So if I ever get my hand on a dollar again,/I’m gonna hold on to it ’til them eagles grin/
Nobody knows you,when you down and out/ In my pocket not one penny,/and my friends I haven’t any
“Nobody Knows you When you Down and Out,” written by songwriter Jimmy Cox and a number one hit for singer Bessie Smith and recorded by many others
There is something saucy, mild and spicy about blues music that makes it easy, sometimes too easy, to connect with what’s going on emotionally. Whether it’s the lyrics about a lost love or the arrival of a current love, or the grooves in the music that makes one clap and stomp your feet, you know you got it inside when you can’t keep from moving. From the very beginning to the last note, BITN is wonderful, very lively and an out-of-world wonderful journey of blues and jazz. Artistic director Sheldon Epps conceived this musical masterpiece focusing on the blues and jazz music of the 30s and 40s. Three actresses and one actor don’t have standard names. Their “names” is more of a description on where they are in life. Yvette Cason is “The Lady from the Road.” Bryce Charles is “The Girl with the Date” and Paulette Ivory is “The Woman of the World” and Chester Gregory is the shot of testosterone in this all-female cast as “The Man in the Saloon.”
There is no planned story that begins with A and ends with Z. Epps said that “the show was always a revue, not a book musical.” All four characters live in the same building in different apartments. The Woman of the World (Ivory) keeps it pretty wearing a form fitting silk robe, drinking cheap booze in an expensive crystal flute glass. Next door is The Girl with the Date (Charles) getting ready for a date that may or may not lead to something more. Then there’s The Lady from the Road (Cason) whose worn out trunk is packed up and ready to move on to the next stop. Cason’s voice is heard in every inch of the theater. Very bombastic and crystal clear.
Reminiscent of former Supreme Florence Ballard and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, she sings from the gut and lets it all out evoking a greatness that is definitely heard and felt inside. Ivory and Charles do an excellent job as well. Charles is sweet and lovely as a girl waiting on her man with high expectations of a wonderful evening ahead. Every step she takes is filled with hope and possibility. Cason keeps it one hundred about being a working entertainer. All the dives she’s played in, staying in low-rent places that probably didn’t appreciate her presence demonstrates how strong she is both inside and out. She represents what female chanteuses before her dealt with on the road. It isn’t pretty, but it builds character and a thick skin. Cason does it with absolute perfection.
Not to get out done by the ladies, Gregory keeps it tight and all alright. He slides into the ladies lives and makes himself at home. He holds them up and provides that extra comfort should they desire it. He also provides the comic relief when things get a little tense. An excellent job on his part. The music is fantastic. The audience has a little bit of everything: sadness, hope, happiness, determination and an overall good time. Conductor and pianist Lanny Hartley should be given a WC Handy Award for coordinating memorable tunes, such as “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues”) by Ida Cox, “Blues in The Night” by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, and “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues” by Bessie Smith and others in this phenomenal show. Blues in the Night delivers one hell of a great time. Always on beat and a magnificent great time is a guaranteed, from the time it opens till the last song. The blues is still alive and well.
Blues in the Night plays until Sunday, May 27th at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 17th, Friday, May 18th, Saturday, May 19th at 8 p.m., Sunday, May 20th at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday, May 22nd, Wednesday, May 23rd, Thursday, May 24th, Friday, May 25th, at 8pm, Saturday, May 26th at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Lovelace Studio Theater inside the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., in Beverly Hills. For ticket information, call 310-746-4000 or log on to www.thewallis.org/blues