Theater Review: BLUES IN THE NIGHT (North Coast Rep in Solana Beach / San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on January 29, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Everything comes out in blues music: joy , pain , struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance.
– Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis

The blues is a style of music, created in the early 1900s in the deep South.  Not surprisingly, The origins of the blues are poorly documented. According to Britannica, blues developed in the southern United States after the American Civil War (1861–65). It was influenced by work songs and field hollers, minstrel show music, ragtime, church music, as well as the folk and popular music of the white population. Numerous sources tell us that the term “the blues” probably originated with the 17th-century English expression “the blue devils,” for the intense visual hallucinations that can accompany severe alcohol withdrawal. The bottom lines is that it’s about channeling what’s wrong in a way that gives it an out — in a sharable, connecting way.

Karole Foreman, Ciarra Stroud, Anise Ritchie

Creator Sheldon Epps’ Blues in the Night is the lamentations of four black people living in a poor residence hotel in 1938, and Marty Burnett’s set design at North Coast Rep suits that to a T. The reality is that this program isn’t really a musical in the conventional sense.  It’s far more of a musical revue tribute to these classic songs. There’s no plot to speak of, though the foursome certainly do a lot to act out each song all its worth; and many of the songs themselves tell a bit of a story. There’s little connection between one song and the next, other than each is a classic piece of blues history.

Karole Foreman

So we quickly let go of storyline and simply let this beautiful tribute to creative, heartful music wash over us. Each of the three women could sell a show on their own with very different qualities: Ciarra Stroud with her soft, pretty voice; Karole Foreman with a dark, sultry tone; and Anise Ritchie with resounding gospel power. With such contrasting vocals, one would think they wouldn’t blend well, but they harmonize as if they were meant to come together. Adding a bit of swagger and humor is Elijah Rock, symbolizing all that’s wrong with those darned men who keep giving women more blues to sing. And of course, he finds plenty to sing about when it comes to women … and does so boldly.

Ciarra Stroud, Karole Foremen, Anise Ritchie, (back) Elijah-Rock

The four-piece band plus conductor Kevin Toney sets a strong groundwork for the four crooners. Roxanne Carrasco’s choreography is delightful, giving the performers plenty to do besides mastering the notes. Sy Johnson‘s original orchestrations and Chapman Roberts‘ vocal arrangements do a great job of contrasting and blending the different tunes such that the music never stops.

(front) Ciarra-Stroud, (back) Karole Foreman, Elijah-Rock, Anise-Ritchie

Some of the songs are surprisingly funny, as the lyricists of a hundred years ago found clever ways to include startling innuendo (“I need a harrrrrrrrrd [long pause] working man” or the reference to the kitchen cook who “can sure handle some meat”)  So the blues tunes are as fun as they are heart-wrenching, and director Yvette Freeman Hartley serves it up beautifully.

Ciarra Stroud

photos by Aaron Rumley

Blues in the Night
North Coast Repertory Theatre987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana BeachWed at 2 & 7; Thurs & Fri at 8;  & Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2ends on February 12, 2023for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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