BLUES IN THE NIGHT at CenterRep stars Armelia McQueen

Left - Right: Armelia Mc Queen,Amanda Folena,Debbie de Coudreaux

BLUES IN THE NIGHT: Musical Revue conceived by Sheldon Epps, directed and choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming & musically directed by Brandon Adams. Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA. 925-943-7469 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 925-943-7469 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or . Through June 25, 2011.

BLUES IN THE NIGHT at CenterRep stars Armelia McQueen

Two years ago, Center Rep staged a brilliant production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ with five diverse, top-notch singers/dancers who cut up a storm and seem to be having as much fun as the appreciative audience receiving a much-deserved standing ovation. There was great expectation at opening night that Blues in the Night would be another standing ovation show. It was not to be. Although the entire cast has exceptional credentials, the sparkle expected was only sporadic.

Armelia McQueen, a full-bodied professional with a voice to match saves the evening with her theatrical control. McQueen, is no stranger to African-American musical revue genre being in the original Ain’t Misbavin’. Her every turn to sing is done with perfect pitch and body language always dominating the stage. Thus competent Debbie de Coudreaux and Amanda Folena as the other two ladies take second best.

Enthusiasm is the key word describing the performances by the three women who share the stage with handsome dulcet voiced C. R. Lewis, an import from Los Angeles who received accolades for his role in Contra Costa Musical Theatre of Rent. He plays the “bad guy” who makes our ladies blue in this energetic re-staging of Sheldon Epps’ 1982 production of Blues in the Night. There is no real plot. It is the story of a man's relationships with three hopeful black female singers living in a run-down Chicago Hotel told in a marvelous framework of 25 plus jazz and blues classics from the 1920s and '30s sung. One would wonder why Center Rep chose to use a white woman (Amanda Folena) in a revue designed to show the talents of black actors.

The characters are not given names and are identified as “The Man in the Salon” (C. R. Lewis), “The Woman of the World” (Debbie de Coudreaux), “The Lady from the Road” (Amelia McQueen) and “The Girl with a Date” (Amanda Folena). The Man, is a cocky unsuccessful womanizer who walks the walk but never leaves “them wantin’ more..” Lewis who is destined for bigger and better roles, in this part does not have the swagger needed to carry the intimidation. His effectiveness is further reduced by director Fleming repeatedly moving him up and over a metal framework stretched above the on-stage orchestra.

The stage itself deserves accolades (Eric Sinkkonen) but it is much too grand to reflect a seedy hotel. Brandon Adams’ musical direction with a fine on-stage band of tenor sax/clarinet, drums, trumpet and bass is a joy to hear adding character with drum rolls and woodwind riffs.

Amelia McQueen as the Lady from the Road shares center stage but still controls the action from her spot on stage right. With her telephone and theatrical trunks on the ready and waiting, she is hoping for a call from TOBA (Theater Owner Booking Association) better known as “Tough on Black Asses”. She is a buxom mamma with a booming voice that, early in the evening, brings down the house as she flounces from behind a screen dressed in garish outfit to belt “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues.” She is even better with “Take Me for a Buggy Ride” and with her raunchy rendition of the sexually suggestive “Kitchen Man.

Debbie de Coudreaux as the Woman of the World has a fine voice seductive voice and has her day in the sun with “Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn and later with “Rough and Ready Man” by Alberta Hunter. Amanda Folena, who starred in Becoming Britney, has the difficult task as the plaintive ingénue “The young Girl with a Date.” However with her excellent voice she expresses true sorrow with “Taking a Chance On Love” and “Willow Weep For Me.” There is very little dancing in this production, but Folena with C.R. Lewis, do a creditable turn with a tap routine in act two.

There are other great blues and jazz numbers shared by the women, in solos and in concert that thrill the audience. To name a few, "Blue Blues" by Bessie Smith, "I've Got A Date With A Dream", "Stompin’ At The Savoy", "Taking A Chance On Love", "I'm Just A Lucky So-and-So", "Wild Women Don't Have The Blues", "Lover Man", "When Your Lover Has Gone", and "Take It Right Back." The entire production is handsomely staged with nay a marginal performance and Armelia McQueen alone is worth the price of admission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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