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BWW Reviews: BLUES IN THE NIGHT, Hackney Empire, April 25 2014

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It's 1939, we're in a cheap hotel in Chicago and there's plenty of good reasons to be singing the Blues. The Man (Clive Rowe) is a womaniser who's losing his touch - but not his bravado. The Girl (Gemma Sutton) is already swigging vodka from the bottle - her future doesn't look as bright as her past. The Woman (Paulette Ivory) is slinky and sophisticated, but prefers bad men to good and suffers as a result. The Lady who sings the Blues (Sharon D Clarke) has plenty of tales to tell, some with the downcast look of one who has loved and lost and some with the twinkling eye of the woman who knows that there were good times in the past and there might be good times yet to come.

Backed by Mark Dickman's superb band, these singers belt out Blues and Jazz standards that reveal how life was just before World War II in America's most industrialised city. There's numbers from Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and plenty more - none too familiar, but none too obscure either. And there's lots and lots of "belt" from four tremendous singers who almost compete to inject the most passion into their numbers.

If Clive Rowe gets most of the laughs, Gemma Sutton most of the pathos, Paulette Ivory most of the sexiness, it is recent Olivier Award winner Sharon D Clarke who gets the soaring laments (yes, as life gets tougher, the vocals get stronger) and the quickfire, double entendres laden songs of a woman who's seen a lot in her life - I was reminded of George Melly at his naughtiest!

Blues in the Night (at the Hackney Empire until 4 May) isn't quite a musical, isn't quite a cabaret and isn't quite a gig - it's more a tribute to some great songs given by some great singers in the grand old Hackney Empire. Sheldon Epps, who conceived the show, has been served well by his director Susie McKenna and, of course, his wonderful vocalists.


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