Blues in the Night – London Hippodrome

blues

Picture: Liza Maria Dawson

Blues in the Night was performed at the London Hippodrome.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

It hard to believe it’s 30 years ago since Blues in the Night was first seen in London.

Conceived and originally directed by Sheldon Epps, Blues in the Night premiered Off-Broadway in 1980 and two years later was mounted on Broadway. Despite the fact its run on the Great White Way was relatively short, the show was nominated for a Tony Award.

The show proved more successful in London, opening at the Donmar Warehouse in June 1987, before transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre where it ran until July 1988, receiving two Olivier Award nominations.

To mark the 30th anniversary Joel Marvin Productions presented two performances at the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, played out in front of a near capacity and extremely appreciative audience.

The show is set in Chicago in the late 1930s and introduces three women who share a common factor – their relationship with a no-good cheating rat of a man. There is no spoken word, the intertwined stories are told through songs of greats like Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, and many others.

This celebration, directed by Samuel Quested with outstanding musical direction from Dustin Conrad, featured a stellar cast of West End performers – Ian Carlyle as The Man, Enyonam Gbesemete as The Lady, Cleopatra Higgins as The Woman and Bleu Woodward as The Girl, plus a fantastic five-piece Blues Band.

The cast was exceptionally good. Carlyle played The Man with great charm and humour, and his delivery of ‘Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues’ was exceptional.

Higgins gave her all with ‘Rough and Ready Man’, while Woodward’s rendition of ‘Willow Weep for Me’ was fantastic.

However, it was Gbesemete who stole the show – she has extraordinary stage presence and superb delivery – ‘Take Me For a Buggy Ride’ being a highlight.

A minor criticism would be that with such strong voices there really was no need to radio mic the performers – a raw, more natural sound would have enhanced a near perfect production.

Scaling the show down for a cabaret venue had its restrictions, but Quested’s direction provided an intimacy that engaged the audience.

This is the perfect show for people who love these classic songs woven around a tale (or two). It would be wonderful to see a longer run and perhaps this cabaret style would prove more sustainable than trying to mount a full theatre production.

It was a great celebration, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation and congratulations should go to all involved.

Yvonne I’Anson

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