The Essex Theatre Company celebrates cultural diversity with the staging of "Blues in the Night," a musical revue by Sheldon Epps, artistic director of the Pasedena Playhouse.

"It was copyrighted in 1978, and the show opened on Broadway in 1982," said Kathy Poppino, who is directing the production. "It was nominated for a Tony Award as the best musical of the year. He also directed the London production nominated for two Laurence Olivier awards. It ran for two years on the West End before Thames Television broadcasted it in Europe."

Set in a cheap motel in the late 1930s, the play's action takes place between early evening and 3 a.m. The blues numbers are synchronized with the expectancy of a date to the disappointment and frustration of being stood up.

"At the end, there is a resolution with the idea that I will do better tomorrow," Poppino said.

The cast members are Thistle Tulla Carson who portrays Lady from the Road, Kate List as Woman of the World, Antonette Knoedl as Girl with a Date and Rory Wallace as Man in the Saloon. Wallace is replaced by Matt Rock in Saturday's show.

The live band consists of Zak Breckenridge (drums), Jim Huneycutt (tenor sax), Russ Mulvey (stand-up bass), Barbara Winsman (piano), Christopher Lynch (tenor sax) and Laureen Carson (trumpet).

Two people showed up at March auditions. Poppino had heard Thistle Tulla Carson and finally tracked her down. Wallace was contacted by Knoedl, a friend.

Rehearsals began in May.

"Epps had original vocal arrangements and musical direction by Chapman Roberts," Poppino said. "Additional vocal arrangements and orchestration was by Sy Johnson. It is really a number of songs put together. Many songs are by Bessie Smith. She's a signature person in this piece. The opening number is 'Blues Blues' done by the whole company."

Other Smith tunes include "It Makes My Love Come Down," "Reckless Blues," "Wasted Life Blues," "Baby Doll" and "Dirty No-Gooders Blues."

Other selections include Willard Robertson's "Four Walls (And one dirty window) Blues" and "I Got a Date with a Dream" by Mac Gordon and Harry Revel.

Cast attire includes flapper dresses, lingerie and robes.

"We're trying to honor some of his ideals," Poppino said. "I wanted to try something smaller than the other musicals we've done in the past. It's been a joy to work in terms of the great singers and great musicians."

E-mail Robin Caudell at: rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

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