Freda Payne, Maurice Hines, Carol Woods, and Paulette Ivory
in Blues in the Night
(© Kevin Berne)
Freda Payne, Maurice Hines, Carol Woods, and Paulette Ivory
in Blues in the Night
(© Kevin Berne)
Director Sheldon Epps has pulled together a marvelous show that pays an honest, well-read, and thoroughly understood tribute to a lovely roster of jazz standards from such greats as Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Ida Cox with his production of Blues in the Night, now playing at the Post Street Theatre.

It tells the story of three women lamenting and simultaneously praising love, yielding a production that is heavy on featured solos and light on company numbers. The show stars Freda Payne as The Woman of the World, Paulette Ivory as The Girl With a Date, and Maurice Hines as The Man in the Saloon, and takes place in a hotel over one night. Stealing the show from her formidable co-stars, however, is Carol Woods, who plays the Lady from The Road, and incidentally, the closest thing the production has to a narrator.

Woods is a veteran chanteuse who can unquestionably carry a show of any magnitude, but what sets her apart is a heartfelt connection to the music that cannot be taught or practiced; it truly has to come from the soul. Woods' performance of the hysterical "Dirty No-Gooder's Blues," originally sung by Bessie Smith, and her rendition of Smith's "Wasted Life Blues" are knockouts. She leaves the audience breathless and aching, pouring emotion into each and every note she belts out with jaw-dropping intensity.

Numbers such as "Take Me For A Buggy Ride" and "Kitchen Man" are brilliant, with Woods striking a perfect balance between keeping each song true to its original context, yet pulling out the phrases in a way that tunes to a modern audience's ear. Some of these songs can sound kind of hokey here in 2007, but Woods' impeccable interpretations allow the audience to truly grasp and relish the innuendos and nuances packed into these sexy and clever tunes.

Ivory is adorable as the young girl not yet ready to give up on love. Her performances are polished to a brilliant shine, and she is graceful during choreographed scenes. But she doesn't have that deep down guttural delivery that gives the songs juice like Woods does. Her performances were surely enjoyable, but not as dynamic.

The same goes for Payne, who desperately tries to evoke Ella Fitzgerald with her rendition of "Stompin at the Savoy," a song with a fantastic melody that Payne unfortunately doesn't quite establish. During the song's bridge, Payne dives into a lengthy section of scat singing, the vocal style for which Fitzgerald was famous, but she doesn't nail it.

Hines, who at times is seen leading the production's on-stage band, is well-cast as a lovingly smarmy playboy, who for the most part chastises his female counterparts. His shining moment, however, is a stunning tap performance during "Baby Doll" where the audience is forced to hold its wanting applause until Hines says "now."

Though it plays more like a decked out concert, Blues in the Night works on many levels and adds a refreshing twist to the stage musical genre, calling upon a wonderful selection of music that will please both novice and die-hard jazz fans.