugar, Timbuktu! And Ain’t Misbehavin).

Prior to the ERT production, the Tony and Olivier award-winning show had a successful run at Long Beach’s International City Theatre, in association with L.A.’s Ebony Repertory Theatre.

On the DONLOE SCALE: (D) don’t bother, (O) oh, no, (N) needs work, (L) likable, (O) oh, yeah, and (E) excellent, Blues In The Night gets an (O) oh, yeah!

Blues In The Night plays through December 5, 2021, Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles;  Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday 3 p.m.; $40- $50; ebonyrep.org or 323-964-9766. Groups of 15 or more are available via email at groups@ebonyrep.org or 323-964-9766.

 

Darlene Donloe

Darlene Donloe is a seasoned entertainment and travel journalist whose work has appeared in People, Ebony, Essence, LA Stage Times, The Wave newspapers, LA Watts Times, Black Meetings and Tourism, This Stage, Los Angeles Sentinel, EMMY, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Grammy, BlackVoices.com and more. Contact her via ddonloe@gmail.com

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