For one more weekend, anyway. If anything at all about the early ’50s, pre-rock notion of R & B appeals to you, check out A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn, which holds its final performances this Friday – Sunday at H Street Playhouse.
Dew Drop Inn is not a concert, per se; it’s a musical cabaret that local company Theater Alliance put together as a substitute for its over-budget adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov. But if the minimal production—featuring a piano and no props other than a “DEW DROP INN” sign scrawled in paint on the back wall—feels a little thrown together, the performances more than compensate. Gospel pianist Ralph Alan Herndon‘s great blues licks, and his role as the wisecracking accompanist, cloaks his extraordinary repertoire and finesse in expressing it. But his solo performance of Bessie Smith’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” and his leading the five-member ensemble on the inspirational “That Lucky Ol’ Sun,” gives the game away.
Though the other four performers also have stock roles, there’s no overstating what they bring to the production, either. Stephawn P. Stephens, as the slick ladies’ man, and Andy Torres, as the clown, understand the raw sexuality of the music, while Yvette Manson channels Bessie, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox the brash, ballsy women who made the blues the major musical style of the 20th century. Then, of course, there’s young-lover Kimberly Spencer-McLeod; the Washingtonian is the most virtuosic performer of them all, switching with ease from the sassy R&B “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” to an elegant tribute to Dinah Washington.
And that’s just the music: there’s also the humor, the somehow-timeless recreation of a forgotten era, and the sly ways that the audience participates. But that’s best left to the experience itself: Any other live performance this year will have a tough time outdoing the small-scale theatrics of A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn.