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The Queen of the Blues & Friends

The legendary purveyor of blues and pop Dinah Washington (1924-63) deserves far better than this ill-conceived and misdirected sojourn through her short but spectacular career and troubled personal life. Billed as a tribute to Washington and such fellow vocal luminaries as Brook Benton, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Anita O'Day, the tuner disintegrates, even as it is plodding along through 23 scenes divided into two acts.

With:
Dinah Washington - Margarett Floyd Brook Benton - Phil Edwards Billie Holiday - Denise Stewart Eddie Night Train - Leonard Quarles Tony Acardo - Bobby Jasmin Frank Sinatra - Rick Dano Anita O'Day - Tita Farrar

The legendary purveyor of blues and pop Dinah Washington (1924-63) deserves far better than this ill-conceived and misdirected sojourn through her short but spectacular career and troubled personal life. Billed as a tribute to Washington (Margarett Floyd) and such fellow vocal luminaries as Brook Benton (Phil Edwards), Billie Holiday (Denise Stewart), Frank Sinatra (Rick Dano) and Anita O’Day (Tita Farrar), the tuner disintegrates, even as it is plodding along through 23 scenes divided into two acts. The greatest injustice is done to two excellent performers, Floyd and Stewart, who offer captivating renditions of songs identified with Washington and Holiday, respectively, overcoming wavering volume levels from a capricious prerecorded soundtrack.

Scripter-helmer Jerry Jones attempts to chronicle the singer’s evolution from gospel-singing minister’s daughter Ruth Lee Jones to blues and jazz diva Dinah Washington, who broke through to the mainstream pop market with her 1959 recording of “What a Difference a Day Makes” but ultimately succumbed to an overdose of diet pills and alcohol at 39. Jones fails to establish any kind of time sequence to the singer’s career chronology, allowing each scene to lurch forward sans pacing or structure. Along the way, Jones interjects awkwardly staged tribute performances from other artists that are simply stuck into the meandering dramatic throughline.

The production would be better served by cutting out the storyline and simply letting Floyd have her way with the audience, eliminating the distractions as she soars through such tunes as “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” “All of Me,” “Blow Top Blues,” “Always and Forever,” “Misty,” “Teach Me Tonight” and “What a Difference a Day Makes.” The same can be said for Denise Stewart’s outings on such Billie Holiday standards as “God Bless the Child,” “You Go to My Head” and “Them There Eyes” (a duet with Floyd).

Including performances by actors simulating contemporaries such as longtime friend Brook Benton, modern jazz chanteuse Anita O’Day and superstar Frank Sinatra does nothing to enhance the proceedings. Edwards offers passable renditions of the Benton hit “A Rainy Night in Georgia” and the Benton-Washington duet “You’ve Got What It takes” but never appears comfortable as a character within the storyline. Farrar’s miscast O’Day and Dano’s out-of-tune Sinatra can be dispensed with altogether.

Doing their best to establish some level of veracity within the plot are Leonard Quarles as Dinah’s long-suffering husband, football star Eddie Night Train (her seventh husband was actually Dick “Night Train” Lane), and Bobby Jasmin as the singer’s volatile wiseguy manager Tony Acardo.

The Queen of the Blues & Friends

Stella Adler Theater; 99 seats; $25 top

Production: A Call for Peace Foundation presentation of a musical play in two acts, written and directed by Jerry Jones.

Crew: Sets, Ricky Ross; lights, Thomas Fiscella; musical direction/sound, Miguele Norwood. Opened Feb. 4, 2005; reviewed Feb. 5. Runs through March 13. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: Dinah Washington - Margarett Floyd Brook Benton - Phil Edwards Billie Holiday - Denise Stewart Eddie Night Train - Leonard Quarles Tony Acardo - Bobby Jasmin Frank Sinatra - Rick Dano Anita O'Day - Tita FarrarEnsemble: Ray Flournoy, Rosslyn Jefferson, Chester Whittmore, Jocelyn Carter, Melissa McFedries, Parris Davis.

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