"A lively and intelligent new musical! An Inspiration!"
From The AP, Sep. 15, 2009:
It's latest form has taken shape nicely in Akin Babatunde's sweetly enthralling performance as the title character in "Blind Lemon Blues," an inspired, highly original tribute to blues singer and guitarist "Blind" Lemon Jefferson.
More than just a revue of Jefferson's countless country blues classics, this abstract narrative tells the story of his rise from a legendary street musician in Dallas to a top-selling recording artist who became a seminal influence on American popular music.
The thoroughly entertaining York Theatre Company production opened Tuesday at the York's off-Broadway home, the Theatre at St. Peter's Church.
Beside its focus on Jefferson, "Blind Lemon Blues" introduces us to many of his contemporaries and their distinctive variations on common themes, including Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, "Blind" Willie Johnson and Lillian Glinn, among others.
The piece is a faithful _ though playfully experimental _ study of the language, style and psychology of country blues culture in the 1920s.
Its patchwork of musical numbers consists of dozens of Jefferson's compositions, such as "Matchbox Blues" and "Black Snake Dream Blues." It also includes traditional blues and gospel standards, such as "Deep Ellum Blues" and "Motherless Child," as well as several original songs by Babatunde and Alan Govenar.
These newer songs, and daringly original arrangements of older ones, create an unusual fusion of old-time and modern sounds.
The play was co-written by Babatunde and Govenar, with Babatunde also serving as director and choreographer.
Babatunde, with his bellowing voice and brilliant smile, ebulliently headlines a likable cast of three men and three women, which is also highlighted by Cavin Yarbrough as "Lead Belly" and Alisa Peoples Yarbrough as singer Lillian Miller. The couple display an impressive talent for traditional blues singing _ one that wasn't readily apparent from their work in the 1980s pop duo known as Yarbrough and Peoples.
Peoples Yarbrough also delights the audience by playing a bit of piano, which distinguishes her in this show from the other cast members, who don't perform on instruments.
This realization is most glaring in the opening scene, when it becomes apparent that the bluesmen are picking at guitars as they sing, but not actually playing them. Instead, instrumental accompaniment is skillfully provided by offstage guitarist Skip Krevens, who only becomes visible after the closing curtain.
The actors' fake strumming is distracting at first, but only for a few moments before the guitars begin to seem less like props, and attention shifts to the magnificent singing that carries the musical.
Babatunde, in his acting and direction, deftly preserves the haunting quality that pervades much of Jefferson's lyrics and singing. This almost ghostly hallmark is epitomized in Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," a trancelike finale that seems to echo from the distant past.
"Blues lovers be grateful, be very, very grateful! One sensational guitarist (Sam Swank), two powerhouse bluesmen (Akin Babatunde and Cavin Yarbrough), four savvy backup singers (Lillias White, Alisa Peoples Yarbrough, Benita Arterberry, Timothy Parham), and some 60 songs by legendary blues artist Blind Lemon Jefferson are enough to make any blues lover go weak at the knees. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s voice emerges with full force!"
Winner of the Leon Rabin Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical.
"You may have to shoot someone to get a ticket, but that wouldn’t surprise Blind Lemon Jefferson, the great country-blues singer whose songs make clear that he knew all about what passion can drive people to do!"
- The Village Voice
"Music is the order of the day! The audience is treated to an avalanche of numbers that in one way or another reflect the African American experience. As well as being entertaining, the show amounts to a quick musical education course… A bountiful performance!"
- Wolf Entertainment Guide
"A new foot tapping, soul stirring musical! Traditional blues, gospel R&B, soul, doo-wop and rap bring to life the legacy and career of Blind Lemon Jefferson. A magnificentmusical triple-threat brings back to life a nearly forgotten era of America’s musical culture!"
"The blues come in all sorts of hues, and the York Theatre's latest new musical Blind Lemon Blues offers a joyous, soulful rainbow of them! From the mournful to the raunchy, it’s all here and flows as smoothly as vintage scotch. One hell of a good time! The talents on hand are rich and delicious…Praise is clearly due to all concerned. A heartfelt gem! Such a fine entertainment deserves a longer run in New York!" - Musicals101
"An evening packed with the blues can leave you feeling every other color! A beautifully blended song list…Creators Alan Govenar and Akin Babatunde have ensured that, by show’s end, you feel a spiritual kinship with both Jefferson and the legions of artists his soulful stylings inspired!"
- Talkin Broadway
"A night of sweet singing blues…A very talented ensemble! Stirring!"