Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lonesome Blues

Akin Babatundé, with the outstanding support of guitarist David Weiss, is giving a heck of a concert in Lonesome Blues at the York Theatre Company. Babatundé's voice travels from pure falsetto to rumbly bass and back again, and it can thrill every step of the way. Babatundé's interpretation of the blues offers a wide palette of emotions, and he's charming.

Akin Babatundé, David  Weiss
Photo: Carol Rosegg

However, Lonesome Blues is billed as a musical rather than a concert, and on that level it is less successful. Based on the life of Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929), it takes place on the day of his death as he reminisces about his life and his music. Unfortunately, his story is not clear as written (by Alan Govenar and Babatundé), performed, and directed (by Katherine Owens), and it can be hard to tell who he's talking to and what he's saying. As a  result, the show is never really engaging.

The authors write in the program that "Lonesome Blues is not a literal bio-musical, but instead a poetic rendering of Blind Lemon's memories." Unfortunately, the poetic renderings just don't track. It's also unfortunate that Babatundé wears dark glasses, because it puts a barrier between the actor and the audience, a barrier that is particularly damaging in a one-man show. (Yes, I do understand that Jefferson's blindness necessitates those dark glasses, but they still come at a cost.)

Here's the thing, though: Akin Babatundé really is giving a heck of a concert in Lonesome Blues. For all its flaws, the show offers a dynamic and rewarding evening in the theatre.

Wendy Caster
(press ticket, sixth row)
Show-Score: 80

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