“Low Down Dirty Blues” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – April 9, 2018


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company’s “Low Down Dirty Blues” is a tiny musical revue with lots of familiar bluesy songs made famous over the years by such soulful singers as Ma Rainey, Mae West, Pearl Bailey, and Sophie Tucker.  The show was compiled by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman.  ATC brought Myler here to stage his piece and hired an outstanding cast of singer/musicians and solo artists who perform these tunes with rampant fervor.

But the revue has no story and links the songs together with little structure so while expertly performed and staged, the revue has a meandering quality that makes it seem longer than its two hour running time.  The show never sparks with a fervent sparkle and pizzazz as it languidly moves from tune to tune.  A few good audience participation gimmicks help make the show fire a bit but these moments aren’t long enough to get the show zinging along.

If laid back blues music is your thing, you couldn’t see a better show than “Low Down Dirty Blues” but the audience seemed most into the piece only during those few times when the show’s star, Big Mama, moves into the audience sitting in tables at the foot of the stage and spars with them.  Too much of the show just sits on the stage in a boozy Chicago bar that features a three person band that including Shake who plays mean guitars but also contributes some engaging singing with Big Mama and Jelly who sings adding rhythmic beats to a few tunes.

Steve Schmidt plays a jiving keyboard as he sets jumpin’ tempos aided by Calvin Jones’ strumming bass.  Shake Anderson plays Shake and uses several pulsating and throbbing guitars to back-up his stylish vocals in many songs.

The show’s star is Felicia P. Fields who struts around as Big Mama singing with sultry and gutsy qualities perfect for her tunes.  She’s raunchy in “My Stove’s In Good Condition” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “Lord I Tried” among her many stellar vocal moments.  Chic Street Man adds upbeat and swaying blues to some dominant sounding numbers like “Come On In My Kitchen,” “Change is Gonna Come,” while he and Fields make “Crawlin’ King Snake” a sensually explosive sequence that is a show highlight.

“Low Down Dirty Blues” is a raunchy, sexually volatile show so it’s not a family-friendly musical.  Everything in “Low Down Dirty Blues” is nicely professional but the show never soars.  It continues through April 22.  For tickets, call the box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: C+