The King of Blues, B.B. King, said, “Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you.” True to that statement, on Sunday afternoon it would have been impossible for anyone to leave Laguna Playhouse downhearted. The audience at the opening performance of Blues in the Night got a brilliant dose of the best blues around, performed by three seductive and sassy songstresses, one smooth guy, and backed by a sharp live jazz group.
The Wallis Annenberg Theatre production of Blues in the Night is said to examine the intersection of the blues and jazz, and it accomplishes that end to perfection. In a wonderful mix of sweet, sorrowful, and sexy, it presents 26 torchy numbers by icons such as Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington.
Blues in the Night was conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, who was the artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse for 20 years. He returns to Laguna Playhouse after having directed performances over the holidays.
The Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal has received numerous awards, including the Ovation Award.
The audience couldn’t help but react to the songs with hoots, hollers, and applause, especially the two ladies behind us, Lou Edwards and Naomi Burton, who were having the time of their lives. This was their first visit to the Playhouse and they were total strangers until they were seated together and discovered their mutual love for the blues.
Lou Edwards says, “Blues in the Night at the Laguna Playhouse is a stunning recreation of the traditional jazzy blues. It was my first visit to the Laguna Playhouse and certainly will not be my last. The performance of the actors was absolutely stellar, also the band. Another lady and I were the only two sitting in the left mezzanine when a sweet young lady from the theater came up and asked if we wouldn’t mind sitting downstairs. Of course not!! Well, we were seated in the right side second row. So close to the performers, it was fabulous. The other lady and I ended up becoming friends as we both liked to show appreciation of the singers by exuberantly shouting out our praise. It was such a delight to sit with her. I certainly highly recommend this play to anyone who enjoys the old standard blues music and wants to see outstanding performers. I drove up from Oceanside and it was well worth the drive.”
Naomi Burton, who traveled from Carson, concurs, “It was one of the best Sunday afternoons. I spent the afternoon with a new friend, someone who loved the arts as much as I do. We both had a blast. The play was simply awesome! The blues for me is about life. The cast’s voices were beautiful instruments. The songs were sung with such gut-wrenching passion and integrity. OMG, that ‘piano man’ moved my entire body and soul. I would recommend everyone to come to the theater and enjoy an evening/ afternoon of musical pleasure. I plan to see it again. I have been telling my friends they must see this play.”
With all this praise, it’s not difficult to understand why it was nominated for the Tony and Oliver Award.
Although each song was a standout, these incredibly talented performers had some particularly striking performances.
Yvette Cason as the Lady from the Road belted out some raunchy songs such as “Take Me For A Buggy Ride” and “Kitchen Man” and had the audience howling.
Paulette Ivory (The Woman of the World) soulfully performed “Lush Life” and “When Your Lover Has Gone.”
The melancholy “Willow Weep For Me” was hauntingly sung by Jenna Gillespie (The Girl with the Date).
Chester Gregory (The Man in the Saloon), who represented all the men who had done them wrong, taunted and tantalized the ladies with just the right amount of cool. His rendition of “Wild Women Don’t have the Blues” was terrific.
The set, the lighting, the costumes, and makeup all evoked the time period superbly.
It was wonderful afternoon of celebrating the blues, and not quietly. I hope to see Naomi and Lou at the Playhouse again soon. They made a great day even better.
Blues in the Night runs through March 10.
For ticket information, go to www.lagunaplayhouse.com or call (949) 497-2787.
Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Rd.