Peggy Sue Dunigan

Blues in the Night

By - Mar 16th, 2009 08:07 pm
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee

It’s two or three a.m. in the morning on a sultry evening in a shabby New York City hotel. The “blues” overcome three women, all ‘”taking a chance on love” with the same man in the Skylight Opera Theatre’s sensual production Blues in the Night that opened Friday night. While short on a compelling story line, this Sheldon Epps’ Broadway show from the 80s revisits the canon of the great American Songbook through composers Bessie Smith, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer, and Duke Ellington- to name only a few. 

The four performers, last seen in The Skylight’s Smokey Joe’s Café, strut and sulk, sway and shimmy with riveting style that pays tribute to these distinctly American rhythms. While the singers perform on a tiered stage with an iron staircase angling through the open hotel rooms, the production offers the audience a view of each woman, individually or when collaborating on a number, that demands their attention immediately. Drenching the stage in hazy violets and dusky blue light adds to the midnight ambience, and each singer languishes on an overstuffed chair or chaise in the dark while another mesmerizes the audience with a gutsy rendition of these classic songs.

Most fascinating in the collection was music composed by women in the early 1900’s, including Ida Cox’s feminist lyrics that long for a woman’s dignity and respect. Alberta Hunter’s “Rough and Ready Man” or Ann Ronnell’s “Willow Weep for Me” provides additional feminine inspiration for these entertainers from the past, as did five songs from the famous Bessie Smith.

The three women carry this voice with momentum when Cynthia Cobb (The Lady) impresses throughout “Kitchen Man” and “Take Me For A Buggy Ride,” which uses the double entendre and whip with great emphasis. Or let the imagination soar when Kate Margaret McCann (The Woman) seductively sings “Rough and Ready Man.” Liz Baltes plays the daring Young Girl in “Reckless Blues,” lying right down on the stage floor. The protagonist to this trio, Benjamin Sterling Cannon, engenders his own steam in “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and “Baby Doll.” Everyone smiles when the first act finale taunts the audience with the choreography and lines in “Take It Right Back.”

Collaborating on this show, Musical Director Jamie Johns sits at the “top floor” of the hotel set playing the piano as he conducts percussion by Michael Lorenz, bass by Tom McGirr, and brass by Tim Bell and Tom Schlueter leaving these memorable “Blues” in the mind with utter perfection. And while the saucy lyrics uncover the heart’s deepest desires with each number, any overriding story fades on stage. Enjoy The Skylight’s arousing presentation of Blues in the Night that appreciates this art form in American music, afterwards squeezing your own ‘baby doll’ tight while slipping close together on a cool spring evening when leaving the theatre.

Complete schedule information and tickets for this show are available at Footlights online by clicking here

Categories: VITAL

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us