Blues in The Night – North Coast Repertory Theatre

What a great refresher of our musical heritage.

Often considered America’s only indigenous art form, jazz was the foundation for blues, R&B, and eventually rock ‘n’ roll. As with much of these art forms, the double entendre and subtle sexual overtones have withstood the test of time, a ready acknowledgment of the fundamental attraction and longevity of the songs.

The well-constructed production is comprised of a quartet of singers and a solid quintet of musicians serving up 26 vintage blues songs, some that you’ll recognize, some you hardly even heard of.

Held together by the most slender of plot lines, the singers deftly assay wonderful tunes by the likes of Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Harold, Arlington, Johnny Mercer, Billy, Strayhorn and Billie Holiday. The songwriters have attained the vaunted position of essentially never falling from favor. The four singers find themselves in a cheap Chicago hotel in 1938. A few songs were actually first released after that date (the title song in a 1941 film of the same name), but no matter. The mood is consistent and effective.

“Blues in the Night” cast: Karole Foreman, Elijah Rock, Ciarra Stroud & Anise Ritchie (photo by Aaron Rumley)
“Blues in the Night” band: Kevin Toney (Conductor/Pianist), Roy Jenkins (Bass), Danny King (Drums), Malcolm Jones (Reeds) and Thomas Alforque (Trumpet) (photo by Aaron Rumley)

Productions like this, especially when attended by successive generations, will keep these songs alive, despite a dearth of radio airplay.
Between those seen onstage and the rest of the production team, the degrees of separation to a broad swath of jazz icons are tiny. Ciarra Stroud evokes a twinge of Amy Winehouse in “Wasted Life Blues.” Karole Foreman excels in “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” Anise Ritchie was solid throughout. Elijah Rock had the commanding articulation of Joe Williams, and did a rather credible tap dance in the middle of “I’m Just a Lucky So-And-So.” All four harmonized brilliantly. Sheldon Epps conceived and originally directed the production. Perennial kudos to Marty Burnett, now well past 200 set designs.

This is a delightful musical evening, delivered by sterling performers. The show has been extended to February 14.

Tickets available here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.