The more elegant Woman of the World (Freda Payne) romanticizes love, while the Girl With a Date (Vanita Harbour) has not yet lost her defiance, ready to take on the world. The Man in the Saloon (Perry Chanel Moore) represents all men — the charming, no-good-for-work kind.
The characters don’t go beyond stereotype — no feminists need apply in this world — but it’s a veneer to present the past in a smiley way. And it works. Director Sheldon Epps, who first workshopped the play 15 years ago and brought it to Broadway two years later, meets his goal — to entertain.
The first act presents blues and jazz via a big band sound. If you’re expecting raspy, raunchy, throw-me-out-in-the-alley-with-the-rats blues or a dramatic connection to the music, that’s not here most of the time. Lush musicality is.
Part One features music by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Ida Cox and Ann Ronell. Act two adds more personality, thanks in part to Bessie Smith’s “Dirty, No-Gooder’s Blues” (which allows Ryan to soar), “Reckless Blues,””Wasted Life Blues” and “Baby Doll.”
The women make their characters distinct. Ryan brings humor to a few songs, and her ability to be flamboyant and emotional gives her road Lady much zest.
Payne’s worldly Woman shows style, while Harbour’s date-appointmented Girl comes across as the Little Engine That Could. Moore’s saloon-based Man appears less often than the others, but he brings charm.
Some people may find Frederick W. Boot’s sound design too perfect: The band and singers sound as if they are in a recording studio. It’s hard to get direction on the voices or instruments, and at first it feels as if the cast is lip-synching.
Smith adds an evocative light design to his set. Marianna Elliott’s costumes, especially those worn by Ryan, delight.