Review: ‘Blues in the Night’ at Creative Cauldron

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Ready for top-notch singing talent that brings the “blues” to vibrant, spicy full life? Then high tail-it to Creative Cauldron (Falls Church) to take-in a cabaret-like revue called Blues in the Night. It’s all about love as a force that will take you under its spell. 

In a smoothly unfolding production under Matt Conner’s confident, spirited direction, Blues in the Night interweaves the stories of three Blues women told through blues and jazz songs from the 1920s to the 1940s. The women are at different stages of their lives. Each has their own unique tale of dealing with an often unfaithful man.

The cast of ‘Blues in the Night.’ Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Powered by the top-notch singing talents of Iyona Blake, the raw, emotional wallop and teasing sensuality of Raquelle Jenningsthe saucy attitude and delivery of a ‘not-yet-totally-given-up on-her-life’ Katie McManus,  and Clifton Walker III, who has a cheeky self-assured presence as the cock-in-the-hen-house, this is a ‘dream cast’ of singers and performers.

Blues in the Night draws full attention to twenty-six compositions made famous by emotionally commanding female blues singers like Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, and Ida Cox. The evening is filled out with potent compositions from the likes of Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Benny Goodman, and others with their own takes on either a lush life or a bruised life without love.

Bobby McCoy is the authoritative music director of a snappy four member band with piano, reeds, bass and drums. In his own right, when McCoy brings his fingers down on the upright piano keys, he hits a mark that can be either velvety or turbulent depending on each song. He is joined by a group of talented musicians: Dana Gardner on reeds, Jim Hoffman on drums and Cyndy Elliott on bass.

The Blues In the Night songlist runs the gamut from torchy sad to scorching anger; from happily, up-tempo blatantly sexy to a low-down slow simmer of dealing with the pain of love lost. Each song sung is brought alive not only with the feelings each singer’s voice provides, but with the choreography by Stephen Gregory Smith.

Smith provides a lot of energy, sassy hip-rolls and thrusts, and hands waving in the air, and emotional and powerful moments when a singer is sitting at a small round cabaret table. Margie Jervis is credited as the scenic designer and Lynn Joslin provides the emotive lighting design.

While there is a song list for the entire show as a note at the end of my review, let me highlight a few.

Blake has such a raw, charged delivery of Bessie Smith’s sharp lyrics that she regularly owned me. She was living each song and each lyric, not just singing them. With an arc of songs with titles such as the happy funny, double-entendre “Take Me for A Buggy Ride” and “Kitchen Man,” to the utter sadness of “Wasted Life Blues,” she was mesmerizing. When she sang these “Buggy Ride” lyrics, I came unglued with raucous delight.

You always ready every time that I call
What I like about you, you never stall
You ain’t no preacher, you a good old soul
You done sent salvation to my very soul

McManus’ stylizations were of a knowing, independent woman who had experience with being hurt by an unreliable man, but not ready to call it quits with all men. She was a joy taking on Benny Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Rough and Ready Man.”

“I want a two-fisted, double-jointed, rough and ready man

Is that clear to you?”

Raquelle Jennings with a sweet, vulnerable voice and attitude, sang songs like “Taking a Chance on Love,” Willow Weep for Me,” on her way to this Bessie Smith lyric of a life led too fast: “Reckless Blues:”

My mama says I’m reckless, my daddy says I’m wild
I ain’t good lookin’ but I’m somebody’s angel child.

Together the three woman sang several songs with harmonies to die for. Two titles near the end of the Blues in the Night, that stood out to me were “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” and “Nobody Knows You When Your’re Down and Out” from Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.

 As for Walker, he was a lover man who gave life to songs like a bee pollinating many flowers. His songs included “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and Bessie Smith’s “Baby Doll” with this delirious lyric:

“I want to be somebody’s baby doll so I can get my lovin’ all the time”

And so you know the Tony-nominated Blues in the Night was conceived and originally directed by Sheldon Epps. Original vocal arrangements and musical direction was by Chapman Roberts. Orchestrations and additional vocal arrangements were by Sy Johnson.

How fortunate to have Creative Cauldron as a “downtown” theater venue bringing such talents to Northern Virginia audiences. The Cauldron is a wonderful amenity for those seeking out high-quality musical theater and cabaret from talented performers and creative artists. It is a welcoming venue.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Blues in the Night plays through March 5, 2017, at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.

Blues in the Night Song List:

Act I:

“Blue Blues”

“Four Walls Blues

“I’ve Got A Date with A Dream

“New Orleans Hop-Scop Blues

“Stompin’ At the ASavoy

“Taking A Chance on Love

“It Makes My Love Come Down

“Lush Life”

“I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So”

“Take Me For a Buggy Ride”

“Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues”

“Lover Man”

“Willow Weep for Me”

“Kitchen Man”

“When Your Lover Has Gone”

“Take It Right Back”

Act II

“Blues in the Night”

“Dirty No-Gooder Blues”

“Whena Women Love A Man/Am I Blue”

“Rough and Ready Man”

“Reckless Blues”

“Wasted Life Blues”

“Baby Doll”

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”

“I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues”

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