- We’ve all experienced the blues, which might account for
the appeal of blues music. Most songs are sad, it seems. Maybe
sadness prompts many songwriters to express themselves.
It certainly provided a forum for six multi-talented
musicians to scorch the stage with their hot wailings in the
Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s “Blues in the Night” at
the Stackner Cabaret Theatre. I noticed that many of the songs
were about men who have let their women down, not the other
way around. Just an observation.
musicians render the music -
a wealth of 26 numbers in all. The solos, duets, trios, even
quartets, soulfully arranged, are powerfully delivered. The
instrumentation includes piano, percussion, guitar, clarinet,
bass, trumpet, euphonium and harmonica. One song flows into
another with no dialogue, and the vocalists move about the
stage, sometimes singing, sometimes picking up an instrument.
The show is well paced and artfully choreographed.
scene is set in a sparsely furnished room in Chicago in the
1930s. Three women enter and leave the premises. They all seem
to be looking for work, for love, for something to live for,
and with this thin plot line, they string together an
impressive body of melodies from the likes of Bessie Smith,
Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Harold Arlen
and Johnny Mercer.
night I attended, Tony Linn Martin filled in for the ailing
Zonya Love, who was afflicted with laryngitis, a curse for
vocalists. Linn Martin was phenomenal. Her two female
companions, Lili Thomas, who was also adept at the trumpet,
the guitar and the euphonium, and Halle Morse, whose lithe
movements matched her sultry singing, provided contrasting
styles, yet they blended beautifully when they joined their
Carol Clemons-Hopkins wasn’t thumping the bass or swiping
his harmonica, he dazzled the audience with his rich, resonant
bass voice. His rendition of “I’m Just a Lucky So-and
So” was one of the few upbeat numbers, along with “Take Me
for a Buggy Ride,” when he shared the stage with Halle
also did a great rendition of “Wild
Women Don’t Have the Blues,” a rather ironic twist on the
anguish conveyed in many of the other chosen tunes. “Kitchen
Man,” humorously delivered by Martin, was also relatively
lighter in tone.
strong numbers included “Stompin’
at the Savoy,” “Lover Man,” “Blues in the Night,”
“Rough and Ready Man,” “When a Woman Loves a Man,” Am
I Blue,” “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out”
and “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues.” A lot of passion
and vocal strength and fluidity characterized all of the
takes quite an array of people to put together a show like
this. Musical director and pianist Dan Kazemi and his cohort,
Patrick Morrow, who divided his duties on the bass, guitar and
drums, provided tight, harmonious backup.
designer Megan Truscott, costume designer Holly Payne,
lighting designer Craig Gottschalk, sound designer Barry G.
Funderburg and choreographer Kat Borelli made everything work
flawlessly. These artists are the technical and aesthetic
contributors who are often only noticed when they make a
mistake, but they are essential to the final flavor and
success of a show.
overall direction would have made composers like Chapman
Roberts, Sy Johnson and Sheldon Epps proud to see their
creative works in such capable hands.