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Thursday, February 16, 2017

‘Blues in the Night’ at Creative Cauldron

The cast of "Blues in the Night." [Keith Waters/Kx Photography]
By David Siegel

Ready for top-notch singing talent that brings the blues to vibrant, spicy life? Then high-tail it to Creative Cauldron in Falls Church for a cabaret-like revue called “Blues in the Night.” It’s all about love as a force that will take you under its spell.

The show runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through March 5.

In a smoothly unfolding production under Matt Conner’s confident, spirited direction, “Blues in the Night” interweaves the stories of three blues women told through blues and jazz songs from the 1920s to the 1940s. The women are at different stages of their lives. Each has her own unique tale of dealing with an often-unfaithful man.

The show is powered by the top-notch singing talents of Iyona Blake, the raw, emotional wallop and teasing sensuality of Raquelle Jennings, and the saucy attitude and delivery of Katie McManus, who appears as woman who had not yet totally given up on life. Rounding out the cast is Clifton Walker III, who has a cheeky self-assured presence as the cock-in-the-hen-house. This is a dream cast of singers and performers.

“Blues in the Night” draws full attention to 26 compositions made famous by emotionally commanding female blues singers like Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, and Ida Cox. The evening is filled out with potent compositions from the likes of Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, and Benny Goodman with their own takes on a lush life or a bruised life without love.

Bobby McCoy is the authoritative music director of a snappy four-member band. When McCoy brings his fingers down on the upright piano keys, he hits a mark that can be either velvety or turbulent depending on each song. He is joined by a group of talented musicians: Dana Gardner on reeds, Jim Hoffman on drums, and Cyndy Elliott on bass.

The “Blues in the Night” song list runs the gamut from torchy sad to scorching anger; from happily, up-tempo blatantly sexy to a low-down slow simmer on the pain of love lost.

Choreographer Stephen Gregory Smith provides a lot of energy, with sassy hip-rolls and thrusts, hands waving in the air, and emotional and powerful moments with a singer sitting at a small round cabaret table.

Blake has such a raw, charged delivery of Bessie Smith’s sharp lyrics that she regularly owned me. She was living each song and each lyric, not just singing them. With an arc of songs with titles such as the happy funny, double-entendre “Take Me for a Buggy Ride” and “Kitchen Man” to the utter sadness of “Wasted Life Blues,” she was mesmerizing.

McManus’ stylizations are of a knowing, independent woman who had experience being hurt by an unreliable man, but not ready to call it quits with all men. She was a joy taking on Benny Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Rough and Ready Man.”

Raquelle Jennings, with a sweet, vulnerable voice and attitude, sang songs like “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and Bessie Smith’s “Reckless Blues,” about a life lived too fast, with these lyrics: “My mama says I’m reckless, my daddy says I’m wild. I ain’t good lookin’ but I’m somebody’s angel child.”

Together the three woman sang several songs with harmonies to die for. Two titles near the end that stood out were “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” from Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.

As for Walker, he was a lover man who gave life to songs like a bee pollinating many flowers. His songs included “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and Bessie Smith’s “Baby Doll” with this delirious lyric: “I want to be somebody’s baby doll so I can get my lovin’ all the time.”

The original “Blues in the Night,” conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, was nominated for a Tony. How fortunate we are to have Creative Cauldron as a “downtown” theater venue bringing high-quality cabaret from talented performers to Northern Virginia audiences.

Where and when: “Blues in the Night” appears at Creative Cauldron at 410 Maple Ave., Falls Church, through March 5. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. (The Feb. 23 show is sold out.)

Tickets are $30 ($26 for seniors and members of the military and $20 for students). Tickets can be purchased online or call the box office at 703-436-9948.

This piece is based on a a review that originally appeared in DC Metro Theater Arts

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