Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe or a newcomer, you’re bound to find the company’s current production, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, deeply satisfying.
It’s got everything going for it: the right mix of songs (in a revue created by Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler, Ron Taylor and Dan Wheetman) to take us on a journey of the genre all the way from African chants to down-and-dirty Chicago style, plus the sometimes exuberant, sometimes poignant choreography of director Harry Bryce, colorful costumes by Cristy Owen, a dynamite band led by J. Cash II, and a cast of eight that’s perfectly chosen to hit their marks both individually and in ensemble.
Some of those cast members may be familiar if you are a regular here, but they seem to reach new levels in this always on-the-move production. Tsadok Porter and Ariel Blue, WBTT stalwarts, are joined by newcomer Whitney Reed (who also dances eloquently) on the female side, and they are impressive together and in solos, delivering everything from the pain of slavery and heartbreak of loss to plenty of sass and sexuality when it comes to dealing with their menfolk. You may know some of those male cast members, too, from Earley Dean to Donald Frison to Horace Smith, who appeared here recently in Jitney.
But who would have known from that nonmusical performance what an amazing singing voice Smith has to match his physical presence? He’s a powerhouse on his own, but pair him with Blue on numbers laced with sexual innuendo (Come On in My Kitchen) or with guitarist Apostle J.L. Cash, who also sings from deep in the gut (The Thrill is Gone) and the mercury onstage just keeps rising.
In fact, an infusion of Cash is always welcome, as are the occasional forays into vocals by fellow guitarist Gregory “Gig” Burke, who demonstrates that white folks can get the blues, too, with some more country-tinged numbers (“T” for Texas and Mind Your Own Business).
The show offers plenty of fun, but doesn’t stint on the harsh realities that underlay the blues, including an Act II rendition of the Billie Holiday classic, Strange Fruit. Blue sings that with true sensitivity (accompanied by Frison’s enactment of the song’s story), before the show returns us to a good-time feeling with the closing numbers.
Kudos to Bryce and his cast for this production–a season closer that makes you wish it weren’t over just yet.
It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues continues through May 12; for tickets call 366-1505 or go to wbttsrq.org.