The rowdy, raunchy, rhythmic, real-life sound of blues music fills the Grandel Theatre these days, with the St. Louis Black Repertory Company offering a sparkling production of "Blues in the Night." It opened over the weekend and will run through June 28. The revue, conceived by Sheldon Epps, includes classic blues numbers like "Kitchen Man," some that are less familiar and a handful of jazz standards, like "Willow Weep for Me." It had a brief Broadway run in 1982, and was nominated for a Tony as Best Musical that year.
The Black Rep produced it a decade later, with Denise Thimes part of the four-person cast.
The current version, directed by Ron Himes, features J. Samuel Davis as the Man, with Anita Jackson as the Lady, Leah Stewart as the Girl and Willena Vaughn as the Woman. Regina Garcia designed the set, bedrooms for each of the women and the reception desk in a seedy hotel lobby for Davis. Perhaps the rooms represent an even seedier locale for their inhabitants. Reggie Ray is responsible for the garishly beautiful costumes for the older women, with more sedate garb for Stewart and Davis. Vaughn is a riot of color, Jackson slightly more subdued in flowing gowns.
Jackson and Vaughn have the classic blues numbers, belting them out in ribald style, blistering the men who have "done ‘em wrong," but also tossing out a lifeline and offering better if and when they return. Jackson tears things up in a couple of Bessie Smith songs, "Wasted Life Blues" and "Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues," and teams perfectly with Davis in "Four Walls (and One Dirty Window) Blues," which sets a tone early and remains in the ears until a late reprise by the company polishes it off.
Vaughn shows off range and depth of feeling in "Rough and Ready Man," a fine contrast with her earlier rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s "Lush Life."
The youthful Stewart, who has been lighting up the Black Rep stage with her varied talents for many years, has the lighter numbers that are better suited for her voice, and after a slow start, she was right at home in "Taking a Chance on Love," and "Willow Weep for Me," the latter a long-time favorite for June Christie and the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Davis stood tall on Smith’s "Baby Doll" after a fine performance of "Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues," reprised brilliantly by Charles Creath’s quartet as the second-act opener. Besides Creath on keyboard, the quartet also included Theodore Harden on bass, Molden K. Picket on drums and Joshua Williams on trumpet.
Thought it does not appear, the perfect song might be "I’m So Black and Blue" after the Black Rep lights the darkness with "Blues in the Night."
At the Grandel Theatre through June 28.