BWW Review: MOAN THEM BLUES Soothes the Soul of patrons at The Sahara Lounge in Austin, TX

BWW Review: MOAN THEM BLUES Soothes the Soul of patrons at The Sahara Lounge in Austin, TX

Highlighting the old time blues and soul style of Bessie Smith AKA The Empress of The Blues, MOAN THEM BLUES provides a different style of theatrical entertainment. Essentially a one-woman show starring Toni Ringgold, with her piano man sidekick Jawbone (played by Ke'Aier Mufasa Denson) performing her greatest hits set list. The reminiscent blues of Bessie Smith is performed, while revealing deeper emotional connections to the material presented for the eager audience. Missing only the cigarette smoke in the lounge, Frank Benge directs this show simply with a piano, a flask and the traditional crowd working, vintage-style vaudevillian performances were known for. With a career beginning with a traveling performance troupe, Bessie Smith began to rise as a star in the early 1920's. After gaining a following in the southern United States along with the east coast, Bessie quickly emerged from obscurity to be the highest paid performer of her time and genre. With the show set towards the end of Bessie's career in the early 1930's, the rise of "talkies" and the the great depression completely devastated performers and the music industry alike. Remembering the "good ole days" of rising fame, men and the love of gin, Toni Ringgold performs Bessie's more memorable songs. The storytelling (written by Robert King Jr) in-between the songs, reveals more and more about her tumultuous life that has led her to the dim stage in The Sahara Lounge.

Leading the show with sass and grace, Toni Ringgold takes the stage with a flask and the flashy red dress of a seasoned performer. Matching the contralto vocal stylings (lowest female register) appropriately to her character, Ringgold takes her performance from the stage to the audience. Wandering between patron's tables and performing for individuals as it served within the songs subject matter, her teasing in this manner lended well to the slow-burning reveal of her infidelitous lifestyle echoing the roaring 20's. Ringgold's channeling of emotional connection to the original songs of Bessie Smith, proved to be a compelling asset throughout this two act show. Her counterpart Jawbone, played by Denson, served as Bessie's teasing presence on stage, while accompanying her on the piano. Impressed by the live piano sound, the audience was shocked when Denson stands during curtain call and the piano plays on. The band or more specifically the live piano accompaniment, is accredited to Jason Crosby. Crosby's piano playing was the foundation of the show and timed perfectly with Ringgold's gags and blue humor and the live piano sound added radiance to the overall sound of the show. As a collection of performers, their generous style pays homage to the camaraderie of the performers travelling from show to show in the Gatsby era of performance.

The soulful stylings and live singing pipes executed by Ringgold were evocative of the character Effy from Dream Girls. However their character's intentions differed from one man to many, the powerhouse vocal performance delivered by Ringgold was incredible to hear live. The intimate space at The Sahara Lounge, served well to deliver this fantastic performance. Sipping on Bathtub Punch (signature drink offered) and dreaming about "A pigfoot and a bottle of beer", MOAN THEM BLUES hits the nail on the head of Bessie Smith's final days of performance.




Written by: Robert King Jr.

Directed by: Frank Benge

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From This Author Amy Tarver

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