Gemma Sutton will play The Girl in the first major London revival in 30 years of Blues in the Night at Kiln Theatre. Susie McKenna directs the production which also stars Sharon D Clarke, Debbie Kurup and Clive Rowe.

The Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical is a scorching compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more.

The production opens on 24 July, with previews from 18 July, and runs until 7 September.

You’re playing The Girl in Blues in the Night, what can you tell us about it?

Blues in the Night is a show that takes the timeless jazz and blues songs of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Harold Arlen and many more and puts them the hearts and minds of four people staying in run down Chicago Hotel in 1939 towards the end of the Great Depression.  We get a window into each of their worlds as they use music to learn from each other and get them through the night.  The cast also includes Sharon D Clarke, Clive Rowe, Debbie Kurup and a live 5 piece band so it’s going to be a stormin’ evening in the theatre!

Why did a musical featuring songs from Blues and Jazz icons appeal to you?

I feel that the music of the 20s and 30s era can’t be beaten for the combination of melody, harmony, rhythm and lyrics which speak to the heart and soul.  I grew up listening to these artists and songs and so to be able to interpret them is such a great opportunity. Add to that being on stage with Sharon, Clive and Debbie every night, singing stunning harmonies with arrangements by our MD Mark Dickman and I’d be a fool not want to be involved!

How would you describe your character?

The Girl has arrived at the hotel that night, unlike the others who are well settled in.  She is going on a date that night so is hopeful and excited, buoyed by the dream that a boy and falling in love will solve all her problems and help her start a new life in Chicago.  Things don’t go to plan but learning from the people she meets – especially the older and wiser women – help her and gives her the strength to face the future, uncertain as it may be, alone in a City that is still reeling from the damage of the depression era.

How does this role differ to roles you’ve had in the past?

The musical is predominantly sung through so that’s always a challenge – to convey a story and character through lyrics and music alone, but when the music is this good it’s a treat.  Jazz and Blues is a very different art form from conventional musical theatre so it brings an opportunity to explore my virtuosic and improvising side – to think that each performance can be a little bit different is thrilling.  We also get the opportunity to interact with the band which is rare in a Musical context so it’s going to be fun for it to feel part show- part gig.

What are you looking forward to most about working with Susie McKenna?

I love working with Susie – it will be the third time with previously working with her at Hackney Empire including her well renowned Pantomime there.  She really understands the era and to have a female director on a piece which features three women outnumbering the one man (how rare!) means we can be very quickly on the same page – a lot of the themes of the show are about the struggles and the joys of being a woman whatever her age and the celebration of that.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Blues in the Night? 

Be prepared for your ears and eyes to be very happy – listening to my fellow performers interpret these classic jazz and blues songs is a total treat.  We can all relate to those great torch songs with the themes of love, hope, memories of happier times, loss and determination against the odds – it’s why the songs have stood the test of time.  Add to that characterisation, choreography by Frank Thompson, costumes, cool lighting and the live band and you’ll see the Kiln Theatre like you’ve never seen it before.

Blues in the Night, starring Gemma Sutton is at Kiln Theatre 18th July to 7th September 2019. Main image credit Matt Humphrey.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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