REVIEW: Elegance and Powerful Emotions Emanate in ‘Blues in the Night’ at Meadow Brook Theatre

Lately, the temperatures outside have been all over the place, but inside Meadow Brooke Theatre (MBT), you can feel the heat from their latest production, Blues in the Night, running until March 12, 2023, on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, MI.

Conceived and originally directed by Sheldon Epps, with original vocal arrangements and musical direction by Chapman Roberts and orchestrations and additional vocal arrangements by Sy Johnson, this staging of Blues in the Night is directed and choreographed by Tyrick Wiltez (Stick Fly). And it is a white-hot celebration of Blues music with a talented cast that sizzles with every song they sing.

Set in the late 1930s in a Chicago establishment that would never be mistaken for The Drake Hotel, this musical revue revolves around four occupants: The Lady of the Road (Angela Birchett), The Woman of the World (Jameelah Leaundra), The Girl with a Date (Jackey Good in her MBT debut), and The Man in the Saloon (Parnell Damone Marcano). Through the songs of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, and others, they each take the audience on a journey of their lives – past and present.

Ladies Sing the Blues. L-R: Jackey Good, Angela Birchett, and Jameelah Leaundra express themselves in Meadow Brook Theatre’s production of Blues in the Night. Photo courtesy of MBT’s Facebook.

The Lady serves as a narrator of what unfolds on stage. She is a mature woman with humor and life experience in spades and spends a lot of her time thinking back to when she was in high demand as a performer. As such, she entertains the audience with highlights from her old act, while gossiping about the others living in the hotel. And let me tell you, Birchett is phenomenal in this role. She doesn’t just sing the Blues; she is the Blues. Her vocal aptitude, especially on “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues” and “Wasted Life Blues” is inspiring to behold and she had the audience eating out of her hands.

Then there is The Woman; a stylish and sophisticated dame who, despite her current surroundings, still likes to believe she’s entitled to the finer things in life. She plays her cards close to her chest, but you get the sense her charm and good looks have taken her far in life. And even though she isn’t living on champagne and caviar anymore, Leaundra sells the dream and plays The Woman with great sensuality and emotion, especially when singing “Rough and Ready Man.”

The Girl is full of energy and passion. Even though she is young and a bit naive, she’s already experienced sorrow and comes to the big city to escape her past, only to find out it follows her like a shadow. “Reckless Blues” is a powerful example of what lies beneath the surface of a happy façade and Good’s performance of the vocal and physical aspects of the song are spectacular to watch.

L to R Top: Jackey Good, Parnell Damone Marcano, and Angela Birchett. Bottom: Jameelah Leaundra in ‘Blues in the Night’ at MBT. Photo courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

Marcano is literally The Man in this show. While his character is charming, he’s also a little bit dangerous because he thinks he has all the answers. But underneath that peacock strut, is a man who is frustrated and lonely. In “Baby Doll” he laments, “I went to see the doctor the other day/He said, “I’s well as well could be”/But I said, “Doctor, you don’t know really what’s worryin’ me”/I wanna be somebody’s baby doll/So I can get my lovin’ all the time/I wanna be somebody’s baby doll to ease my mind.”

Blues guitarist John Lee Hooker once said, “The Blues tells a story. Every line of the Blues has meaning.” And Blues in the Night is an excellent example of this. It’s funny and relatable, with nuanced phrasing that conveys heartache and hope and the same time. This music reaches into your soul and settles into the very core of your being. And believe me, the standing ovation this amazing cast received at the end of the show confirmed how well they had done their jobs.

The layout of the multi-level set lends to a fluid movement of the actors and music, which allows for their storytelling to expand and fill the space. Kudos to Stage Manager Brittanie Nichole Sicker, Scenic Designer Kristen Gribbin, Costume Designer Karen Kangas-Preston, Lighting Designer Neil Koivu, and Sound Designer Mike Duncan for beautifully marrying the visuals with the music.

Brian E. Buckner is the musical director, conducts the band, plays the piano, and is having a blast on stage. He is joined by Russ Macklem (Trumpet), Don Platter (Saxophone), Jackson Stone (Bass), and Louis Jones III (Drums). It was a rare treat to be able to see the band front and center. It was obvious they were having fun keeping the joint jumping!

Legendary Blues singer Ma Rainey said you don’t sing the Blues to feel better; you sing because it’s a way of understanding life. So, while this production is about the Blues, I guarantee you’ll be anything but by the time the last note is sung. In fact, I bet you’ll come away with a better perspective on life than when you first entered the room.

This performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

MBT has rated this show for middle school age and up.  

Tickets range from $37 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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