Falls Church’s Creative Cauldron, glowing from the four Helen Hayes Award nominations racked up this past week, drew a sold out audience for the opening night of its steamy, torchy, sexy and energetic musical ensemble production, “Blues in the Night,” at the ArtSpace Falls Church on Saturday night.
The show, which runs through March 5, delighted the enthusiastic audience with 26 famous and beloved blues classics acted out in stylish combinations by its four vocalists: Iyona Blake, nominated for a Hayes Award last week for best actress in a musical for her leading role in the Cauldron’s production of Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change,” Katie McManus, Raquel Gregory-Jennings and Clifton Walker III. Their offerings were backed by the musical team of Walter “Bobby” McCoy, Dana Gardner, Cyndy Elliott and Jim Hoffman.
The Cauldron’s principal house talent, Matt Conner, directed the show.
The songs of Bessie Smith dominated the program with seven selections, while Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and a plethora of other greats were also featured.
The night kicked off with Smith’s “Blue Blues” and Willard Robison’s “Four Walls (and One Dirty Window) Blues,” and the energy only built from there. The second half culminated with Harold Arlen and Ted Kohhler’s “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.”
Laura Hull, the Cauldron’s producing director, wrote in the program that this journey from the Jazz Age of the 1920s through jazz’s evolution during the 30s and 40s featured a “decidedly female voice.” This evolution was led by Smith, known as the “Empress of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
“Instead of the idealized and saccharine love that coursed through popular white music of that time,” Hull wrote, “these black women delivered the bold truth, singing songs of unfaithful lovers, domestic abuse and unleashed sexual freedom.”
Blake’s rich and powerful expressions of love sought and love lost were complimented by the equally impassioned songs by McManus. The two performers have a long list of credits for performances in the D.C. area, including regular participation in Cauldron shows, while Gregory-Jennings and Walker were making their Cauldron debuts. Gregory-Jennings’ rich voice has also been featured in operatic and Broadway-style efforts such as “Aida” and “Porgy and Bess.”