By Kenneth Jones
12 Nov 2000
It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, the Tony Award-nominated revue of blues music that played Broadway April 1999-January 2000, will end its Off-Broadway 42nd Street run Nov. 12, after 37 performances and 11 previews.
The show officially re-opened Aug. 28 in Manhattan in a streamlined 90-minute version at The B.B. King Blues Club, after playing a hit engagement at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in the summer.
The company features the Broadway staging's Mississippi Charles Bevel and Carter Calvert, along with Cheryl Alexander, Debra Laws, Michael Mandell and Horace V. Rogers. Jim Ehinger is the musical director.
Producer Eric Krebs is behind this second life in Manhattan on the six-show-per-week, Sunday-to-Wednesday schedule that has allowed the 499-seat nightclub's headliners play prime weekend gigs. Previews for the hybrid piece — a theatre show in a blues venue — began Aug. 20. The booking in the theatre district nightclub attracted crossover audiences: luring both theatregoers and music fans.
Co-creator and original director Randal Myler helms the B.B. King Club company. Cheryl Alexander was a Broadway understudy and Michael Mandell performed the two-act version of the show when it played the Kennedy Center and Atlanta in summer 2000, in the role created by the show's co-conceiver, Ron Taylor).
Krebs told Playbill On-Line that this kind of venture — a reinvention of a Broadway musical in a midtown nightclub setting built for the sort of music the show celebrates — is "really an odd and creative thing." In the streamlining, about 20 minutes were cut.
It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues was nominated for 1999 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Featured Actress (Gretha Boston) and Featured Actor (Ron Taylor), was born and nurtured in regional theatres, including the Denver Center Theatre Company (where it began in 1995) and Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Crossroads Theatre Company and San Diego Repertory Theatre.
The musical incorporates traditional blues and its pop variants, with performers filling in the gaps with historical or personal narrative. The book is by Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler, Ron Taylor and Dan Wheetman. It played Off Broadway's New Victory Theatre before moving to the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center April 26, 1999. It moved to the Ambassador in early September 1999.
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, 1999, at the Beaumont. MCA Records, in association with Spencer Proffer, produced the cast album.
Songs in the revised Blues include "Let The Good Times Roll," "I've Been Living With The Blues," "I'm A Blues Man," "St. Louis Blues," "Now I'm Gonna Be Bad," "Sweet Home Chicago," "Wang Dang Doodle," "Someone Else is Steppin' In," "Please Don't Stop Him," "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," "Crawlin' King Snake," "Mind Your Own Business," "Walkin' After Midnight," "I Can't Stop Lovin' You," "The Thrill Is Gone," "I Put a Spell On You," "Fever," "Walkin' Blues," "Come On in My Kitchen," "Crossroad Blues," "Goodnight, Irene," "Strange Fruit," "Someday We'll All Be Free," "Members Only."
Tickets to the B.B. King Blues Club run of It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues are $50, with discounts for groups. The B.B. King Blues Club & Grill is at 243 W. 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. It is owned by Danny and Steven Bensusan, who also own and operate New York City's The Blue Note.
For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or (for groups of 20 or more) try (212) 967-7079.