Pros: Classic blues and great vocals make for a wonderful feel-good evening. The chemistry is perfection.
Cons: The only downside is the short run – a tragedy!
This was my first visit to the Hackney Empire (I know, what rock have I been living under?) but what a first date! The theatre is a glorious grade II listed building originally built as a music hall in 1901. It went through a major refurbishment about 10 years ago. It’s worth a visit just to see the building, but with a seriously good show as well it makes for a fabulous evening.
Blues in the Night was originally staged in 1980 off Broadway and has been revived in splendid style for a fresh run at the Empire. Set in 1939 Chicago, it’s a dialogue-free musical revue which tells the story of a smooth-talking lothario (Clive Rowe) and three of the women in his life (Sharon D Clarke, Paulette Ivory and Gemma Sutton). Life has been tough for these ladies – they’ve lived, loved, hoped, dreamed, seen highs, lows and had their hearts broken – but they still have spark and sass aplenty.
Though light on storyline, the scenario provides enough structure to piece together some great blues tunes and the song lyrics serve eloquently in place of dialogue. The band is on stage to provide a nightclub atmosphere and the women sit at their dressing tables at the sides. This gives the opportunity to move seamlessly from intimate torch songs to all-encompassing big band numbers with just the slide of a spotlight.
I tried desperately to choose my favourite performer but to no avail; they were all equally superb. Clive Rowe was cheeky and loveable as he went through his moves with the ladies, but having had their fingers burnt before they weren’t putting up with any of his nonsense. Take It Right Back told him exactly where to get off and brought the first act to a glorious finale.
The classic blues songbook borrowed from the likes of Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith and took the audience through humour and heartbreak with tunes such as It Makes My Love Come Down, Willow Weep For Me and Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out. A highlight was Sharon D Clark’s colourful rendition of the saucy Kitchen Man. Vocals ranged from smooth velvet to gritty and grinding. Just when you thought it couldn’t get better they took it to another level.
The whole show felt like the players and band were genuinely having the time of their lives and that the audience had inadvertently stumbled across a private blues jam session. The Hackney Empire was smoking hot!
I enjoyed it so much I’ve since tracked down some of the music but this glorious show could easily warrant a new cast recording and I’d be first in line to grab a copy.
Director: Susie McKenna
Musical Director: Mark Dickman
Choreographer: Frank Thompson
Conceived and originally directed by: Sheldon Epps
Booking Until: Sunday 4th May 2014
Box Office: 020 8985 2424
Booking Link: http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk/whatson