TR Robertson – The latest play/musical in North Coast Rep’s 41st season is a nostalgic trip to 1930’s Chicago through a 26-song journey of some of the most iconic Blues’ songs ever performed. A talented cast of three women and one man along with an amazing five-piece Blues band on stage takes the audience through a two-hour wide range of Blues musical styles. A cramped, but intimate stage incorporates three-bedroom sets, a raised section for the band and an open area center stage that perfectly fits this production. The range of songs chosen for the musical uses’ songs from some of the greats of the Blues era. Songs from singers like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, Jimmie Cox, Ann Ronell, George W. Thomas, and many more fill the stage performed with wonderful interpretations by the cast who use solo numbers, duets, trios and quartets showing their range of talent on stage.
So, what is The Blues? The Blues is an old music form dating back to the 1860’s musically. Wikipedia says The Blues uses “spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants and rhymed ballads from the African American culture” in creating a style like no other music form. Traditional blues also uses single lines repeated four times in the song. The Blues reference goes back much further than the 1860’s. In Britain, to have the blues referred to “visual hallucinations from alcohol withdrawal”. In the early 1800’s Blue Laws were created allowing no alcohol to be sold or served on Sundays. In 1798 George Coleman wrote a one act farce called Blue Devils, a term used in describing melancholy and sadness. John Audubon wrote to his wife in 1827 saying how much he missed her and that he had the blues. In 1862, Charlotte Forten, an African American anti-slavery activist and poet, wrote in her diary how lonely she was and that she had the blues. The Blues is so much more than just a song. As you listen to the songs in Blues in the Night you can hear all these references – sadness, lost love, drinking, lost hope, and at times funny references to all of these and more, putting the feeling of the blues to music.
The Blues also is not just one style. There is country blues (like songs from the Delta), urban blues (like songs from Chicago), Dirty Blues (risqué or raunchy songs), Comedic Blues and many more. Several of these styles appeared in the musical. The first copyrighted blues composition was Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues” in 1912 and the first recording by an African American singer was in 1920 when Marnie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” was released. Ma Rainey, a recording artist from the 1920’s, has been called the “Mother of the Blues”. Prolific writers like Thomas Andrew Dorsey, “Georgia Tom”, is said to have written over 3,000 songs, 1/3 of them gospel songs. The history and study of the musical style called The Blues covers a wide range of topics, styles, and performers.
What the full house audience saw on Friday and what you will see if you attend is a powerful, energetic, at times sad, at times funny and most assuredly talented performance by veteran performers. Anise Ritchie, Lady from the Road, uses her strong, dynamic voice and great physical presence in songs like “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues”, “Take Me for a Buggy Ride”, “Kitchen Man”, “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues” as well as a classy comedic style. Karole Foreman, Woman of the World, is a San Diego Critic Nominee, presents more of a sultry persona as she sings the blues in songs like “It Makes My Love Come Down”, “Lush Life” and a wonderful, slightly sexy rendition of “Rough and Ready Man”. Ciarra Stroud, Girl with a Date, is making her North Coast debut. Ciarra’s persona sings about the chances of her date being the right person for her only to find out he’s not. Also singing with a dynamic voice with great range, Ciarra sings songs like “Taking a Chance on Love”, “Willow Weep for Me”, and “Reckless Blues”. All three of the ladies join in together on several songs – “Blue Blues”, “Take It Right Back”, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, and “Four Walls”.
Elijah Rock, Man in the Saloon, returns to North Coast Rep and is the “Ladies Man” for the production. Elijah is smooth, has a great voice, blends well with the three ladies on stage and he has wonderful facial expressions. He is featured in songs such as “I’m Just a Lucky So-And-So”, “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues”, “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues” (sung with Anise), and “Baby Doll”.
Blues in the Night was conceived and originally directed by Sheldon Epps with original vocal arrangements and musical direction by Chapman Roberts with orchestrations and additional vocal arrangements by Sy Johnson. The North Coast Rep musical is directed by Yvette Freeman Hartley, Musical Director Lanny Hartley, and Choreographer Roxane Carrasco. The impressive set was designed by Marty Burnett, Lightening Designer Matt Novotny, Costume Designer Regan A, McKay, Hair & Wig Designer Peter Herman, Sound Designer Matt Fitzgerald, Prop Designer Christopher Williams, and Stage Manager Cindy Rumley. The onstage blues band was conducted by pianist Kevin Toney along with bass player Roy Jenkins, drummer Danny King, reeds Malcolm Jones and trumpet Thomas Alforque.
Blues in the Night has been extended to February 12th. Tickets are available at 858-481-1055 or go to www.northcoastrep.org .Next up for North Coast Rep is The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov beginning on March 1st.