Blues in the Night, Musical Theatre of Chicago, at the Theatre Building. One heavenly number in this company’s debut production almost redeems Craig Gibson’s uneven staging of Sheldon Epps’s supple revue, a salute to classic blues. Depicting a vaudeville veteran fighting loneliness, Beth Leavell tears into Bessie Smith’s “Wasted Life Blues” with lacerating conviction. You don’t know if the pleasure of hearing the ballad outweighs the pain of singing it. The audience goes wild. Everything else is anticlimactic.
Blues in the Night proves a shaky showcase, beset as it is by lighting miscues, problems with diction and projection, the four performers’ somewhat forced byplay, and a band so terrific it sometimes outshines the singers. The singing doesn’t always match the level of the acting, nor the acting the level of the lyrics. As a young hopeful who dreams big, Alanda Coon starts too soft on “Taking a Chance on Love” in order to end too big. Playing a belter to beat the band, Ashley Dearborn tends to cut off her phrases, and she’s curiously absent from numbers that are supposed to be quartets.
But as a worldly-wise survivor, Megan Van De Hey delivers a sultry, then soulful “Stomping at the Savoy.” Leavell carries much of the show, also working the house in “Take Me for a Buggy Ride” and “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues.” And when the trio croon the title number, their delicious harmonies and liquid notes can’t disguise the hard luck behind them.