“It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues” is really somethin’, and if I’m feelin’ blue it’s because I’m not still there watching it anymore. Alternating between electrifying and inspiring, the performance was sheer pleasure. The only thing that could make it better is more of it; perhaps WBTT could turn the musical revue into a big dance party, so the audience can come on down and join them? One enthusiastic viewer in the front row would have done just that if his date hadn’t been holding him back by his belt.
Based on Ron Taylor's original idea, Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler, Ron Taylor and Dan Wheetman, all of who were nominated for Tony awards in 1999 for the Off-Broadway production, wrote the play. The play employs witty and moving narration, as well as evocative choreography and music, to trace the history of blues music from its beginnings in Africa, through slavery, Southern gospels and into the postwar Chicago nightclubs — now and forever gloriously enmeshed into the zeitgeist of the U.S.
Musical director J. Cash II leds an excellent on-stage band that includes Marcus Thompson, Marvin Hendon, II, Johnny Walker, Greg Burke, and Apostle J. L. Cash. The band accompanies, and, at times joins, the talented cast as they perform more than three-dozen stirring musical numbers, many of which I hadn’t heard before. Beginning with the African tribal song, “Odum De,” performed by the entire cast, the high energy and level of excellence in singing, dancing and acting never fails to enthrall, amuse or set toes tapping.
Director and Choreographer Harry Bryce has infused the production with all the joy, desire, playfulness, zest and pathos that the blues tradition itself embodies. All of the numbers and their performers were fantastic, but here are just of few of my favorites: “Raise Thee Up Higher,” intoned by Earley Dean; “Blues Man,” sung and strummed by J.L. Cash; “Now I’m gonna Be Bad,” belted and bruised by Whitney Mignon Reed; “My Man Rocks Me,” definitively delivered by Ariel Blue; “Walkin’ Blues” funked up by hoofer Donald Frison; “Someone Else is Steppin’ In” socked to me by Tsadok Porter; “Mind Your Own Business,” sung sly and wry by Gregory Burke; and pass the smelling salts, ladies — Horace Smith, making it real with “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.” Whew.