It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, Broadway's revue of blues music, its roots, sprouts and branches, will have two Tony Award-winning actresses making a joyful noise beginning the month of October: Noisy, funky Ann Duquesnay is joining the troupe Oct. 19.
The Best Featured Actress (Musical) Tony-winner for Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk will sing alongside Best Featured Actress (Musical) Tony-winner Gretha Boston (of Show Boat) at the Ambassador, the same house that proved so lucky for Duquesnay and Noise/Funk.
The show is playing musical chairs for the next several weeks, with cast members coming and going faster than licks from a hot guitar.
Carter Calvert, who sings about the white, Anglo, Appalachian branch of the blues, leaves Oct. 17 to be replaced by Christiane Noll (Jekyll & Hyde, Little by Little) on Oct. 19. Calvert is heading to Europe for a tour of Smokey Joe's Cafe.
Making way for Duquesnay, Eloise Laws will leave the company Oct. 17 to join the Los Angeles production at the Geffen Playhouse. Lawrence Clayton, seen in recent seasons in Saturn Returns at the Public Theater, and Once Upon a Mattress on Broadway, will step into Charles "Mississippi" Bevel's role Sept. 30. Bevel is recovering from throat surgery and is expected to return; understudy C.E. Smith has played the role since it opened at the Ambassador (following its Lincoln Center stand) Sept. 9.
The Tony Award-nominated show ended its stint at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre Aug. 29, but not before recording a live cast album featuring Gretha Boston, Gregory Porter, Ron Taylor, and the company. Taylor's role is now played by Ken Page (Cats, Ain't Misbehavin').
Taylor, who helped devise the revue, is opening the Los Angeles company, Nov. 13-Dec. 19, at the Geffen Playhouse. Official opening at the Geffen is Nov. 21.
Tony Award-nominated Taylor missed two months when he suffered a mild stroke in June. He returned to the show Aug. 24, for the final week of performances at the Beaumont.
There are no specific plans for a tour beyond Los Angeles, but there is hope, according to director Randal Myler.
The musical, which was nominated for 1999 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Featured Actress (Boston) and Featured Actor (Taylor), was born and nurtured in regional theatres, including the Denver Center Theatre Company (where is began) and, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Crossroads Theatre Company and San Diego Repertory Theatre. It played Off-Broadway's New Victory Theatre before moving to the Beaumont at Lincoln Center.
Though reviews were mixed and the show's weekly attendance at the Beaumont rarely climbed past the 50-60 percent mark, producers are hoping word of mouth, the show's numerous Tony nominations and an upcoming original cast CD release will spur ticket sales.
The show has also tried to capitalize on its perceived snub at this year's Tony Awards: time was running short (owing to a lengthy and poorly received tribute to the season's straight-plays nominees) so a Blues production number -- including "Members Only" and "Let The Good Times Roll" -- was cut.
Legal threats and charges of racism followed, though the Blues company did get to do the songs on CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" the following week.
In order to capture the mercurial, living essence of the show's jazz and blues performances, Blues was recorded in front of an audience, Aug. 26-27, at the Beaumont. MCA Records, in association with Spencer Proffer, will produce and distribute the cast album. Release date is expected to be November. The cast being captured on disc is the original Broadway company, including Taylor.
Songs in Blues include "Fever," "Goodnight Irene," "Strange Fruit" and "I Put A Spell On You." For tickets and information on It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, call (212) 239-6200.