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It Aint Nothin' But The Blues

AAJ Staff By

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A timely, tune-filled, treatise on America’s musical treasure, the Tony nominated hit, “It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues" is at the Prince Music Theater November 5-23. The cast and band had the audience howling with delight, cheering them on and leaving the theater just feeling good about life. People keep forgetting that the blues provide emotional release and when done right a joyous catharsis. This show should not merely have won Tony nominations—it should have won them.

Directing this critically cheered Broadway play is the newly appointed award-winning Director-In-Residence at the Prince, Douglas C. Wager. Mr. Wager a prodigious portfolio of professional experience to the task. He has some 20 years experience, directing over 200 productions. This includes several years as director of the prestigious Arena Stage in Washington, D. C, eliciting three Helen Hayes Awards and some 13 nominations for outstanding director. He has also worked in Los Angeles in film and television productions and on the Broadway stage.

“It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues” traces the blues from Africa through gospel, the Delta to Chicago and beyond. The seven member cast and five-piece band tell this story in some 40 songs and visuals, going through gospel, country and jazz. It plays at the Prince appropriately in 2003, the Congressionally declared “Year of the Blues,” marking 100 years since W. C. Handy first arranged and published “The Memphis Blues.”

The cast includes Jeffery V. Thompson and Scott Wakefeild from the Broadway cast, Sarah Jane Nelson, Doug Escew, from Broadway and local favorites Joilet Harris and Barbara D. Mills with local blues belter Georgie Bonds and band leader Bill Jolly who have been entertaining Philadelphia audiences for years. The cast was uniformly marvelous with each of them providing special touches of depth and, at times, comedy touches that brought you back to the glory days of the Apollo theater. . Just some of the now-famous songs that will be sung include: “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Let The Good Times Roll,” and, of course, “The St. Louis Blues.”

Mr. Wager, laughingly noted his own roots in this music world during a recent Metro interview saying, “I was a bit of a musician myself, playing piano and rhythm guitar in various groups.” He said that the play presented “A challenge to demonstrate through music and images that give an historical context for the blues and how it forms American roots music.” He recalled his own roots experience with the play, back in 1996 when he first worked on and got in the original production of the show which started out as an educational play for students.

The play went on from there he pointed out to the production at the Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center in New York. The New York Times said it was “a potent blend of visual eloquence and historical sweep that engages the eye and touches the ear.”

Mr. Wager said the play begins with African chants, slave music, field hollers and evolution to gospel, with very little dialogue, the performers telling the story in song. In the second act, he said, “the band takes over telling the story about the urban sources of the blues.” He added that the audience experience with the show is “user friendly” and that it was honest, “not glitzy,” or a commercial exploitation of the music. He noted this was the only current East Coast presentation of the show.

Music direction is by Michael Keck assisted by Bill Jolly. The play was created by Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler, Ron taylor and Dan wheetman, based on an original idea by Taylor. Sponsors of the play here are Commerce Bank and PECO Energy with Media sponsorship by Philadelphia Metro and WXPN 88.5 Radio.

Tickets are $30 to $48 at the box office or by calling 215-569-9700. The Prince Music Theater is at 1412 Chestnut Street.

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