Falls Church’s Creative Cauldron, glowing from the four Helen Hayes Award nominations racked up earlier this month, has drawn sold out audiences for almost all its productions of the steamy, torchy, sexy and energetic musical ensemble production, “Blues in the Night,” at the ArtSpace Falls Church, which runs through March 5.
The show has been delighting enthusiastic audiences with 26 famous and beloved blues classics acted out in stylish combinations by its four vocalists: Iyona Blake, nominated for a Hayes Award for best actress in a musical for her leading role in the Cauldron’s production of Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change,” Katie McManus, Raquel Gregory-Jennings and Clifton Walker III. Their offerings are backed by the musical team of Walter “Bobby” McCoy, Dana Gardner, Cyndy Elliott and Jim Hoffman.
The Cauldron’s principal house talent, Matt Conner, directed the show.
The songs of Bessie Smith dominate the program with seven selections, while Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and a plethora of other greats are also featured.
The show kicks off with Smith’s “Blue Blues” and Willard Robison’s “Four Walls (and One Dirty Window) Blues,” and the energy only builds from there. The second half culminates with Harold Arlen and Ted Kohhler’s “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.”
Laura Hull, the Cauldron’s producing director, wrote in the program that this journey from the Jazz Age of the 1920s through jazz’s evolution during the 30s and 40s features a “decidedly female voice.” This evolution was led by Smith, known as the “Empress of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
“Instead of the idealized and saccharine love that coursed through popular white music of that time,” Hull wrote, “these black women delivered the bold truth, singing songs of unfaithful lovers, domestic abuse and unleashed sexual freedom.”
Blake’s rich and powerful expressions of love sought and love lost were complimented by the equally impassioned songs by McManus. The two performers have a long list of credits for performances in the D.C. area, including regular participation in Cauldron shows, while Gregory-Jennings and Walker are making their Cauldron debuts. Gregory-Jennings’ rich voice has also been featured in operatic and Broadway-style efforts such as “Aida” and “Porgy and Bess.”