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Blues in the Night

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    Blues in the Night was first seen in the UK at the Donmar Warehouse long before it became the full-time producing theatre it now is in 1987, before transferring to the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre. Now this sizzler of a revue of jazz and blues standards many of them by Bessie Smith, with contributions also from such luminaries as Benny Goodman, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Billy Strayhorn makes a dazzling return to Hackney Empire, which may well be the first stop in a further life for the show.

    It’s wonderful to see Hackney producing so confidently again in its own right, beyond its annual panto – its large stage and audience capacity is an untapped resource for musical try-outs. And Hackney’s creative director Susie McKenna has assembled a West End-worthy cast, led by recent Olivier award winner Sharon D Clarke, who brings a ferocious power and overwhelming dignity to an absolutely show-stopping rendition of Bessie Smith’s Wasted Life Blues.

    But there’s nothing wasted in this lean, compact show, simply structured as a dark night of the soul for three lonely female residents of a down-at-heel Chicago hotel in the 1930s, who pour out their hearts in song, interspersed with contributions from a male hotel worker.

    If it is dramatically flimsy, it is so well supported by the fabulous performances of the entire company that also includes two terrific, if underused, dancers, that it has weight and heft. Paulette Ivory, Gemma Sutton and Clive Rowe make wonderfully contrasting presences in this ensemble, while a quintet led by MD Mark Dickman are a musical character in themselves.

    Mark Shenton

    • Hackney Empire, London
    • April 25-May 4
    • Creator: Sheldon Epps
    • Director: Susie McKenna
    • Musical director: Mark Dickman
    • Producer: Hackney Empire
    • Choreographer: Frank Thompson
    • Cast: Sharon D Clarke, Paulette Ivory, Clive Rowe, Gemma Sutton, KM Drew Boateng, Ryan Reid
    • Running time: 2hrs 15mins
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