Olivier Award winning actor/singer Sharon D. Clarke sings the blues in Director Susie Mckenna’s Blues in the Night that opened at the Kiln Theatre this July. (Image credit: Matt Humphrey)
A truly superb and entertaining revival, a show of great voices belting out the American Television/Theatre Director Sheldon Epps’s compilation of blues and jazz numbers from some of music’s greatest legends, which includes Bessie Smith, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Gordon Jenkins, and Alberta Hunter.
This dialogue free musical revue tells the story of three women who are all involved with the same man. First staged in 1980 by Epps and Gregory Hines, it ran for 51 performances at the Off-Broadway Playhouse 46, New York.
Robert Jone’s set is a bar in a dingy old hotel in 1930’s Chicago where the three women The Lady (Sharon D. Clarke), The Woman (Debbie Kurup) and the Girl (Gemma Sutton) each tell the woeful stories of their lives by belting out sultry numbers, a different range of vocals from the three women but all impressively holding their own. Sharon D. Clarke true to form delivers the standout performances with numbers like Bessie Smith’s Wasted Life Blues infused with a gospel slant she just sang and hit home rolling out the lyrics like “I’ve lived a life but nothin’ I’ve gained. Each day I’m full of sorrow and pain”. Spellbound the audience listened then applauded. Frank Thompson’s choreography is just enough to show the talent displayed by The Barman (Joseph Poulton) and The Huslter (Aston New).
The Lady and The Man (Clive Rowe) refer to their contentious relationship adding humour to Mckenna’s Blues in the Night. The play could not be more relevant with timeless songs, themes of love, sexual politics, hardship and the strength of the women telling their stories it resonates with the now.
Clive Rowe’s The Man flirts between the three women offering an energetic performance he is not weak on his vocals. Blues music has its rich history in America’s deep South rooted in African music born from slave spirituals. It’s profoundly important that a new generation can be introduced to this musical genre. Bessie Smith was regarded as one of the greatest singers of her time and in Blues in the Night Sharon D. Clarke epitomises her.
Blues in the Night is a Tony and Laurence Olivier award nominated play. Booking until 7 September 2019.
A man is a two-face, a worrisome thing who’ll leave you to sing, the blues in the night.