Blues in the Night, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

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The Independent Culture

Who said "wild women don't have no blues"? The Lady, the Woman and the Girl certainly do, sharing - with The Saloon Singer - a multicoloured palette of moods tinged with every hue.

Who said "wild women don't have no blues"? The Lady, the Woman and the Girl certainly do, sharing - with The Saloon Singer - a multicoloured palette of moods tinged with every hue. Sheldon Epps's Broadway "musical show" Blues in the Night enjoyed a 12-month run in the West End over 15 years ago, but does it work as theatre?

There's no book, and with a minimal set and not much to dramatise in this string of 24 jazz and blues numbers, it's more of a concert. It would sit better in a cabaret setting, with drinks on hand and the low murmur of appreciative chatter. With the four-piece band sunk in the centre of the stage there is only a circular walkway on which the four versatile singer-actors can prowl, prance, skip and dance. Of course, there is always the grand piano to twirl on, and a spiral staircase on which to make love.

The singing is seriously good, and from their four simple, self-contained sets, one in each corner, the entertainers take the floor, sometimes solo (with one or more adding an exhilarating upper or lower part), or acting out some incidental scenario. The period detail feels right - pearls and furs and slinky dresses, as well as some striking wigs - even when seen at close quarters as the foursome moves in and around the audience. When was the last time a perfectly respectable Leeds lady was more or less lap-danced and loudly commanded to: "Take yo panties off"?

If the director, Geraldine Connor, can't always make her cast audible when speaking, she at least persuades them to give their all in some stirring numbers. They're not Ida Cox or Ella Fitzgerald or any other of the legendary performers who made these numbers such classics. But Sheilah Cuffy has bags of personality as the Lady, more often than not down on her luck but always smiling through. Tall, elegant Louise Rose's vulnerable Girl, knocked black and blue by the violent man who breaks her heart, is electrifyingly sensual, and the gravel-voiced Josie Benson makes a mysteriously compelling Woman who draws you into her interior world.

The longer first part of Blues in the Night gets off to a slowish start, but the rip-roaring second half heats up immediately. The band swings under the fluid direction of the pianist, Stephen Cole, while Ayokunle Odia's hollow saxophone solo accompanying an unsettling burglary haunts the memory.

Marvin Springer is the versatile Saloon Singer, alternately adored and bullied by the women he encounters, who include a whip-brandishing femme fatale (Benson) in "Rough and Ready Man". He metes out cruel blows too, but despite her sobs, Rose still manages to seduce with her touching solos. And when numbers such as "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" are belted out with such passion that the audience is on its feet clapping joyously, then this show will surely help banish the blues of a dreary January night.

To 29 January (0113-213 7700)

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