Director Stephawn Stephens has deep family roots at the Dew Drop Inn, having started as a performer in A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn. When asked how he pulled off the latest edition he said he simply “Called all my friends.”
And his friends delivered big time. A well-balanced ensemble of three powerful Divas matching a trio of Bad Dudes. The ensemble got right down to business after opening the bar at the juke joint and made it known that they intended to have a good rockin’ time. Mistress of ceremonies ‘Gayzelle,’ played by Jacquelyn Hawkins, was joined by Yvette Spears as the exotic New Orleans Creole ‘Pearl Bon Temp’ and Sherice Payne as ‘Sunshine Shug’ set the racy tone for a high spirited evening of black bottom blues.
But the party couldn’t get started without ‘Buster’ the bouncer played by Robert Person, Li’l Johnny the bartender with the bowler hat played by Marcel Miller, and tall drink of water and long-legged dancer Donny LonGood played by veteran Rodni Williams.
Rounding out the crew is DeAndre Shaifer the ‘Piano Man’ who unanimously sets the tempo with his back to the audience as he tickles the keys. You can almost smell the chicken wings frying and the moonshine whiskey spilled on the bar.
The Divas take full advantage of the intimate bar table setup as they pull on the heartstrings of the front row customers and share the spotlight with Gaynelle in the confessional tune “Giving Up,” belting out a blues number that has the church ladies saying Amen!
A Nite at the DewDrop Inn covers over 20 classic blues and juke joint classics, including a tribute to Dinah Washington and, to my surprise, a Nancy Wilson classic, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” performed by Shug as Li’l Johnny sheepishly sits sipping his martini.
Musical director William Knowles – composer, arranger, pianist, and five-time Helen Hayes nominee and two-time winner – is the mind behind the show’s ambitious song list.
His genius is weaving together songs made famous by Big Mama Thorton, Fats Waller, Etta James, and Dinah Washington, and pacing the show with balanced segments of high-spirited juke joint numbers like “Chicken Shack Boogie” and “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” with heart rendering blues numbers like Gayzelle’s “I Hear Some Blues Downstairs.”
The three Divas evoke an image of Lady Day as each wears an orchid that matches their emerald, deep blue and burgundy red outfits. They light up smokeless cigarettes at the bar as Li’l Johnny pours another drink. And before the “Good Rockin Tonight” finale, the Divas take the audience to church with a Gospel circle around the cabaret table service customers as they sing, “That Lucky Ol’ Sun.”
A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn is a second-generation musical that will take you on a spirited journey through centuries of the best of blues and juke joint jive.
A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn plays through September 21, 2019, at the Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 290-2328 or go online.