After a concert at Emory University years ago, Wyntonn Marsalis offered his interpretation of the blues, observing that it is a way to defy hardship and hopelessness through the power of music. “The blues,” he said, “helps you to never give in.” Horizon Theatre’s Blackberry Daze is more than a romantic journey into the heart of the South: it is a blues and jazz musical play propelled by powerful energy rarely seen on any stage south of Broadway.
With a soulful, original music by William Knowles, this musical features 14 storytelling songs, presented in 1920 rural Virginia, displaying the challenges of three Black women, who are either married to, loved or betrayed by a hard-drinking, gambling dandy Herman Camm, portrayed brilliantly by TC Carson who seems created for this role.
The story is tangled web built around Camm’s deceit while showing him to be, no matter how evil, almost irresistible except when he does the unthinkable to his step-daughter. Still, Camm, described in one unforgettable line as the type of man who was “cockle-doodle-doodling in a whole lot of hen houses,” makes the show, always dapper, looking like a version of Cab Callaway, singing, dancing, prancing his way into the hearts and beds of the many women he takes a shine to.
Sultry songs like “Layin’ It Down” evoke classic music in Porgy and Bess, but are at the same time contemporary, particularly with the outstanding accompaniment of pianist S. Renee Clark and virtuoso guitarist Spencer Bean. The dancing is flawless, the jazz simmers and the blues remain defiant.
Blackberry Daze is playing in the perfect city. Atlanta has a rich history of blues, gospel and jazz. Horizon Theatre’s production absorbs and skillfully interprets this heritage that is as enjoyable today as it was during the night club heydays along Sweet Auburn. An important part of Horizon’s New South Play Festival, it showcases the extraordinary talents of two Atlanta-based writer/creators Ruth P. Watson and Thomas W. Jones II.
The set design deserves praise for authenticity. You cannot overlook the remarkable period costumes. The music is flawlessly delivered.
If you like your musicals served up with spirit and high energy, Blackberry Daze will satisfy you. It shakes and rattles for almost two magnificent hours.
Through August 27. horizontheatre.com; (404) 584.7450