MRT to Present 'THE DEVIL'S MUSIC,' 1/9-2/2

Miche Braden as Bessie Smith. Photo by John Quilty.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) presents The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith by Angelo Parra and directed by Joe Brancato, January 9- February 2, continuing the theater's 35th season with the soulful blues. The play will be performed in the recently-renovated Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street in historic downtown Lowell. Tickets range from $60 - $20 and are on sale now through or by calling 978-654-4678.

The play tells the tumultuous story of Bessie Smith, the legendary "Empress of the Blues," whose life was as large and as outrageous as her talent. It takes place in 1937 in a Memphis "buffet flat," where the partying, laughter, and bawdiness all come together to deliver an entertaining, unforgettable, and surprisingly touching evening. The Devil's Music explodes with the best of the songs that Bessie Smith made famous, including "I Ain't Got Nobody," "St. Louis Blues," "Baby Doll," and "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do," all performed by the electrifying Miche Braden, who has immortalized the role of Bessie Smith.

In late 1988, director Joe Brancato approached playwright Angelo Parra about creating a show based on the life of blues singer Bessie Smith with actor Miche Braden. The three collaborators created the show, which premiered in 2000 at Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point, NY. The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith has since been performed at more than a dozen theatres around the country, including the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Off-Broadway at the St. Luke's Theatre in 2011. Both the Off-Broadway production and Miche Braden were nominated for Lucille Lortel Awards.

Director Joe Brancato is thrilled to present The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith at MRT. "The Devil's Music has been a labor of love from the very beginning. My hope was to develop a compelling and thoroughly entertaining evening of story and song as an introduction for a new generation to the incredible 'Empress of the Blues'. As you will see, I have been blessed with success.... first and foremost because of my collaborators: The wit and wisdom of Angelo Parra, complemented by the raw brilliance of Miche Braden, has been a gift any creative director would kill for! Secondly, to be dealing with a subject matter as talented and complex and a litmus test for compassion as Bessie Smith was a solid head start on the journey. When you round this out with three exceptionally talented musicians, a crack design team and a theatre as welcoming as MRT.... Hell, the stage is set to tell the story of a music legend that became a grand influence on music icons including Janis Joplin (who finally marked Bessie's gravesite with a headstone in tribute to this music legend)."

Angelo Parra, who wrote the show, also commented on bringing the show to Lowell, "It's been a great source of personal and artistic satisfaction to me to experience the enthusiasm with which audiences have greeted performances of The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith. To me, there is no higher compliment than to hear audiences discussing Bessie Smith and her story as they leave the theatre. Audiences from Montreal to Florida have been thoroughly entertained by the show, and, at the same time, maybe learned a little more about the life of the American music pioneer. When Miche, Joe, and I created The Devil's Music years ago, we could not have anticipated the remarkable journey we would travel with the show. I'm eagerly looking forward to our visit to the prestigious Merrimack Repertory Theatre. I'm sure its audiences will have a rousing, foot-stomping great time at The Devil's Music."

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