“Blues in the Night” – Black Theatre Troupe

This review aired on KBAQ April 16, 2012


Black Theatre Troupe, Playhouse on the Park
Phoenix, AZ

If you love the soulful and sorrowful sound of the famous blues and torch songs popularized in the ‘20s and ‘30s during the height of this tellingly insightful music, you need to visit the seedy Chicago hotel and bar onstage for the Black Theatre Troupe’s “Blues in the Night.”  A quartet of singers gives their all to recreating the music’s ambience and feeling.

The plaintive blues sound was born in the slave spirituals of the Deep South and the music helped the slaves communicate, survive, and cope with the miserable lives they led.  From that beginning, the blues evolved into a popular musical genre that has great appeal to many.  To deliver these songs effectively and believably, you have to use the original style that captures and conveys the tribulations the music expresses.  Considering that this production’s acting ensemble is all too young to understand and know this unique musical style, they sing and act effectively as they convey the songs with gripping emotion.  It’s a tribute to musical director Brenda Hankins who no doubt spent much time and shared her impeccable sense of this music to nurture these correct performances by her singers.  Director David J. Hemphill doesn’t clutter the show with unnecessary movement or glitter allowing the songs and his cast’s talents to star.

As conceived by Sheldon Epps, the show features 25 songs written by such greats as Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Alberta Hunter, Vernon Duke, and Gordon Jenkins although the program lists only the songs and not the original composers.

The unseen five person band, under Hankins winning leadership, also gets the musical tempos and technique perfectly as they artfully backup the capable singers.  Best of the performing ensemble is Chanel Bragg who has the central role of The Lady and sings the best of the score with voluptuous rapture.  Her sassy delivery style is perfect and her swaggering flipping of her robes and gowns adds the look and feel these songs must have.  Raven Woessner as The Woman also has a nice sultry style and Kendall L. Washington as The Man adds the necessary sexual innuendo to the proceedings.  Only Krystal Pope as The Girl lacks the requisite style to bring off all her musical delivery chores effectively although she sings well enough.

“Blues in the Night” is your show if bluesy torch songs are your thing.  The production continues through April 22.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: B