Musical chronicles blues legend
Following the success of “One Night with Janis Joplin” in 2012, Cleveland Play House explores the life of another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with its next production.
“The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith” by Angelo Parra tells the story of the sexy and racy blues singer. Set on the eve of her tragic death in 1937, Smith takes center stage as she chronicles her life and career, her loves and losses.
Mixed among the stories are some of her best-known songs, including “St. Louis Blues,” “Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Baby Doll,” “Gimme a Pigfoot” and “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do.” The show premiered at Penguin Rep Theatre and enjoyed runs Off-Broadway and at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival.
The daughter of a preacher, Smith overcame southern poverty to become one of the greatest and most influential classic blues singers of the 1920s, earning the title “Empress of the Blues.”
Though the record industry was still in its early years, Smith made more than 160 recordings and, at the height of her popularity, she sold more recordings than anyone other than Caruso and Al Jolson. Over the decades, stars such as Ethel Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin have acknowledged their debt to her groundbreaking work. In 1980, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame and, in 1989, into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
For the Cleveland production, Smith will be played by Miche Braden, who also played the role in Montreal and New York City, where she earned a 2012 Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. She will be accompanied by a three-piece band featuring George Caldwell, Jim Hankins and Keith Loftis.
It will be directed by Joe Brancato, who also directed the world premiere and Off-Broadway productions.
“The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith” runs Friday through March 10 at ClevelandPlayhouse’s Allen Theatre, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Show times are 7 p.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday with a special weekday matinee at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 28. Tickets range from $49 to $69 for adults with student tickets available for $15. Tickets are available by calling 216-241-6000 and at www.clevelandplayhouse.com.