BLUES IN THE NIGHT is a quintessential Porchlight production that will have audiences feeling the opposite of the blues.
Porchlight Music Theatre has staged a number of similar revues over the years, and I look back on those most fondly for the tremendous talent they have showcased. That could not be more true of director Kenny Ingram’s production of Sheldon Epps’s BLUES IN THE NIGHT.
While I was not familiar with many of the numbers in the revue, Epps’s show features the work of notable blues singers — including the iconic Bessie Smith. BLUES IN THE NIGHT also puts women front and center, and Ingram was wise to cast the formidable trio of Felicia P. Fields and local talents Donica Lynn and Clare Kennedy in the show’s female roles. While the revue doesn’t have much plot to speak of, the Girl with the Date (Kennedy), the Woman of the World (Lynn), and the Lady from the Road (Fields) have all come to reside in the same hotel on the South Side of Chicago in the 1930s. They’re joined by the Man in the Saloon (Evan Tyrone Martin), as well as a new addition for this production, the Dancing Man (Terrell Armstrong).
While the three women in BLUES IN THE NIGHT are meant to represent different stages of life, it’s the delivery of the individual songs that makes this revue sing. Fields has a distinctive and deep voice; it’s immediately clear why she’s made a career singing this genre of music. She also has uncanny comedic timing, delivering many of her uptempo numbers with a twinkle in her eye. She’s particularly on point with “Take Me for a Buggy Ride,” in which she makes the song’s double entendres rather plain; Fields knows how to milk her songs for all their worth, and she has charisma for days.
I’ve long admired Lynn as perhaps one of Chicago’s finest musical theater vocalists, and she also fits her role like a hand in a glove. She shines on “Rough and Ready Man,” which is a more sly comedic seduction. Lynn’s voice is an elegant mix of powerful belt and whispery head voice.
Kennedy plays the Girl with the Date with a winning combination of youthful optimism and just the right amount of jadedness. She has a stunning crystalline soprano, but also a great deal of power to her voice that comes through particularly well on songs like “Taking a Chance on Love.”
Much like Fields, Martin’s voice proves a natural fit for the blues, and he’s terrific as the Man in the Saloon. He also strikes up a delightful rapport with the five-piece band.
While Armstrong creates some interesting tableaus through dance as the Dancing Man, I don’t think Ingram found the dramaturgical justification (who also choreographed the production) for his presence. Because BLUES IN THE NIGHT focuses so squarely on the songs and the interplay between the four main players, the Dancing Man didn’t seem a natural extension of the show’s main action. And in the second act, the Dancing Man disappears almost altogether.
I also think the revue could use a bit more balance between uptempo numbers and ballads in the second act; it loses some pacing towards the end, but ends with a roaring finish with “I Got a Right/Blue Blues,” in which all four singers harmonize to perfection together.
When the four powerhouse singers in the ensemble deliver big on the blues, Porchlight’s BLUES IN THE NIGHT proves itself to be a gem of a production.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s BLUES IN THE NIGHT runs through March 13 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn. Tickets are $25-$74. Visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Anthony La Penna
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com