Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Low Down Dirty Blues
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
Review by Scott Cain | Season Schedule

Also see Scott's review of White Christmas

Caron "Sugaray" Rayford, Felicia P. Fields,
and Chic Street Man

Photo by Mikki Schaffner
While holiday audiences young and old flock to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's annual production of A Christmas Carol in the large Marx Theatre this December, other theatergoers are enjoying a red-hot production of Low Down Dirty Blues at Playhouse's smaller Thompson Shelterhouse theater. Big performances, heartfelt and unique songs, and an atmosphere that pulls you into the world of this back alley Chicago jazz club world make for an engaging and satisfying two hours.

Low Down Dirty Blues doesn't have much of a story, but is rather a musical revue that immerses audiences in an experience of old-school, personal blues along with some intriguing and inviting characters. Creators Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman have had success with similarly small, character and song driven musicals such as Dream a Little Dream, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, and Love, Janis in the past, and also co-wrote the Broadway show It Ain't Nothing but the Blues.

This show begins with songs primarily about raw sexual needs and experiences, often with comedy relying on not-so-subtle innuendo—all of which are deliciously captured in music and words. Eventually, the focus moves to more serious topics: the struggles of economic viability, racial prejudice, and loss, and then the reliance on faith to sustain one through it all. The songs, from a variety of writers including Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Etta James, Ma Rainey, and Howlin' Wolf, include titles such as "My Stove's in Good Condition," "Big Leg Woman," "Change Is Gonna Come," and "If I Can't Sell It."

Randal Myler also directs and infuses very effective humor into the proceedings, with just the right amount of audience participation as well. For the most part, though, he lets the performers and songs speak for themselves, which is a good thing, for the performers are excellent.

As Big Mama, Felicia P. Fields, who received a Tony nomination for The Color Purple, has the sass, perfect comic timing, and throaty, boisterous vocals suited for this well-worn blues matron. Her performance is outstanding in every way. Giving the proceedings even more of a feel of authenticity are Chic Street Man (Jelly) and Caron "Sugaray" Rayford (Sugar). Chic Street Man delivers skilled blues musicianship on guitar and harmonica and been-there, done-that vocals which capture the essence of the blues in a laid back style. Mr. Rayford supplies powerful, emotional vocals and spirited energy with non-stop movement. Steve Schmidt (piano) and Joel Greenberg (bass) provide vibrant accompaniment as well.

Vicki Smith's unit set captures the proper feel for the late-night South Side Chicago club, with mismatched tables and chairs and distressed wall adornments. The lighting by Don Darnutzer and costumes by Gordon DeVinney are apt as well, and the sound by Jeremy J. Lee is crystal clear.

Low Down Dirty Blues doesn't try to do too much, but certainly delivers the goods for what it does try to do—give some insight into this gritty world of the blues through superb performances of songs, both humorous and emotional.

Low Down Dirty Blues continues at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through December 20, 2015. For tickets and more information in Center, call (513) 421-3888 or visit