I went with no expectations and even less knowledge of the history of this show only having been drawn to it by the promise of divas singing the jazz and blues, fronted by the incredible Sharon D Clarke at a venue that hasn’t failed to delight me in all recent visits.
I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, surprised in the first half that a plot never emerged and quickly realigned my focus in order to relish in this piece which I now realise was conceived as more of a review, a series of jazz standards and smoky blues classics, only very loosely stitched together in the setting of a 1930’s Chicago hotel bar.
Mark Dickman’s arrangements are exceptional and the moments that made me tingle most were the intersecting places in the songs where the narrative overlapped, creating stunning intersections that blended into harmonies of the most exquisite quality. The four main characters have very different tones that made the overall experience sensational as they resonated through the house whilst their individual songs were equally breath-taking. Ranging from the melancholic renditions of beloved Billie Holiday classics to the lesser known sauce of glorious Bessie Smith, each one was pitch perfect and glorious in delivery.
The company were polished and supported each other well but something should be said for the craft of the main four performers. Debbie Kurup’s performance as the broken Woman is stunning as she performs slick choreography with razor sharp timing and poise. I felt sorrow for every tragic moment of her decline into drug-fuelled haze, lifted as she bounced back with a diva’s resilience and grit. Gemma Sutton gives a very accomplished performance as the doe-eyed new kid on the block with a voice that is both powerful and rich for such a diminutive actress. A tiny powerhouse to watch. Clive Rowe is an effortlessly watchable dream and as for Sharon D Clarke, I wonder if her angel voice should be available for everyone on the NHS?
Hard to choose a favourite moment but the highlights for me included the sassy Kitchen Man and Rough & Ready Man, with Willow Weep for Me and Am I Blue both spine-tingling ballads to savour. Classy choreography by Frank Thompson complements excellent orchestrations by Mark Dickman accompanied by a talented set of actors and musicians feeding the soul in this cabaret style show: Susie Mckenna has cooked up a jazz-lover’s feast.
The whole house was on its feet at the end of the evening and if you’re looking for something to do this August because you didn’t make it to Edinburgh for the festival, look no further – Blues in the Night is a treat.