Afrocentric Theatre, Music, Culture and Business

Blues in the Night (Play Review) Blues in the Night (Play Review)
Blues in the Night (Play Review)

In his book Blues People: Negro Music in White America, writer Amiri Bakara said “If] the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture, this certainly should be revealed by his characteristic music, the Blues.”


Blues in the Night, the musical conceived by Sheldon Epps in 1980 further elaborates on how the Blues was an expressive insight into the every day lives and loves of African Americans as they try to make sense of their lives in the Northern cities of their migration.


Set in a once glorious, but now rundown Chicago hotel in 1938, in the midst of the Depression, it tells the story of three women who unknowingly are in love with the same man. Their thoughts on this and the desperate situation they find themselves in are revealed in the course twenty seven insightful, happy, often sad, but mainly empowering songs.


As the music begins and the lights come up we meet the women in each of their hotel rooms. Firstly we’re introduced to Sharon D Clarke (The Lady), who we see surrounded by clothes and other memorabilia of her once great and exciting past.


Next we meet Debbie Kurup (The Woman), elegantly dressed and coiffured, her room strewn with perfume and liquor bottles, hat and clothes boxes and drugs paraphernalia, awaiting the arrival of her gentleman caller and benefactor.


Lastly we meet Gemma Sutton (The Girl), alone in her sparse room, nursing a broken heart and plucking up the courage to make a new life in the big city. To complete the quartet is Clive Rowe (The Man), every charming but with a hint of malevolence behind the every read smile.


Each woman retell their current and past circumstances through the humorous to raunchy songs of Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Alberta Hunter, Jimmy Cox and more.


So we hear through ‘New Orleans Hop-Scoop Blues’, The Lady singing and shimming across the stage in one of her flamboyant dresses as she reminisces of her days as a singer. Whilst The Woman recounts her days of luxury through songs like ‘Lush Life and ‘Stomping at the Savoy’.


The Girl, expressing her sense of sorrow, loneliness and heartache through the sentimental ‘Willow Weep for Me’. In between all these songs we hear The Man deliberate on his sense of failure and desire for a better life through the popular hit ‘Wild Women Have No Blues’.


The second act followed pretty much in the vein of the first with the women singing individually or unison. The standout songs being Sharon D Clarke’s version of Am I Blue which received raptious applause and the ladies version of ‘Dirty No-Gooder Blues’.


Overall the format was simple and without much dialogue felt at times likes a cabaret. Ms Clarke was the standout singer on the night, her gravely, smoky voice with its sense of drama captured the after-hours joint atmosphere of 40s America magnificently.


Followed a very close second by Debbie Kurup, who despite not being able to reach the bluesyness of Ms Clarke, but a sense of fun and sassiness that also epitomised what the blues was also about. This been further highlighted by her stunning delivery of the much covered ‘Rough and Ready Man’.


Gemma Sutton was competent in all her renditions only truly shining on her version of ‘Willow Weep for Me’. Clive Rowe’s mellow and soothing voice added the much needed male diversion to the trio. His interplay and teasing of the audience was a joy to watch and very much in character for someone who definitely knows how to work the audience.


Director Susie McKenna, valiantly weaves a story of sort between the ladies, ensuring more interaction between the women than in the Epp’s original. Despite this the production still felt  at times like an overlong cabaret and could have been shortened by twenty or so minutes.


With a wonderful set by Robert Jones that helped to evoke that 40s speakeasy feel and incredible jazz and blues from Oscar and Strollers, the show is a fascinating revelation of the 40s  African American experience and great value for anyone that’s a lover of original jazz and blues.


Blues In The Night, Till 7 Sept, 269 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 7JR. For details and tickets visit: https://kilntheatre.com/whats-on/

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