The premise of Nothing But the Blues would strain credulity if it weren't based on a real story. In November 1983, Theresa Needham faced the closing of her tiny basement nightclub, which had become a Chicago blues mecca in its 33-year history, hosting big stars like Muddy Waters and launching big names like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. Joe Plummer's 2010 play takes a fanciful look at that event for a musical revue of classic blues and blues classics.
New Horizon Theater recreates Mrs. Needham's ramshackle little lounge in a newly cobbled-together theater space in a large meeting room of the Kingsley Association. The effect is not about realism, but about recreating the casual but intimate atmosphere of Theresa's Lounge. Everybody sings, and everybody dances — even the audience, if they so please.
Directed by Eileen J. Morris — artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston and a regular Pittsburgh visitor — Blues is an appealing musical with nine wonderful voices from the community. A bit pedagogic about the history of the blues, the script strings the songs on a few wisps of soap-operish subplots. But the real joy is the music, beginning (natch) with an ensemble rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago," led by Teri Bridgett, as Theresa.
Trying to save her marriage, sensible church lady Camille Lowman metamorphoses into a siren with "You Can Have My Husband But Don't Mess With My Man." Her opponent is the sultry Karla Payne, coming to battle with "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On." The two share a winsome "Stormy Monday" that stops the show. Chuck Timbers delivers a lowdown "Born Under a Bad Sign" and Dennis Robinson Jr. kicks in with youthful vigor on "Messing With the Kid." Les Howard adds gravitas to the storylines and tenderness to his duet with Ms. Bridgett, "We're Gonna Make It." (The instrumental tracks are pre-recorded.) Give a hand, too, to Richard Hutchins, Ijazneem, Delana Flowers, musical director Henry L. Biggs and choreographer Anthony Dixon.
Yes, the play is a bit creaky in places, but Nothing But the Blues is nothing but sweet sweet music.