Talent-Filled Musical Revue ‘Blues in the Night’ Hunts Down the Blues | Chicago News

Donica Lynn performs in Porchlight Music Theater’s “Blues in the Night,” which runs February 9 through March 13 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. (Credit: Anthony Robert La Penna)

The three women at the center of “Blues in the Night” may be variously depressed, lonely, angry, homesick and disillusioned with the course of their lives and loves, but I can guarantee you’ll be flying high the moment you leave. Porchlight Music Theater’s talented production of the rarely performed 1980 revue “Blues in the Night.”

It’s a sight that, as counterintuitive as it sounds, makes the mind soar. And it does so through its superbly performed classics by Bessie Smith, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Alberta Hunter and others, as well as the stellar work of its three female leads, its one male lead, a terrific male dancer which magically connects many scenes, and a brilliant group of five.

The show was originally conceived by Sheldon Epps, the pioneering African-American director who ran the Pasadena Playhouse for many years and is now Senior Artistic Advisor to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. This Porchlight production is the work of Kenny Ingram, the multi-faceted director, choreographer and performer born in Chicago (now based in New York). And Ingram’s boundless energy and humor are ideally matched with its ideal cast and the formidable musical direction of David Fiorello.

It’s 1938 – the end of the Great Depression – and the Great Migration to Chicago is still ongoing, making the city a major center for blues music. The place is a once posh hotel whose tiny rooms now serve as the “home” of three women. They’re uniquely called The Lady of the Road (Felicia P. Fields), who’s aged from the glory days of her career and lives off memories of those years when she was a star on the vaudeville-era Chitlin’ Circuit; The Woman of the World (Donica Lynn), who longs for the man who was once part of her life; and The Girl with a Date (Clare Kennedy), a cash-strapped blonde desperately hoping for a new romance.

In and out of his own romantic escapades and financial pursuits is The Man in the Saloon (the dashing Evan Tyrone Martin), the hotel’s resident singer and flirt. And the silent interlocutor is The Dancing Man (Terrell Armstrong), who sets the tone for many scenes with his eloquent and technically superb movement.

It’s these three distinctly different, powerfully-voiced women who are the focus of much of the show as they work their way through its two dozen great numbers in both solo and group setups.

Felicia P. Fields performs in Porchlight Music Theater's 'Blues in the Night', which runs February 9 through March 13 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.  (Credit: Anthony Robert La Penna)  Felicia P. Fields performs in Porchlight Music Theater’s ‘Blues in the Night’, which runs February 9 through March 13 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. (Credit: Anthony Robert La Penna)

The ever-remarkable Fields (a Chicago favorite and Tony-nominated for her portrayal of Sofia in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple”), brings the house down with every laugh-out-loud number, including “Take Me for a Buggy Ride”, but she also captures a real sense of melancholy in “Wasted Life Blues”.

Donica Lynn, singer with an immeasurable vocal range, makes you feel her despair and her loneliness in “Four Walls Interlude” and “Lush Life”. She also gives a giddy, laugh-inducing rendition of the sex-fueled “Rough and Ready Man.” And Clare Kennedy puts a conniving twist on “Taking a Chance on Love” and, best of all, delivers a heartbreaking performance of “Willow Weep for Me.”

As for Martin, he skillfully embodies the “man of the city” attitude, singing “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues”, while claiming “The Blues is Woman”.

The sensational group is led by bandleader/pianist Maulty Jewell IV (who at several points even becomes a dynamic participant in the jokes), with Rafe Bradford on bass, Ricardo Jimenez on trumpet, Darius Hampton on reeds and Harold Morrison to the battery.

Angela Weber Miller’s beautifully crafted but well-worn, multi-dimensional set (which even features a revolving door to suggest its hotel setting) is enhanced by accessories by Caitlin McCarthy, lighting by Brandon Wardell and costumes and wigs by Rueben D. Echoles. The excellent sound design is by Eric Backus.

If the show takes just a little too long to fully start, once it does, there’s no stopping it. Talk about chasing the blues!

“Blues in the Night” runs through March 13 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. For tickets, visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org or call 773-777-9884.

Note: Coming to Porchlight, “Spring Awakening” (April 23-May 29), directed by Brenda Didier. The society’s annual fundraising event, “Chicago Sings Stephen Sondheim,” is set for May 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. And the staged reading of a new work, “Clear” (with book, music and lyrics by Paul Oakley Stovall, and direction by Kenny Ingram), is scheduled for May 31, with tickets on a ” pay what you can”.

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissReview

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