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Off Broadway

He Says: Lonesome Blues Begs for Your Heart

He Says: Lonesome Blues Begs for Your Heart

In Lonesome Blue, as directed by Katherine Owens at The York Theatre Company, attempts to dive into the myth and mystery surrounding the true and fascinating story of blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929). Born blind, Jefferson found release singing his “Match Box Blues” songs on a street corner in Dallas Texas.  His “Broke and Hungry Blues” reflect his deepest emotions, triggering an empathetic response of shared pain and connection.  His “Rabbit Foot Blues” gave him the luck to be discovered on that very street corner out front of a barber shop, leading his “Shuckin’ Sugar Blues” to the creation of more than 80 records over the next four years. This man, who definitely has “Got the Blues” became one the most prolific and influential performers of his generation propelling the growth of rhythm and blues, soul, doo-wop, rap, and hip-hop forward in a most spectacular way.

LONESOME BLUES Production Photo 9
Akin Babatundé. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.

The one man showpiece, written by Alan Govenor and Akin Babatundé after extended research, tries to dive into the deep inner life and psyche of this powerful singer and song writer. Their writing attempts to channel the spirits of men and women alike who were a part of this singer’s journey from street to recording studio.  Accompanied by the amazing David Weiss on guitar, Babatundé plays the legendary singer, along with more than ten other roles, as he sits on the sidewalk waiting for a ride on the day of his death, December 19, 1929, in Chicago. Utlizing a very long list of songs and monologues, he parcels out a meandering tale of inspiration and the ascendance of Blind Lemon Jefferson with passion and a whole lot of sweat and tears. It’s obvious from the list of musical numbers, Jefferson’s influence is strong, but unfortunately, the storytelling in this creation is a tad convoluted, rarely finding its spirit and the internalized beat.  The singing wanders around from good to impressive but never hitting that emotional high we keep waiting for.  Oddly enough, Babatundé is more engaging when he takes on the voice and mannerisms of the ladies who came into his life.  He seems to connect to their internal life more clearly, as the rest of the time, the threads of Jefferson don’t come together in a compelling narrative.

LONESOME BLUES Production Photo 10
Akin Babatundé and David Weiss on Guitar. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.

The guitar playing is powerful, and the backdrop by scenic designer James Morgan, with costumes by Gelacio Eric Gibson, lighting by Steve Woods and sound design by Jason Johnson-Spinos, takes us to a very specific time and place, but the characterization doesn’t do the trick of pulling us in.  It did inspire me to want to read more and look into this slice of musical history that I wasn’t aware of, but mainly because the details and the transformative spirit  were more troubling and vague than evocative. Blind Lemon Jefferson is considered by many as a musical icon in the development of American popular music influencing such various artists such as Lead Belly, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, but this one man show fails to establish his power or his story solidly enough to do the man justice.  Although it did inspire me to want to know more and listen to his “Chritmas Eve Blues“.

LONESOME BLUES Production Photo 7
Akin Babatundé. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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