Blues in the Night at Hackney EmpireCultureTheatre
Sultry, sweet and morose, Blues in the Night invites us into the lives and reveries of four down-and-out inhabitants of 1930s Chicago. The plot, loosely woven yet enough to frame each bereft character, is shadowed by the 24 roaring blues songs that make up the musical, performed in slick arrangements and intricate harmonies, and accompanied by a rollicking five-piece jazz band.
As the penultimate song suggests each character has Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, and the sharp poignancy of their songs (which include numbers from the likes of Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen and Ida Cox) give dimensions to their roles that could only be achieved through the mournful tones of lusty jazz. Clive Row’s The Man seems at first to be a jovial lucky so-and-so until his crooning reveals financial worries and a stagnant love life, yet it’s the women who suffer the most. The Girl, played by Gemma Sutton, is young, naïve and hopeful, descending into a whirlpool of emotions over unrequited love; Paulette Ivory’s The Woman aches to recapture her privileged past, while Sharon D Clarke’s The Lady has both big bravado and a big heart whose aches she morns through soulful tunes.
Clarke dazzles with raunchy charm, giving The Lady an exhilarating blend of saucy swagger and forlorn poignancy. Her voice has a chocolate richness that belts with smooth unadulterated passion. Whether strutting through the up-beat, bawdy Kitchen Man, hitting quivering low drones in It Makes My Love Come Down or living out pained heartbreak in the beautifully bleak Wasted Life Blues, she owns the stage. Rowe is her perfect antithesis bringing charisma as well as doleful misery to The Man.
Ivory and Sutton do well against these two sterling performances, delivering many poignant moments such as Ivory’s Lush Life and Sutton’s Willow Weep for Me. There are points, however, where the performances become a little too polished, lacking the rugged mournfulness innate within the blues.
Pulsing with life and delivering some truly sparkling performances, particularly from Clarke and Rowe, Blues in the Night is a heady trip through the dark and intoxicating world of the blues.
Photo: Marilyn Kingwill
Blues in the Night is on at Hackney Empire until 4th May 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Blues in the Night here: